'Audible Gasp' in New York Times Newsroom: CEO Janet Robinson Is Out

Well, HMMM: the New York Times Co. just announced that CEO Janet Robinson is "retiring." It's fair to call this unexpected. Try reading between these lines, from the NYT's own story:

"It is with mixed emotions that I write to let you know that I am retiring from the New York Times Company," Ms. Robinson, who has held the post since 2004, wrote in an e-mail to the staff...

"Obviously, the last few years have been tough as, together, we have navigated one of the most difficult periods in publishing history," Ms. Robinson wrote in her e-mail. "It is probably an understatement to say that transitioning from a traditional print journalism model to the digital world has been an enormous challenge."

Obligatory awful stock performance link goes here! It's fairly obvious that the coming year will not be a kind one for newspapers. All the growth is digital, and Janet Robinson could be considered a little too old to be an expert in that arena? Is it fair to assume she was pushed out? NYT people, email me.

One newsroom source tells us: "People here in the newsroom are reacting with astonishment. Janet Robinson was widely viewed here as overpaid and not well liked. Speculation is that she took a buyout, adding to her already overstuffed and undeserved coffers. As you guys have reported, she was being paid very handsomely even as the paper was letting go of staff and struggling through the downturn."

And furthermore: "It's not clear [whether she was pushed out]. There was pretty much a collective, audible gasp throughout the newsroom when people simultaneously opened the email. Was she forced out and is she taking a buyout are the two questions everyone is asking each other. Even though Arthur has publicly stood behind her, it's clear her tenure has been less than stellar (and it wouldn't be the first time he backed someone who probably didn't deserve it — ahem, Judith Miller). In any case, if I hear that's the case I will definitely let you know. I'm sure we'll hear more in the coming days. But right now, everyone in the newsroom seems very surprised. This was unexpected, at least among the newsroom staff."

The full internal emails:

On The Record…..from Arthur

Dear Colleagues,

It was 1996 when our head of advertising at The New York Times came to me and said that the paper (which is all we were in those long-ago days) could dramatically increase its profitability and stature if it truly became a national newspaper. While one could find copies of The Times in major cities back then, it was basically the first edition with the feel of a metro paper and no significant amount of national advertising.

With Janet's vision and input, we were able to convince the then corporate management to make the investment necessary and began to reposition The Times as a truly national newspaper – one that now has 58% of weekday and 62% of Sunday subscribers located outside of the NY market.

I note this critical part of our history because Janet has informed us that she has decided to retire at the end of the year after more than 28 successful years with us. Under her leadership at the paper, and later our entire Company, we have successfully transitioned to a multiplatform organization, and we have found new ways to reach new audiences, monetize content and stabilize our balance sheet during an uneven economy. We did this without compromising the quality of the news and information we provide our readers.

The decision to create a national edition changed the fortunes for the Company. It took huge courage and vision on Janet's part to create and to successfully implement our national edition. We will always be in her debt for her leadership and her commitment to the long-term success of our Company.

We will begin a search-both internally and externally-for our next CEO. In the meantime, I will serve as CEO.

A message to all of you from Janet is attached. Her contributions to The New York Times Company have been significant and we want to thank her for 28 years of dedicated commitment and service. Please join me in wishing Janet a very healthy and happy future.

Sincerely,
Arthur
—————————————

Dear Colleagues,

It is with mixed emotions that I write to let you know that I am retiring from The New York Times Company at the end of the month. The Company has been my home for 28 years and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many outstanding professionals over the years. At the same time, the Company's course is set and I am excited by new opportunities that await me.

Obviously, the last few years have been tough as, together, we have navigated one of the most difficult periods in publishing history. It is probably an understatement to say that transitioning from a traditional print journalism model to the digital world has been an enormous challenge. Fortunately, thanks to a tremendous amount of hard work by many people, The New York Times Company is succeeding. Our balance sheet is strong, and we have a solid business plan and successful digital strategy in place that should serve the Company well for many years into the future. I know that I am leaving the Company in the best position possible.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the Sulzberger family and the Board of Directors for the opportunities they have afforded me. I also would especially like to thank all of my colleagues for their unstinting support and hard work over the years. I will be forever appreciative.

Best wishes to all for a happy and healthy holiday season.

Sincerely,

Janet

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