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New York Times Needs to Wake Up

Marc Andreessen has inaugurated “the New York Times Deathwatch” — and the data he cites should be giving the Times-folk nightmares. But then, the company’s board of directors is a particularly inept group considering the absolute need to move, fast, into the digital world for real, with all that means.

Marc writes, with utterly appropriate snark, of this crew:

Well, given that the Internet is the central force dismantling the company’s business, I’m sure that by now they’ve stocked their board with noted Internet experts. Let’s see:

  • Brenda C. Barnes — CEO of Sara Lee; noted snack cake expert
  • Raul E. Cesan — former CEO of Schering-Plough; noted Levitra expert
  • Daniel H. Cohen — president of DeepSee LLC, “an oceanic exploration and submarine leasing company”; noted Jacques Cousteau expert
  • Lynn G. Dolnick — former head of exhibits for the National Zoologic Park in Washington DC; noted marsupial expert
  • Michael Golden — current publisher of the International Herald Tribune; former head of the company’s Women’s Publishing Division; noted sundress expert
  • William E. Kennard — former head of the FCC; noted “seven dirty words” expert
  • James M. Kilts — former CEO of Gillette; noted smooth, smooth shave expert; prior to that, unindicted coconspirator at Philip Morris; noted expert on your grandfather’s hacking cough
  • David E. Liddle — here I have to take a pause as I actually know this one; based on what’s happening at the company, it could be reasonably asked whether he’s actually attending the board meetings.
  • Ellen R. Marram — former CEO of Nabisco; noted Oreo expert. Oh, wait, she actually ran an Internet company: “From 1999 until 2000, Ms. Marram was president and chief executive officer of efdex Inc. (the Electronic Food & Drink Exchange), an Internet-based commodities exchange for the food and beverage industry.” Ooh. I wonder if that ended well.
  • Thomas Middelhoff — former CEO of Bertelsmann; noted expert on complicated family politics — well, that’s probably coming in handy…
  • Janet L. Robinson — current CEO of the New York Times Company; noted expert on horrific business implosions
  • Doreen A. Toben — CFO of Verizon; noted 30-year debenture expert
  • And finally, Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. — the Big Kahuna — the Man — the Guy In Charge — the chairman and scion — the dude with the cojones to actually defend Judy Miller. Not noted Internet expert.

Now, some hedge-fund investors who quite plainly care only about the money — and not the public trust aspect of publishing the nation’s best and most important newspaper — are trying to persuade the company to add some board members who have a clue. One of the people they hope to put on the board is Allen Morgan, a friend who is managing director at Mayfield Fund in Silicon Valley. He gets this stuff more thoroughly than almost anyone I know.

I own some NY Times Co. shares, and they’re worth a lot less than I paid for them. I will continue to hold these, even if the company utterly tanks, because I believe in the mission of newspapers and believe the Times has some of the best journalists in the world and could make the move to the Net much better than it has done to date — and that there is absolutely no choice but to move more quickly.

The hedge fund speculators could care less about journalism or the public good, no doubt. But they’re doing a stodgy institution a huge favor. Sadly, the institution is so hidebound that it doesn’t recognize the writing on its own wall.

2 Comments on “New York Times Needs to Wake Up”

  1. #1 Delia
    on Feb 7th, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    Dan,

    If you think it’s going to tank, why hold on to those shares? It’s not helping anybody, is it? Why not sell them and give the money away (if you really don’t care what comes of it) –> help out someone you think it’s NOT going to tank…

    Delia

  2. #2 New York Times Needs to Wake Up | Dan Gillmor | Voices | AllThingsD
    on Feb 8th, 2008 at 8:33 am

    [...] considering the absolute need to move, fast, into the digital world for real, with all that means. Read the rest of this post Dan Gillmor is director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State [...]