When the memo dropped on Tuesday morning, Bloomberg's Manhattan newsroom went silent. Office banter ceased and keyboards stopped clacking, as reporters and editors read the note from Michael Bloomberg announcing the news service's founder and editor in chief Matthew Winkler would be be replaced by an outsider, The Economist's John Micklethwait.
It came as a surprise on two levels: Not only is Bloomberg News largely built in the reflection of Winkler's own singular approach to journalism, but many inside and outside the company thought that he already had a likely successor: Senior Executive Editor Laurie Hays.
Hays, who joined Bloomberg from the Wall Street Journal in 2008, was promoted to be one of six senior executive editors in 2013 under Winkler and has taken more and more of a leadership role in newsroom, former employees and people familiar with the company have said. At least internally, she was viewed as Winkler's natural successor. "It's discouraging," one Bloomberg staffer said about Hays not getting the top job. "I find it personally disheartening."
It can also be seen as a blow to the company's efforts to promote diversity, particularly in its upper ranks. As the most senior woman in the newsroom, Hays had already taken on much of its day-to-day management, according to a person familiar with the company.
One of her main initiatives has been building out a mergers and acquisition team, lead by former Journal reporter Jeffrey McCracken. Since McCracken came on in 2010, Bloomberg News has been churning out M&A scoops that hit the marks for a great Bloomberg story — exclusive and market-moving.
Hays hired high-profile editors and writers like Pulitzer Prize winners Daniel Golden and Jonathan Kaufman, who oversaw some of Bloomberg's enterprise and investigative reporting that made a big impact outside the company's core group of terminal subscribers. "She was instrumental in really modernizing the newsroom," the person familiar with Bloomberg said.
"The higher-ups recognize that she's hugely important to what the newsroom has accomplished," they said. "She should have been in contention, doing everything she had done, so that has got to be a blow to some degree to her."
Bloomberg has made a series of high-profile hires, especially as it tries to build out digital properties, and they have largely been white men. These include Justin Smith, the CEO of Bloomberg Media Group, which includes Bloomberg's digital properties, conference business, Bloomberg Businessweek, TV, and radio.
"When you take a step back and look at trends you can not escape the fact that the ratio of leadership positions at the top slot is grossly lopsided for straight white men, you see this over and over again," said Rachel Sklar, the co-founder of Change the Ratio, an organization dedicated to increasing visibility of women in tech and media. "It just feels depressing."
Hays in the past has talked about the challenges women face in the news industry and praised Bloomberg News, saying in an interview with Capital New York this year that "some of our biggest rockstars ... are women," and that was thanks to "Matt's early interest in identifying them for their amazing reporting and writing abilities."
Bloomberg also recently announced an initiative — spearheaded by Winkler — to have its writers to make sure to quote women in their enterprise stories. All of the top editors of the news organizations Bloomberg counts as its rivals — Reuters, the Financial Times, New York Times, the Wall Street Journal — are male and, with the exception of Dean Baquet at the Times, white.
"We've tripled the number of women team leaders in the U.S. and doubled the number globally since 2010. We also have female bureau chiefs leading some of our largest bureaus in New York, London, Paris, Toronto, Sao Paulo, Frankfurt, and Moscow," said Lisa Kassenaar, Bloomberg's editor at large for global women's coverage. "And we've upped the number of stories tied to women in the global economy by at least 35% a year since 2010 to thousands of pieces by reporters and editors around the world on every beat."
At Bloomberg it's not just the top of the masthead that's white and male — it's many of their splashy new hires, especially those for their new digital properties: Josh Topolsky, the head of Bloomberg Digital, and series of prominent writers who have joined Bloomberg Digital and Bloomberg View, including Eli Lake, Josh Rogin, and Justin Fox at Bloomberg View and Joseph Weisenthal to run Bloomberg's new markets website. John Heilemann and Mark Halperin were tapped to edit Bloomberg Politics and host its TV show, along with former New York Executive Editor John Homans. Among Bloomberg's six senior executive editors, Hays is the only woman.
"Bloomberg hasn't done itself any favors in insulating itself from this type of criticism," Sklar said.
There have been a series of female hires to important roles, including the BBC's Claudia Milne to run Bloomberg TV in the U.S., Jacki Kelley as chief operating officer of Bloomberg Media, New York's Jessica Pressler as a reporter for Bloomberg's projects and investigations team, former HuffPost Live Executive Producer Allison Girvin to be an executive producer at Bloomberg TV, the Wall Street Journal's Geraldine Amiel to run Bloomberg News's Paris Bureau, and former New Yorker Products Chief Kelly Bare to be an executive producer at Bloomberg Politics. And while Bloomberg's Washington, D.C. bureau is run by former Politico reporter Jonathan Allen, he reports up through Winnie O'Kelley, the executive editor for Bloomberg's legal, regulatory, and government coverage.
"My advice to all women is just to stay focused. Don't get sidetracked by doubts and fears, and pursue your goals." Hays said in an interview with the International Women's Media Foundation last year. "You will get there."