New York Times CEO Janet Robinson stepping down

NEW YORK Thu Dec 15, 2011 6:49pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Janet Robinson will step down as Chief Executive of the New York Times Co. at the end of the month, after a seven-year run in which she attempted to steer the company through one of the harshest business environments it has ever faced.

The New York Times, which in addition to its flagship paper publishes The Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune, among others, will begin a search for internal and external candidates to replace Robinson, 61. Until then, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. will oversee the company.

The abrupt management change caught analysts as well as company insiders by surprise. Within the New York Times' newsroom, word of the shakeup began to spread about 20 minutes before the announcement.

"No one had an inkling this was coming," said a source at the paper, who declined to be named. "As recently as last week she was taking meetings with people and mapping out business plans for well into next year."

Robinson, who has worked at the company for nearly three decades, became president and chief executive officer in late 2004. In the following years, she was credited with lowering costs, improving the balance sheet and establishing a plan to charge for online content, but the stock price remained under pressure.

This year alone, shares are down nearly 25 percent, a performance that frustrated investors.

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

The problems plaguing newspaper companies are well known. Readers have ditched print for digital, causing circulation and advertising revenue to plummet. Newspaper company Lee Enterprises last week succumbed to secular changes and filed for bankruptcy protection.

Robinson underscored the struggle her company faces during a presentation at the recent UBS investor conference in New York, estimating that fourth-quarter advertising revenue is expected to "improve slightly" from the previous quarter's 9 percent decline, putting a positive spin on yet another quarter of decreasing ad dollars.

"It is very unusual to have a long-time CEO suddenly announce her leaving within two weeks with no replacement," said Evercore Partners analyst Douglas Arthur. "She's done a lot of good things but at the end of the day the stock price is the ultimate measure of success."

(Additional reporting by Peter Lauria in New York and Soham Chatterjee in Bangalore; Editing by Phil Berlowitz, Richard Chang and Gunna Dickson)

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