The family-controlled New York Times Company is gripped by a crisis, its news staff near mutiny over the escalating financial squeeze on their pay and benefits, and its president abruptly dismissed with a $15 million golden parachute. According to unnamed sources, Robinson's sin was to overshadow Pinch Sulzberger, the incompetent family heir during whose tenure the newspaper has gone from high profitability and prestige to continued shrinkage, low profits, and status as house organ of the American left, widely distrusted and ridiculed outside the blue bubble. Peter Lauria of Reuters:
While the Times Co has not given an official reason for Robinson's sudden decision to retire, people familiar with the matter said it was not related to an impending financial event such as a big decline in advertising sales or digital subscriptions or a large quarterly loss.
Some newsroom staffers believe that Robinson's efforts to "raise her profile" were interpreted by Arthur Sulzberger Jr, the family scion and company chairman, as an unwelcome power grab. They say that Robinson pushed for a larger publicity effort around the business side after seeing the attention heaped on the newspaper when Jill Abramson took over as editor-in-chief.
All the chaos in the company's management obviously has distracted people, leading to a humiliating public debacle yesterday: the erroneous dispatch of an offer for half off subscriptions to over 8 million people (including me) whose email addresses the company possessed. Andrew Malcolm, veteran Timesman, now working as a columnist for Investor's Business Daily has delicious fun at the Gray Lady's expense:
It's happened to most everybody, though less expensively so. A worker for the New York Times was preparing a pleading missive to several hundred disgruntled subscribers noting that they had recently canceled their paper deliveries. (snip)
The Times worker, who will shortly be informed that he/she has accepted the next buyout offer, pushed the button. And off the email went -- to nearly 9 million people on the wrong list. (snip)
... in true Anthony Weineresque fashion, someone rushed out an urgent company Tweet suggesting spam: "If you received an email today about canceling your NYT subscription, ignore it. It's not from us."
Alas, both were really sent from the East Coast Times, which is such a serious publication that it doesn't even publish comics, except for Paul Krugman.
The newspaper did honor the accidental offer for several hours until it got to be too much. A spokeswoman admitted both messages were sent in error and claimed no one's confidentiality was violated.
Malcolm then takes a stiletto to the Times' pay wall in a masterpiece of sarcasm. I won't spoil the fun. Go read the rest here.
As 2012 looms, the future of the New York Times Company continues to dim. Its viability rests on being able to maintain the already diminished value of its brand in the face of valuable employees leaving for greener pastures elsewhere at media companies like Bloomberg with business models more attuned to economic realities, and on managing the difficult transition to digital platforms. Pinch Sulzberger's leadership has repeatedly failed, and now, like many another heir, he has shown that he will not tolerate competence that overshadows his own glory.