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NEW YORK — Instructions for finding Bloomberg Businessweek editor Josh Tyrangiel’s desk in the Bloomberg Tower on East 58th Street: Enter on Lexington Avenue. Walk past gigantic undulating wooden installation art. See security desk. Pose for picture (camera behind tinted glass). Wear your badge — always wear your badge until you leave. Go up in the elevator to the sixth floor, “The Link.” There aren’t arrows above the doors in the elevator bank, just large panels of lights (tip from one Bloomberger: “Red is down, green is up, like the stock market”).
On the sixth floor, pass the koi pond and circumvent the crowd weighing different chip options (banana, low-fat potato) around the snack station. Take the spiraling escalator down to the fifth floor (very important to manage attention economy at this moment between unusual escalator shape and cloud-shaped titanium-alloy art installation hovering nearby). Pass signs for international desks in Jakarta, Seoul, Shanghai. Another escalator. Pass Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa. Pass the mini-television studio. Down one flight of stairs. Pass fish tank. Pass room labeled “Syndication Control Room.” Find yourself in an expansive bay of low cubicles, each stocked with no fewer than two monitors and an orange emergency preparedness bag, including gas mask.
Tyrangiel’s desk is at the end of the first row, up against a window overlooking some air-conditioning equipment on an adjacent building over 58th Street. It looks like every other desk in the room. At the McGraw-Hill building on 1221 Avenue of the Americas, near The Wall Street Journal and News Corp., the editor in chief of BusinessWeek had a large corner office, but not here.
On Thursday at noon, Tyrangiel was huddling with one of his staff at a small table near the windows in faded blue jeans and a sweater. He was in Davos, Switzerland, the week before and was leaving to visit the magazine’s Washington bureau later that day. This week he enjoyed beginning jokes with, “I don’t know if you know, but I was in Davos, and I was just speaking to….”
“Pretty much from the moment we met when he was applying for this position, it was kind of love at first sight,” said Matt Winkler, the editor in chief of Bloomberg News and co-author of “The Bloomberg Way,” the notorious pamphlet outlining the company’s standards and methods. “And that first sight was not the sartorial splendor, if you will, associated with some other people around here who are in suits.”
On his first day, Tyrangiel did wear a suit because, he explained, “I’m a huge dork.” He ran into Winkler, who lives in a bow tie and who was disappointed in the new editor’s outfit.
“It was a bit surprising — I dare say, unsettling — when he attempted to blend in,” Winkler continued. “Of course, he doesn’t need to think about those things because he’s somebody who’s really inspiring by everything he does. I really don’t want him to change anything.”
This isn’t the same Bloomberg that the magazine-making New York media world has known and happily ignored for years. This is the Bloomberg that buys a tired business magazine losing $800,000 a week and hands it over to Tyrangiel, a precocious 38-year-old former music critic-turned-deputy managing editor for the Web at Time magazine.
“What I saw was somebody who had been able to get the respect of a lot of very senior people within Time magazine and the Time Inc. organization. He was part of a new breed who understood both digital and print,” said Norman Pearlstine, Bloomberg’s chief content officer and the chairman of Bloomberg Businessweek, who had been editor in chief at Time Inc. and had numerous contacts within the organization. Pearlstine led the company’s acquisition of BusinessWeek and the search for an editor, which included a field of a dozen candidates inside and outside Bloomberg, and ended with the youngest one. “He was just a great magazine maker who I thought could figure out the business story,” said Pearlstine.
Figuring out the role of the weekly business magazine in today’s Bloomberg-nanosecond-driven world is a different problem entirely. The cloud of ash from Portfolio’s failure has only just settled. Fortune has scaled back to 18 issues a year these days and the Forbes yacht is high and dry. BusinessWeek was down 31.2 percent in ad pages in 2009 when it went up for sale.
Then there is a problem with fit. Bloomberg has never seemed like a company that knew anything about or cared at all for magazine making. The company already had one magazine, Bloomberg Markets, which began as a manual for the terminal. Writing throughout the company has always been rigid and formulaic. The word “but” is banned in wire copy because putting conflicting ideas in the same sentence confuses readers trading at breakneck pace.
But Bloomberg did have a few things to offer: billions of dollars in cash and a staff of more than 2,300 journalists in 146 bureaus around the world. With resources like that, it’s hard to imagine how Tyrangiel — or any capable editor, really — could fail. In the last year, the magazine’s trouble with advertisers has taken a turn for the better (ad pages were up 6.3 percent last year), but the newsstand hurdle remains a big one. In Tyrangiel’s first year, the title’s newsstand sales were down 26.9 percent.