Posts Tagged ‘Janet L. Robinson’

Being a news-business junkie, I was very surprised at a business-front story in today’s New York Times announcing that Janet L. Robinson, chief executive of The Times the last seven years, was “retiring.”

Robinson, who will long be remembered as the person who oversaw The Times’ conversion from a regional to national newspaper in the 1990s, didn’t seem like a candidate for retirement.

She is only 61, and there had never been any talk of a succession plan, as far as I know. Also, her “retirement” and its imminence — effective in two weeks — caught nearly everyone, even Times employees, by surprise.

It wasn’t until the ninth and tenth paragraphs that the veil of puzzlement was lifted.

“Last Friday, Mr. Sulzberger called a meeting with Ms. Robinson on the 15th floor of the company’s Manhattan headquarters. He raised the issue of installing a different type of leadership at the company, according to people familiar with the meeting who declined to be identified discussing confidential company business.

“Both Ms. Robinson and Mr. Sulzberger declined to comment.”

Mr. Sulzberger is Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Co. and Times’ publisher.

So, Sulzberger fired Robinson; it’s that simple.

Today, the Internet is full of speculation about why she was let go.

The Wall Street Journal, a competitor of The Times, said:

“The company’s struggles during the worst of the (newspaper industry) downturn had prompted some members of the Sulzberger family to question whether Ms. Robinson was the right person to guide the company in a digital world, according to people briefed on the family’s thinking.”

Adam Clark Estes of The Atlantic Wire (part of The Atlantic magazine) said The Times “needs a technologist” instead of a chief executive steeped in print journalism.

“You’d be hard pressed to find a media pundit who wouldn’t agree that the Grey Lady needs a kick in the pants from someone who understands technology,” Estes wrote.

Still, as The Washington Post (with Bloomberg) reported on its website, The Times, under Robinson, has had an excellent roll-out of its online pay wall.

The Post said: “In March, the company began charging users for full online access to the paper’s content. By the end of September, it had 324,000 paying digital subscribers, bringing Times’ combined paper and online subscribers to 1.2 million. Digital advertising now makes up 14 percent of total revenue, up from 8 percent in 2006.”

Those are impressive numbers, and many media analysts think The Times set up a very smart pay-wall system: People who go to the site (NYT.com) can read 20 articles a month without paying. After that, they have the option of buying one of three digital news packages.

The “first-20-free” system is intended, The Times has said, “to draw in subscription revenue from the most loyal readers while not driving away the casual visitors who make up the vast majority of the site’s traffic.”

Despite the many achievements in Robinson’s portfolio, the main negative factors — the ones that probably most affected “the family’s thinking” — were significant drop-offs in advertising and circulation in recent years.

As a Women’s Wear Daily web story said, “For the first time in its history, the Times had to cut from its newsroom, which resulted in more than 200 job losses in the last three years. Additionally, the Times had to eliminate sections in the paper…close a printing press, take out a mortgage on its new skyscraper and take an onerous loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.”

The fortunes of virtually every major U.S. daily also fell off a ledge, however, so it’s hard to see how Robinson could have been held responsible.

Who knows? Whatever the case, she had a great run at The Times; hers was an exceptional career. She started at The Times in 1983 and worked her way up the business and advertising side until reaching the top, or at least very near the top.

And here are a couple of things about her that warm my liberal-arts heart: Before joining The Times, she was a public school teacher in Newport, Rhode Island, and Somerset, Massachusetts.

Furthermore, she received a B.A. degree in English from Salve Regina College, Newport, RI, where she graduated cum laude in 1972.

I tell you, it’s hard to top those English majors.

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