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June 18, 2020, 12:13 p.m.

CityLab has been relaunched under the Bloomberg umbrella

The redesigned site will remain unpaywalled — at least through 2020.

When Bloomberg acquired CityLab — which reports from the intersection of public policy, urban studies, and city living — from Atlantic Media at the end of last year, the company said CityLab would continue as a standalone site for the time being.

No one expected that CityLab would remain untouched, though, and on Thursday, Bloomberg relaunched CityLab with a few visible fingerprints. The new Bloomberg CityLab now lives at bloomberg.com/citylab with newly redesigned branding, logos, and a menu linking to other Bloomberg verticals and the company’s data terminal. CityLab content will soon appear across Bloomberg platforms, including Businessweek magazine, TV, radio, videos, and (presumably virtually, until we’re post-pandemic) live events.

At relaunch, the site led with a series of homemade, reader-submitted maps showing how coronavirus has “remapped” our worlds, a timeline of protests against police brutality dating back to Rodney King, and a data visualization-rich feature on the future of transportation. The topical mix was a reminder that readers don’t have to be wonks to see how a city’s policies can reverberate far beyond its own metropolis.

Julia Beizer, Bloomberg Media’s chief product officer, said Bloomberg was attracted to CityLab — its first or second acquisition in a decade, depending on who’s counting — because of the ethos she described as “smart content for curious people.”

“As we expand and as we grow our subscription business, we’re looking for content that touches a wider group of audience and is closely connected to what we do best, which is global business,” Beizer said. “When [CityLab] came up, it felt like a sweet spot because cities are so key to economies and how they work.”

CityLab also fits with an existing template that Bloomberg has sought to expand online.

“Increasingly, on the web, we’ve been focused on different kinds of verticals that are essentially, ‘The Future of X,'” Sondag said. “For the future of healthcare, we have Prognosis. Future of retail, we have Checkout. Green is, essentially, the future of the world. And CityLab is the future of cities.”

The new executive editor of Bloomberg CityLab, Jennifer Sondag, wrote in an introductory message to readers that CityLab content (including the archives) will remain unpaywalled — at least through 2020. (The site will occasionally feature paywalled articles from other quarters of Bloomberg News.) She made other reassurances, too:

So, what hasn’t changed? Pretty much everything else. Our readers are still at the heart of what we do. We will continue to write about how we live and work, how we create and make policy, what challenges we face and what solutions are being attempted.

Sondag is a little unusual for this media age, in that she’s spent her entire 20-year career with one company, Bloomberg. She’s transitioning to the top job at CityLab from a six-year stint as a standards and training editor at Bloomberg. (She is listed as a coauthor on The Bloomberg Way, a hybrid style guide and culture manual for Bloomberg journalists with semi-cult status.) She described the CityLab audience as “very civically engaged,” including plenty of readers involved in local government and urban planning “who know the issues extremely well.”

That existing audience — invested and knowledgeable about policy — could prove a double-edged sword as Bloomberg seeks to make CityLab its own. One example? The relaunch’s press release highlights a “partnership” with Hyundai Motor Company as “the exclusive sponsorship of the multi-platform MapLab, custom content and integrations created in collaboration with Bloomberg Media Studios” and quotes an executive vice president on the car company’s “deep” commitment to “innovating urban mobility solutions to vitalize human-centered future cities.”

Beizer stressed that the Hyundai sponsorship won’t affect editorial output, but it’s hard not to see a car company sponsorship as somewhat out of step with the average CityLab reader’s idea of the future of cities. As Joshua Benton noted (foretold?) when Bloomberg acquired the site last year, “CityLab has a comparatively small but unusually passionate group of fans (all of whom either take public transportation or bike to work) and some of them seem nervous about the new ownership.”

Sondag said her newsroom is scattered across the United States (New York, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, D.C., and Minneapolis) plus two staffers in Europe. She’s also looking forward to harvesting tips and local expertise from Bloomberg reporters in the company’s more than 120 bureaus — virtually all located in cities — across the globe.

Both Sondag and Beizer said they felt Bloomberg was well positioned to produce more of the maps and data visualizations that CityLab readers like to see and share.

“From a digital strategy perspective, we know that data viz is one of the key utilities that matters to [Bloomberg’s] users and subscriber base,” Beizer said. “From a personal perspective, I think there are so many ways to tell stories and we in the news business have been doing long columns of text since Gutenberg. I think maps and other kinds of data viz are great because we can tell stories in new ways.”

In addition to MapLab, a newsletter that has been upgraded to a visual-heavy vertical on the new site, CityLab is relaunching with a series of explainers called CityLab University and Perspective, which draws on expert takes and local (mostly freelance) accounts.

The existing Solutions section — which Sondag said makes up a majority of CityLab content — will continue to feature reported pieces about the policies being tried and tested in various cities.

Photo of Times Square by Andre Benz.

POSTED     June 18, 2020, 12:13 p.m.
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