Monday, November 30, 2009

Rest in Peace, old buddy

Last night, sitting in an airport and reading the news on my iPhone, I learned that a friend and former boss had died.
And I want to take a few moments here today to remember him ... and to share with you why he was important to those of us in B2B.
Mark Pittman was only 52 when he died. But he was already a legend in the business. If you didn't know Mark or his work, take a few minutes now to read about his accomplishments. CJR has links to major events in his career as well as an interview with him from earlier this year. And the Washington Post has published a fitting obituary.

Mark will be remembered as one of a handful of reporters who sounded the alarm as the world neared financial chaos. That's a good way to be remembered. He did his job. And he did it well at a time when few others did.

When I worked with Mark, he was the team leader of the Public Finance team at Bloomberg. I was the editor on that team. But before I write another word, let me make one thing clear: I had nothing to do with Mark's remarkable accomplishment in deciphering -- and warning the world -- about the madness that had taken over the markets.
Mark was my boss, not the other way around. And he was the guy who first taught me about credit-default swaps, mortgage-backed securities and other derivatives, and the dangers they hid. I don't think I taught the guy a thing.
More importantly, Mark's greatest accomplishment (the Loeb Award) took place well after I left Bloomberg. Although I was a fan of the fantastic stuff he wrote in recent years, I was not his editor for any of it.

But let's put aside Mark's accomplishments for now. Because I can't write about Mark without writing about what he meant to me personally while I was at Bloomberg.
Anyone who knows me knows that I disliked working at Bloomberg. I just couldn't stand what Portfolio called "the famously bizarre corporate culture" at Bloomberg.
But I liked Mark.
Heck, I loved Mark. It was impossible to do otherwise. He was a bigger-than-life, over-the-top, lovable stereotype of the perfect reporter. He drank. He smoked. He worked too hard (he went weeks and weeks limping around the office in a makeshift bandage and untied sneaker rather than take time to visit the doctor after injuring his foot.)
He was also both an inspiring iconoclast and a genuinely kind man in a culture that seemed to disdain both individualism and sweetness.

He was also, ultimately, a guy who loved this game.
He lived for the story. He believed -- in a way that's all too rare in B2B -- that his role was to bring difficult truths into the light.
I think of him often when I run into B2B journalists who spend their days worrying about how advertisers or publishers might react to a story. I think of Mark every time a B2B journalist starts talking about "my industry" and I realize he means the industry he covers, rather than the B2B publishing industry he works in.
Mark was never the sort to wonder what his role was. He wasn't a businessman. He was a business journalist.
And he was one of the best there ever was.
I'm going to miss you, old buddy.

For an interesting take on Mark's career from a former critic, look at this post on Reuters.

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