Yesterday afternoon, New York Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson abruptly announced her resignation. She may have been pushed out, though she got a nice fat "consulting" paycheck to cushion her fall. The important question now: who takes over?
Bono takes over.
Let's be clear about what's really needed in this job. The next CEO of the New York Times Co. will have the vague and weighty-sounding responsibility of "guiding the company into the digital age" and "navigating the transition of a legacy newspaper company into a multiplatform digital media company" and things like that. What it means is that the CEO must generally figure out how the NYT Co. can survive the next decade or so without collapsing into rubble. Janet Robinson was not a horrible CEO, but there's little question that someone better is out there.
It's a rough time for anyone to be in the newspaper business. The commonly accepted best case scenario is navigating the coming decade with only modest shrinkage of jobs and only modest damage to the editorial product, by both growing digital ad revenue and slowing the decline of print revenue as much as possible. The worst case scenario is a decimation of the editorial product due to a combination of changing media habits and managerial incompetence. The good news is, the NYT Co. has quite a rich set of assets (not the least of which is an amazing roster of talent) that—if managed properly—should allow the company to maintain the same editorial prestige that it enjoys now. The conventional wisdom, therefore, is that the CEO position should go to some savvy person who's had success on the bleeding line between tech and media already, like a Google executive, or the head of some online ad agency, or some media executive known for their online innovation.
That's a case of small thinking. The actual nuts-and-bolts job of transitioning the NYT Co. into the "digital era" can be handled by any number of bright, lower-level functionaries. Plenty of those around. Here is what the NYT Co. actually needs in a CEO:
1. A big name. Someone who will help keep the company itself relevant and in the news.
2. Someone who is well-connected to the rich and politically powerful.
3. Someone with an actual personal interest and belief in good journalism for good journalism's sake.
4. Someone who has no personal need to plunder this financially stretched company for millions to line their own pockets.
Allow us to introduce you to Bono. Already writes for the New York Times! Sure, he's a little bit of a self-centered guy, but who isn't? He has quite a few things going for him: he's a real, from the heart, do-gooder. He believes in the mission of the NYT (above and beyond its financial performance), and would be well-motivated to do anything to keep the company healthy. He's as well-connected in moneyed and political circles as anyone this side of Bill Clinton, without being a political veteran himself, which brings lots of bullshit baggage to a media company. He could work for a dollar a year, no problem. The validation conferred upon Bono's own self-importance by such a job would be its own reward.
The New York Times Co. needs a figurehead. It needs a symbolic leader more inspiring than Pinch Sulzberger. The process of saving this company from irreversible decline could very well soon involve summoning up the good will of the public, the political establishment, and the financial titans of this world—the good will of the New York Times readership. The NYT Co. must sell itself as a public good. The newspaper business is bad. The business of being the most honest, meticulous, and civically-minded purveyor of journalism left in America is good. Frankly, the NYT Co. needs attention, at this point. Bono could use a real job. He can keep his hobbies. Everyone wins.
For all those little "operational" issues, hire a freaking deputy. Poll the staff. Whatever. Shit. Think big, New York Times! Bono already does.
[Image via Getty]