Winkler's luck

A decision to cast his fate with Michael Bloomberg pays off for Matthew Winkler

C olleagues of Matthew Winkler '77at the Wall Street Journal thought he was nuts when he announced in 1989 that he was leaving to work for Michael Bloomberg. Few had even heard of Bloomberg's fledgling company, founded as Innovative Market Systems in 1981. Winkler had been at the Journal for ten years and everyone, including his wife, Lisa Klein Winkler, thought he would die there--"probably at age sixty-eight. I was at the top of my profession and very comfortable in all areas of my life," he says. "But I decided that it was while I was so comfortable that I should make this move."

Winkler met Bloomberg in 1988 when he wrote an investigative piece for the Journal on why Bloomberg's tiny company was starting to challenge the giant Dow Jones and Company for dominance of the financial news market. At the time of their conversation, the Bloomberg service did not supply text or news, as competitors Telerate and Reuters did. A year later, Bloomberg called Winkler saying, "I want to get into the news business and I need advice. What would it take to do this?"

Winkler was flabbergasted, but he agreed to discuss it. He suspected Bloomberg was probably looking for numbers, something nice and quantifiable. Instead, Winkler portrayed a scene in which the proposed Bloomberg News is asked by its biggest customer to pull a story that is scandalous, but true--a "What would you do if . . . ?" situation. "My lawyers will love you," was Bloomberg's sarcastic response, followed by, "My mind's made up. When can you start?" "I asked him what was the down side," Winkler remembers, "and he replied that I could always go back to what I'd been doing. When you are at the bottom, just starting out, there really is no down side."

Winkler began his professional journalism career with the Mount Vernon News while still a student at Kenyon. Following two years as editor of the Collegian, he worked at the News part-time during his junior year, full-time during his senior year, and for a time after graduation. "The lessons I learned at the News were invaluable," recalls Winkler. "Coming from a place like Kenyon that was elitist and immersing myself in a larger community that was not elitist taught me about bringing sensibility and the right perspective to my work. In retrospect, it was one of the best jobs I ever had, although I suppose I've become a bit nostalgic and sentimental over time."

"Matt was one of the most serious and professional editors the Collegian has ever had," says Associate Professor of English and Editor of the Kenyon Review David H. Lynn '76, a friend of Winkler's since their days at Kenyon. "He aspired to achieve higher standards than anyone had held before him and in so doing he was able to attract some of the most talented students on campus to work with him, people like political cartoonist Jim Borgman '76 and journalist Vicki Barker '78. The issues he cared about, he cared about passionately, so it seemed someone was always mad at him, and that was good."

The Mount Vernon-Knox County community was certainly annoyed with him a good bit of the time. He received many mentions in the People's Forum ("Letters to the Editor") section of the News. In the wake of a group of letters protesting Winkler's negative review of a local "Dixie Days" theatrical production, Elder and Sister Weaver, missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, defended him, saying, "We have not met Matt Winkler, but contrary to many of your writers, we feel that he must have some good in him." They concluded with, "To the great people of Mount Vernon and the surrounding area, we want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and wish the very best to each of you--even Matt Winkler."

Another piece, this one a political hot potato about the spraying of mosquitos with malathion by unlicensed individuals, brought the wrath of city hall down on Winkler's head. "Unlike most people," says Lynn, "Matt is simply incapable of lying." Winkler's farewell piece, published on the front page of the News in September 1976, brought a critical response from a Mr. Don Rice. "How else can one explain an editor's publishing such self-consciously cute tripe?" he wrote. "If only H.W. Fowler were alive! One would be tempted to send him Winkler's article so that he might have a single source for all his examples of faulty writing" (which he proceeded to itemize). He had the good grace to remark, "Writing this last sentence makes one wonder if perhaps one isn't being too critical of Matt Winkler. He is, after all, just an inexperienced writer on a small-town newspaper."

"Matt Winkler is one of the most ethical, courteous, and respectful people I have ever known," says another Kenyon friend, Patrick Reagan '75. "At Kenyon, he was a very serious student who brought to discussions a sense of the larger picture and he always tried to think things through, to discover the broader application. He approached his job at the News with great professionalism and always treated people with dignity."

A native of Grand View, New York, Winkler returned there after leaving Mount Vernon and, following a brief stint as a writer and consultant for Gehrung Associates, a university-relations consulting firm, he went to work as an assistant editor for The Bond Buyer. "Someone stood up at a news conference and, holding a copy of The Bond Buyer, denounced it as the most boring publication on earth," says Winkler with a laugh. "But it was good training, and my time there solidified my decision to work in the area of financial news."

As seems to be Winkler's style, he soon decided that he would like to work for the Wall Street Journal, so he went over there one day on his lunch hour and took them a resume. "In a few days," he says, "I received a letter back saying, `We have no position for you now and are not likely to have one for you in the future.'" Undaunted, he decided he'd call back in a few months. Within another week, he received a call inviting him to come in for an interview, and his career at the Journal was launched. "I never really understood what that first letter was about," he says.

Since Winkler brought his prodigious talents to Bloomberg LP, the company has been on a mission to overtake Dow Jones and Reuters as the premier providers of textual financial news. Since 1990, Bloomberg News, of which Winkler is founder and editor, has grown to more than six hundred editors and reporters in seventy-six bureaus across North America, Europe, and the Far East. By 1995, the news service was carried in more American newspapers than any other news service except the Associated Press. Business News Reporter ranked Winkler number seven among its ninety-six most influential journalists for 1996. Michael Bloomberg was number two.

Looking more like a college president than a journalist, in his crisp shirt and bow tie, Winkler occupies a small corner area, without walls, adjacent to about an acre of computer terminals staffed by news reporters gathering and disseminating news the "Bloomberg Way." "The Bloomberg Way," created by Winkler as one of his initial projects, is an internal guide for reporters and editors to use as they pursue their goal of delivering the news in context and with perspective in real time. Housed in a Manhattan tower on three levels connected by a spiral staircase, Bloomberg's offices are designed to promote interaction among associates in an egalitarian atmosphere. A break area fully stocked with free (to the employees) food--fruit, yogurt, and juices, as well as less nutritious offerings--serves the munchie needs of those on deadlines or those who just can't bear to tear themselves away. While Winkler oversees the news-room, Michael Bloomberg occupies his own corner, also a space without walls, on a lower floor where the television and radio operations are housed.

Winkler spends about twelve hours per day at his office in New York City, so he looks forward to being at home in Maplewood, New Jersey, with his wife and three children, Jacob (twelve), Nathan (eleven), and Lydia (seven). "I love New York, and New York is my frame of reference," he says, "but I escape from the intensity of New York in New Jersey. On the other hand, I tend to believe that west of Twelfth Avenue something is definitely missing."

Not a person to think in terms of regrets, there are nevertheless some things that Winkler believes he should have done by now that he hasn't done. A scholar as well as a journalist (and a history major at Kenyon), he has books either in progress or planned on Czechoslovakian refugee Morris Fedor, who rose to become chairman of the Overseas Shipholding Group, labor leader William Green, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield. (Bromfield's Malabar Farm, located about thirty miles from Gambier in Lucas, Ohio, and the site of Humphrey Bogart's wedding to Lauren Bacall, is now an Ohio state park.) He would also like to have more time to pursue avocations in music (especially classical guitar) and horticulture.

But those interests will have to wait. Matt Winkler, no longer "an inexperienced writer on a small-town newspaper," is busy at the moment, helping to create a media empire spanning the globe.

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