There hasn’t been a peep from the new CEO of Bloomberg Media Group, Justin Smith, since his hire was announced. Friday, however, he sent Bloomberg’s media team a quick memo about his philosophy on journalism — we’ve copied it below.
The most important thing to note here is that Smith makes it clear that he is a business man.
“Helping create quality content and figuring out how to commercialize it has been my life’s passion,” he wrote. “Though I came out of print media, I’ve specialised in transitioning media brands onto digital and live event platforms.”
Reading that, you can’t help but think of Jeff Bezos, a business man, purchasing the Washington Post from the family of journalists that held it for decades. It serves as a reminder that good journalism is alive — the problem is that it’s time to rethink how it’s sold to the people that want to consume it.
Smith is promising that he knows how to do that, writing that he wants Bloomberg to choose to “live on the new, exciting frontier of media.”
Note the word “choice.” Smith divides the industry into two camps — publications that are letting the industry’s changes steam roll the out of existence, and publications that accept the changes and embrace them.
Check out Smith’s full memo below (emphasis ours):
Dear Bloomberg Media Colleagues —
I wanted to reach out in advance of my start date on September 16th to convey how thrilled and honored I am to be joining Bloomberg LP and the Bloomberg Media Group. Working with such a talented team is one of the greatest opportunities in media today. As I told Dan before joining, I want to be at Bloomberg because there’s no mission in the world more exciting to me than helping you build one of the planet’s most influential and commercially successful media companies.
I’m eager to meet every one of you over the next few months, and to learn about Bloomberg Media and the exciting initiatives already underway. As a start, I’d like to share some personal, less corporate details about myself.
I entered the media business 20 years ago intent on becoming a journalist but discovered that my talents were at their core entrepreneurial. This realisation didn’t dilute my initial interest in great journalism — I’ve spent my media career at the International Herald Tribune, The Economist, The Week, The Atlantic, and now Bloomberg. Do you see the pattern? I hope so. Helping create quality content and figuring out how to commercialize it has been my life’s passion.
Though I came out of print media, I’ve specialised in transitioning media brands onto digital and live event platforms. I have not (yet) been a TV guy but I deeply appreciate the medium’s storytelling strengths and resilient business model. I’ve done my fair share of digital video and am impressed by Bloomberg’s recent successes here.
I was raised abroad in an international household. My Mum is English and my Dad’s American. They met in Paris, put down roots, and nearly 50 years later they’re still Parisian expats living a stone’s throw from the apartment where I grew up. With international living in my DNA, I spent the first decade of my career working in government (for half a second) in West Africa and Washington and then in media abroad in Hong Kong (twice), Paris and London. In 1999 I moved to NY where I started my family, first married and now as single Dad — my children, Esme (11) and Auden (6) are the greatest joys in my life. In 2007 we moved to DC and I’ve been commuting between the two cities ever since.
On the business front, I thought it might be helpful to describe some of the ideas that I believe successful media companies need to embrace in order to thrive in these turbulent times.
We first must appreciate how historic this moment is for our industry. The changes are as exhilarating as they are disorienting. Every day, we face a new media reality and a new set of complex challenges. The disruption around us is incessant with no end in sight. Years from now, we will look back at this period and wonder how we ever made it through such choppy, uncharted waters.
Here are some principles that I believe will help us successfully navigate this period of change:
1) Choose to live on the new, exciting frontier of media
The media industry is bifurcated into two distinct worlds: the struggling traditional segment that longs for a simpler, more profitable past that will never return; and the vibrant, entrepreneurial segment that is reinventing the industry before our eyes. The simple act of choosing to live on the new, wide-open frontier is a powerful step toward success.
2) In media today, talent is everything
Because we’re in the business of making and selling ideas, talent is the ultimate driver of media success. In a digital and social world, a talented individual journalist can rival the influence and impact of the world’s greatest media brands. A brilliant marketer can dream up a creative idea that generates millions of dollars of brand value. An innovative salesperson can beat the competition by selling ideas-based programs rather than commodity advertising. World class, A+ talent is the super-ingredient for media success, and the organisations that recruit and maintain their top talent — and manage it well — will win.
3) Accept that you don’t know where things are going and act accordingly
Anyone who tells you they can predict the future state of media and its consumption patterns or business models isn’t being honest. No one knows where things are going and how they’ll play out. To succeed, we must accept this state of confusion and embrace the chaos. When there’s no obvious right answer, we’re forced to experiment, and examine new, sometimes uncomfortable, ideas. In media in 2013, invention, creativity and ingenuity are the currencies of success.
4) Foster entrepreneurship
One definition of entrepreneurship is the ability to evolve your product, business model, technology, or talent base to capture a changing market opportunity. Moving quickly is paramount: the faster you move, the more you learn, and the sooner you can optimise for success. Fred Wilson, the VC behind Twitter, Foursquare, Zynga and others, argues that “speed” is the quality he seeks out above all others in digital media entrepreneurs. I agree.
5) Quality and brand matter in a digital race to the bottom
The conventional wisdom is that digital media threatens the quality of journalism. It’s true in many instances — and therein lies a tremendous opportunity for a world-class media company such as Bloomberg to differentiate itself from the onslaught of new digital entrants with different ideas about what is accurate, insightful and intelligent. There will always be a robust market for quality content. No technology will ever erode this demand. It’s our job to keep our standards high as we experiment. Bloomberg was built on accuracy and insight. We must build on this strength.
6) Develop an allergy to failure
I once heard an entrepreneur describe his business philosophy as being “allergic to failure.” I recognised a bit of myself in that, and I sense that Bloomberg and the people who work here have the same allergy. This is not to say that intermittent failure is not an important part of the innovation process and something that should be embraced at times. This description refers to a mental rash — an early warning system — that signals the need for immediate business intervention and evolution. I know I’m coming to a group where complacency is anathema, and we’ll need every bit of that allergy — and the speed and adaptability that cures it — to navigate the relentless waves of disruption that we’ll continue to face in media.
Thanks to your hard work and Andy Lack’s leadership, the Bloomberg Media Group is well positioned to become one of the world’s most influential media companies. The changes underway in media make this opportunity larger and more exciting than it’s ever been. By working together – creatively, entrepreneurially, collaboratively — we can realise our biggest dreams and define the global media company of the future. It’s an incredible privilege to be given the chance to work with you. I’ll see you on September 16th.
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