One thing I regret professionally is that I didn’t take more notes.
Rummaging through my closet recently I found a picture of Elliot Spitzer and me.
I have no recollection of the interview, but the grainy photo, which includes Bloomberg’s then Editor-in-Chief Matt Winkler, had to have been in the early 2000s, when Spitzer was Attorney General of New York.
Spitzer had been dubbed the “Sheriff of Wall Street.” He was smiling. He had an unmistakable swagger.
Within a few short years he would be elected governor of New York, and 16 months later he would resign in disgrace because of a sex scandal.
It would have been helpful to have kept some notes.
At the time Bloomberg was arguably the fastest growing media company in the world and I was in the thick of it as New York Bureau Chief.
But everyone was busy then and 15 years later things haven’t let up.
I regret now that I didn’t keep more notes and documents to remember what happened and when and why.
I found the Spitzer photograph while rummaging through boxes in the basement. I discovered stacks of random memorabilia, like a menu from a lunch we had with George Soros.
I had forgotten about the Soros lunch. But even if I had remembered, I wouldn’t have recalled the Spiced Autumn Fruit Compote and Raisin Ice Cream we had for dessert.
I’m not saying the compote or the fennel and argula salad mattered per se, but it is the kind of detail journalists die for because it’s so evocative of the time and place.
I did scribble one note on the Soros menu.
It says quite clearly: “Rumsfeld won’t be in 2nd administration.” I have no idea who said that, which proved to be incorrect. But it obviously suggests the lunch took place during Bush’s first term in office.
I saved some of the more outrageous expense reports I was asked to approve, like the purchase of a carton of cigarettes for the author of the Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl. I must have thought it was funny.
I didn’t print out the expense report to rent a horse, which one reporter claimed was necessary to track down a CEO at Herb Allen’s annual Sun Valley event for media moguls. I did approve it.
I wish I had kept more. Perhaps I thought all the electronic emails and records would be saved (they weren’t.) Or maybe I was young and didn’t realize that someday I would want to look back.
Now, I regret not being more disciplined. I should have maintained a daily journal to keep track of what we did each day. It would have reminded me how events large and small unfolded.
I ran the New York newsroom on 9/11 when the first plane hit the World Trade Center and I remember some things. I stood behind Stock Market Editor Phil Serafino and dictated the first headline.
I remember how the sky was blue and the streets were deserted when I rode my bike home. I remember keeping the apartment windows closed because of the ash blowing in from the burning wreckage downtown.
But I’ve forgotten so much that happened that day and that week and that year.
I’ve forgotten what Spitzer told us when he came to lunch and cannot say with any certainty the month or year it occurred.
I’ve been thinking about memory because I started reading the diaries of David Sedaris. I’ve filled plenty of notebooks with scribbling, but it was random and haphazard.
Sedaris is impressive for the acuity of his observations as well as the consistency of his journaling.
Sedaris explains his process this way: “I was never one to write about my feelings, in part because they weren’t that interesting.” He goes on: “What I prefer recording… are the remarkable events I have observed.”
By “remarkable,” he doesn’t mean big. He means interesting.
They may have been small, but meaningful snippets of conversation, strange behavior or some inappropriate outfit.
If I had one piece of advice for my younger self, it would have been to be systematic in writing down the most memorable things that happened each day. A page or so would have been enough.
I started at Bloomberg News in 1990, shortly after it was created. At the time I remember hearing the origin story go like this: Mike Bloomberg started the news division because Dow Jones saw him as a competitor and canceled a contract to lease news articles.
Left without a source of news, Mike decided to start his own operation.
I asked Mike about that last year when I was negotiating a deal with Dow Jones. I wondered why the split occurred in 1990.
Mike said he couldn’t remember the details.
On the one hand that’s understandable, he’s been pretty busy.
On the other hand, it’s crazy when you think about how that one decision transformed the landscape for financial information and changed the lives and careers of thousands of journalists, myself included.
This year is the 30th anniversary of Bloomberg News and there are a lot of big events I wish I had documented.
Of course I didn’t know then it would matter. I didn’t know Bloomberg would become the world’s dominant source of financial information. And I didn’t know I’d still be working for the company.
The best souvenirs I did keep weren’t the official programs commemorating big events.
They were the small, day-to-day happenings.
Like the email I printed out from one manager asking permission for our White House correspondent to “bring his dog in for an hour or so next Friday afternoon.”
“He’s a little pug, very quiet and well behaved,” he added.
I have no idea if I approved that request.
It’s definitely something Sedaris would have written down.
Wow Ted. You were frequently in the Room Where It Happened.