Wall Street Journal

Riddle as NYT boss Janet Robinson leaves ; no successor in sight


By Noel Young, Correspondent

December 17, 2011 | 3 min read

It was an announcement that took many in the American media business by surprise. Janet Robinson was stepping down as CEO of the New York Times company after seven years. But why?

Janet Robinson

Even the Times's own report reflected the shock. "The announcement caught many by surprise — both inside and outside the company," said the Times , adding, "While the company has struggled financially, The New York Times newspaper has been particularly aggressive under Ms. Robinson’s leadership in creating new digital products and has recently built an online subscription model that has performed much better than anticipated. "

Ms Robinson's own e-mail to staff left open the inference that she was pushed into going at the end of this month, “It is with mixed emotions that I write to let you know that I am retiring from The New York Times Company,” she wrote.

It was left to arch-rival the Wall Street Journal to give a clue about a possible crisis behind the scenes .

The WSJ quoted Douglas Arthur, an analyst at Evercore Partners, on Ms. Robinson's departure. "It makes no sense . . .They have a million balls in the air, and it's a critical time from the investor's standpoint. The message to the outside world is that something is very wrong inside the company."

Craig Huber, an equity research analyst at Access 342, said,“I’m very surprised, particularly with the timing of the pay wall going so well."

A clue to the suddenness of Ms Robinson's departure is that the Times has no-one lined up to take over. Chairman and publisher of The Times, Arthur Sulzberger will serve as chief executive while a search goes on.

Ms. Robinson, now 61, was central in transforming the Times in the 1990s from a metropolitan to a national newspaper .National advertisers who accounted for 30% of the Times's ad revenue in 1996 went to to about 76% in 2000.

But , said the WSJ, over the years, former executives and some members of the Sulzberger family have worried about parts of Ms. Robinson's strategy in leading the digital transformation.

She had for several years come under criticism for "digital missteps," said the WSJ. Digital-side employees have said the emphasis on protecting the Times newspaper - which still has more than 1000 journalists - too often stunted growth elsewhere.

The rate of decline of advertising revenue at the Times's newspapers accelerated this year, from 2.5% in the second quarter to 7.3% in the third quarter. Half the newspaper group's revenue in the first nine months of this year came from ads.

During Ms. Robinson's seven years , Times shares have lost more than 80% of their value .

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