Can’t Anybody Manage the N.Y. Times?
July 13, 2012 ·
Source: Market Watch
Above: Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., chairman of The New York Times Co. (Reuters)
By Jon Friedman:
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Late on Dec. 15, the New York Times Co. announced that Chief Executive Officer Janet Robinson would exit.
It sure came across as an abrupt move. After all, the Times didn’t name a successor that day.
That was seven long, rudderless months ago. The media have waited breathlessly for word of the identity of the Gray Lady’s next CEO. But we’ve heard nothing.
You can read anything you want into this situation. But it sure seems like Wall Street is getting restless. Since the bombshell, the company’s stock has dropped 1.3%. Meanwhile, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index SPX -0.50% added 9.7%.
Naturally, a seven-month period without a CEO prompts a battery of questions, none of which, should reassure a New York Times NYT -0.67% stockholders that things are going particularly smoothly in the search.
Why can’t the Times find someone — anyone — qualified enough to take charge? This is a company consisting of the respected flagship newspaper, the oft-forgotten About.com Internet component, the sagging Boston Globe as well as other properties.
But the brand may or may not have as much cachet in 2012, amid the digital revolution. How people get their news, information and entertainment nowadays is in a state of flux. Jon Stewart, a comic actor-turned-pundit may actually have greater influence on American voters than the lead editor of the Times’s editorial page. (Stewart “may” have more influence? Who am I kidding?)
Back to basics: Why the heck has it taken so long to fill what would seem, from the outside looking in, like a plum job?
Unless, of course, it isn’t a plum job at all. The next CEO will have to find a way to take this brilliant brand and make lots of money from it. He or she will also have to report to Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
Is Sulzberger the problem?
Sulzberger’s abiding managerial characteristic lately seems to be an inability to make a decision. Whether he thinks it is fair or not, Sulzberger, 60, is on the hot seat.
Remember, Sulzberger deliberated, to put it charitably, before announcing the follow-up to Times Select, the system for charging customers money for the access to the newspaper’s voluminous Internet site. The company closed down Times Select in 2007, after only two years in operation and didn’t announce a follow-up plan until 2011.
What Sulzberger should recognize, though, is that Times observers may ultimately read the gap between CEOs as a weakness of his. The company’s stock price is likely to meander until Sulzberger appoints a successor to Robinson.
The larger issue is: What will the Times look like in coming years?
I’ve gone on record as saying I think the company will be sold — and, for years, I have put Bloomberg L.P. at the top of the list of prospective suitors. I expect that the Times will get a hostile takeover bid and Bloomberg, which was founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will swoop in as Sulzberger’s buyer of choice.
Bloomberg, 70, will be leaving office after the city’s 2013 mayoral election — and running the Times would help him pass the time and avoid a life of clipping coupons in his fancy Upper East Side digs.
What about Sulzberger’s future? Will he have a hunger to run the company a few years from now? Who can say?
Maybe job one for Robinson’s successor will be to dress up the Gray Lady for a sale.
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY : What’s the first thing you would do if you were the CEO of the New York Times?
Jon Friedman is a senior columnist for MarketWatch in New York.
By NYT eXaminer NYTX