I’m very confused by WaPo’s new “Washington Post with Bloomberg” business section. Bloomberg gets a lot of branding at the top of the page, but at least at launch it had no stories at all above the fold.

wapo.jpgIf you zoom out or scroll down you can finally see some Bloomberg stories appear, I’ve marked them with arrows here. And if you look really carefully, you’ll see that they say “(Bloomberg)” after the headline, in hard-to-read light grey type.

There doesn’t seem to be any top-level editing of these stories: the third Bloomberg story, “Sales at U.S. Retailers Decreased for a Second Month in June”, is basically exactly the same as the top WaPo story, “Retail sales drop 0.5 percent in June.” Bloomberg, here, is adding nothing to the WaPo file.

But the real weirdness happens when you actually click on those links. The WaPo story looks and feels and is part of the WaPo website. It’s hosted at washingtonpost.com, and has the familiar three-column view with lots of easy navigation.

The Bloomberg story, by contrast, takes the new biz-section header, pastes it on top of the Bloomberg wire copy, drops a WaPo footer at the bottom, and hosts the whole thing at bloomberg.com. It’s neither one thing nor the other: after spending a lot of time and money on a very good new redesign of its main site, Bloomberg seems to have slapped together a new co-branded site for the Washington Post in about five minutes. If you try to navigate to the top-level URL, http://washpost.bloomberg.com/, you just get a useless error message.

In the accompanying press release, Bloomberg’s Matt Winkler proves himself a master of PR gibberish:

“As Bloomberg has become the first, fastest and most factual provider of the story of money in all its forms, readers of the redesigned online business section conceived with the Washington Post can look forward to a unique blend of actionable news,” said Matthew Winkler, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Bloomberg News.”

Insofar as this means anything, I think Winkler is saying that the WaPo’s readers can and should trade based on what they read there. That’s the only reason to care so much about the news being “first” and “actionable.” But that would be a really bad idea, for a large number of reasons which should be obvious to anybody thinking about it for more than five seconds.

At heart, this looks to me as though it’s the online-news equivalent of one of those Europudding movies, co-produced by nine different state-backed film production agencies. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at some BizDev meeting, but from a purely editorial perspective it makes little if any sense. Why go to the trouble of building a whole new site co-branded with Bloomberg, when the WaPo was always welcome to simply link to Bloomberg stories from its business-section homepage any time it liked? This deal just makes it that much harder for WaPo to link to anybody else.

I suspect that what’s really happening here is that Bloomberg is desperately trying to turn itself into a consumer-facing brand in as many ways as it possibly can — through television, BusinessWeek, co-branding at the Washington Post, and anything else it can come up with. It has the budget to put together something like this, and so it has done so. But it’s being weirdly slapdash and inconsistent about it, from the perspective of the actual consumer. And the decision to force readers of the Washington Post to navigate to a whole new bit of bloomberg.com when they want to read Bloomberg’s stories — that just makes no sense at all. Either you integrate your material into the WaPo website, or you don’t. This attempt to find some kind of middle ground simply fails.