THE BLOG

Economist sans buts

07/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bloomberg Businessweek owes Lloyd Blankfein a very big, wet kiss.

When the first issue of the redesigned magazine hit newsstands a few weeks back, Goldman, Sachs & Co. was the biggest story around -- and not just among the business crowd. By putting a black-and-white photo of a not-quite smiling Blankfein on its inaugural cover, the new Businessweek appeared more news-driven and serious than its meme-happy predecessor had in years. Never mind that the two Goldman stories plugged on the cover were relatively short essays with non-Businessweek, though formidable, bylines (Jonathan Weil and Michael Lewis). In one fell swoop, the magazine telegraphed its oft-discussed desire to emulate the much-envied Economist, as well as its ability to nimbly react to news.

Indeed, Businessweek reportedly decided to put Blankfein on the front about five hours before publication, swapping his photo out for a cover that plugged a feature story on Meg Whitman's run for governor of California. Good move. Blankfein is certainly more buzzworthy than Whitman. And buzz the redesigned magazine got. In a story on the bulked-up Yahoo! News site, a Bloomberg Businessweek bigwig boasted that longtime rival Fortune "has moved away from core business coverage" -- a characterization Fortune managing editor Andy Serwer quickly disputed as "crazy, preposterous rhetoric." Perhaps. But you have to admit that Fortune's most recent issue, its annual flagship Fortune 500 effort and its celebratory tone, look a little out of touch in these turbulent times.

(That perception only got stronger after bloggers got their mitts on a satirical cover Fortune commissioned for the issue but didn't use by comic book artist Chris Ware, which featured the Fortune 500 towering over a map of America that included, if one looked closely enough, a stocks-and-bond casino, homes being foreclosed on and Wall Street raiding the Treasury.)

Of course, not all of Businessweek's buzz was positive, thanks largely to a piece in The New York Times that explored the cultural schism between Businessweek's surviving staffers and their Bloomberg owners, perhaps best exemplified by "The Bloomberg Way," the 361-page style guide by Bloomberg editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler and now owned by everyone who works at Businessweek. As the Times story explained, Bloomberg famously discourages the use of words like "but," "despite," "however," "although" and "allow to," and those same words are pretty much off-limits to Businessweek, too.

That revelation sent me racing through my copy of Bloomberg Businessweek to see if I could find any forbidden verbiage. There was hardly a "but" to be found, though I did spot some uses of "yet," including in Josh Tyrangiel's editor's letter, as an apparent stand-in. I also noticed a paucity of adverbs and adjectives -- another Winkler bugaboo -- which does help keep the copy clean and clear, if a little bloodless. That's not a bad thing, given how much copy there is, but it got me wondering if this strict adherence to a style designed to make stories easily readable on a terminal, by traders, is what makes Bloomberg's other magazine, the monthly Bloomberg Markets, a little dull.

The first issue of Bloomberg Businessweek is not a bore, though it's not exactly a barnburner, either. It is well organized, however, with its "opening remarks" essays on Goldman up front, followed by six distinct areas of coverage (global economics, companies & industries, etc.) and a feature well, plus a section in the back called Etc., where lighter subjects like travel and gadgets are covered. Overall, the issue is happily devoid of many of the ditzier features that have crept into business magazines in recent years -- no pointless lists of the best this or the worst that -- and, mercifully, no attempt to get you, the reader, to start blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, linking or job hunting right now!

There aren't any scoops, and there won't be any, since, as the Times reported, stories broken by the Businessweek staff will run on Bloomberg's terminals first. While that may be sad for the magazine's reporters, it's a sensible policy for a weekly in today's always-on media. It doesn't necessarily make Businessweek any less of a news magazine. After all, its role model, The Economist, doesn't break news either. As Michael Hirschorn wrote in the Atlantic last year, "The Economist virtually never gets scoops, and the information it does provide is available elsewhere ... if you care to spend 20 hours Googling."

It remains to be seen whether the same can be said of the new Businessweek -- and, if so, whether Americans will have the same high regard for a magazine that is published here, rather than in London.

See the complete archive of Media Maneuvers

Yvette Kantrow is executive editor of The Deal.