The New York Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson is stepping down at the end of December, ending a 28-year career at the company and a seven-year run as CEO.
The decision was Ms. Robinson's, according to a staff memo from Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who will become interim CEO as the search for a successor begins.
"Under her leadership at the paper, and later our entire company, we have successfully transitioned to a multiplatform organization, and we have found new ways to reach new audiences, monetize content and stabilize our balance sheet during an uneven economy," Mr. Sulzberger wrote. "We did this without compromising the quality of our news and information we provide readers."
The company will pay Ms. Robinson $4.5 million to serve as a consultant next year. That arrangement struck some observers as a way to smooth Ms. Robinson's exit, part of an effort by the board of directors to secure a change in direction at the top.
The abrupt notice shocked many observers.
"It's an interesting thing, because when you reflect back on the way things customarily worked at The New York Times Co., succession is fairly well-planned," said Alan Mutter, the newspaper veteran turned Silicon Alley entrepreneur and newspaper blogger. "So there seems to be a sense of urgency about it. We don't know what that means."
Announcing the CEO's exit two weeks ahead with no successor in place is surprising, said publishing analyst Douglas Arthur, managing director at Evercore. "They're initiating a search for a new CEO, so this is very sudden. I am perplexed."
The move also comes five weeks after The Times Co. said longtime digital chief Martin Nisenholtz would leave at year's end, while the flagship paper's online pay meter was still in its infancy and his effort to turn the company's About.com division around was barely off the ground.
The company has decided not to name a successor to Mr. Nisenholtz, a spokesman said today.
The Times' pay meter is up and running ahead of expectations, so if there was going to be a change at the top perhaps this was a natural time, Mr. Arthur offered. "But clearly this is sudden and unexpected," he said. "You can't look at it any other way."
Ms. Robinson's tenure coincided with huge challenges to the newspaper business, not least of them the collapse of the classified ad revenue that had long supported fat profits and big newsrooms. "This was not a period of time for her or anyone else who was a CEO of a newspaper company, or for that matter CEO of any media company, to come out a complete hero," Mr. Mutter said.