Should Mike Bloomberg buy the Financial Times?

Michael Bloomberg hopes to be a press baron after he steps down as mayor of New York City next year. And contrary to rumors that he might buy the hometown New York Times, it appears the Financial Times is the target of his ambitions.

In a well-sourced story on Sunday, the New York Times reported that the venerable U.K. publication will be on the block in 2013 and that Bloomberg is already kicking the tires. According to the report, the mayor is passionate about the FT’s crisp editorial style and carries the orange-tinted paper around with him all day (a habit shared by tycoon Warren Buffett, who has also picked up a passion for newspapers). The report says Bloomberg has become well-versed in the FT’s business operations.

Bloomberg owns 88 percent of financial services giant Bloomberg LP, and there’s no question he could afford to buy the FT. The harder question is whether he should.FT front cover

On the surface, the deal is attractive. The FT is a prestigious operation with a healthy digital presence that also has a half-stake in The Economist. This top shelf editorial content, along with the FT’s 600,000 subscribers (half of them digital), would be an attractive complement to Bloomberg LP’s existing reporting.

But there is a snag. While Bloomberg LP has news operations, it is at heart a data company that sells $20,000 subscriptions to bankers and traders. The company is also famous for an insular corporate culture and for sticking to its knitting. Taking on a free-wheeling global news brand, even one as prestigious as the FT, could prove to be a dangerous distraction.

For proof, look at Thomson Reuters(s tri), another large data company (and a potential suitor for the FT). As the Wall Street Journal reported this month, the Thomson family’s decision to acquire Reuters in 2008 has produced ongoing cultural clashes that have been hard to overcome. Meanwhile, the merger has coincided with a depressed share price and a loss of market share for Thomson’s valuable data businesses.

That doesn’t mean that Bloomberg shouldn’t buy the FT. But it’s worth noting that being a press baron isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.