"The Ochs-Sulzberger family has no intention of opening our doors," said Janet L. Robinson, president-CEO of the Times Co. The family can't be ousted or forced to do much at all because it owns 90% of the company's controlling Class B shares, leading big investors such as Morgan Stanley Investment Management to grouse that owners of Class A shares -- those are the ones traded publicly -- don't have the voice they deserve.
Like a fiefdom
The structure has its purpose, Ms. Robinson said, although not in those words. "It was put in place for a very important reason: to protect the journalistic independence and integrity of The Times," she said. "I, for one, am glad that we and others in the industry have dual-class structures designed to protect our company in times of change."
Ms. Robinson and other Times Co. executives spoke today as part of the annual Credit Suisse media conference, facing precisely the analysts most interested in whether the company can get its flagging stock price growing again.
After reciting the traditional warnings about forward-looking statements, Ms. Robinson began her presentation with a backward-looking statement: "This has been a tough year."
Note of optimism
Rival newspaper companies that also presented here today, such as Gannett, Dow Jones Co. and McClatchy, took similar approaches, with frequent mentions of their "optimism" leavened with allusions to "current conditions" and assertions like "slightly declining circulation is not failure."
Everyone's digital is getting a big push, everyone is finding costs to cut and everyone is trying to figure out which struggles are secular and which are more lasting. Tough auto, soft real estate and poor job advertising, for example, will come around again, said Gary Pruitt, chairman-CEO of the McClatchy Co. But there are broader challenges too, such as the changing media environment.
"We are neither myopic nor ignorant," Mr. Pruitt said. "Once again newspapers face an evolutionary imperative: adapt or die."
Many said they are trying more and better hyper-local and narrowly targeted coverage; participating in Google's test of selling ad space in newspapers through an auction system; and developing better ways to get information to consumers however makes the most sense, as Gannett is doing with its Information Center concept.
"The realist in me," Ms. Robinson allowed all the same, "believes our transition to the future will continue to be challenging."