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Times Co. CEO says Globe not for sale

Janet Robinson Janet Robinson
By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / May 19, 2011

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The chief executive of The New York Times Co. flatly declared yesterday that The Boston Globe “is not for sale,’’ even as a Wellesley entrepreneur prepares an offer to buy New England’s largest newspaper.

In her most direct comments yet on the status of the Globe, Times Co. chief executive Janet Robinson said in an interview that the Globe’s finances have improved after a series of cost-cutting and revenue measures, and it is expected to be a strong contributor to the parent company’s financial performance.

In a meeting with Globe editors and reporters, Robinson implied she needed to make a clear statement about the Globe’s future within the Times Co. to quell uncertainty raised by the purported interest of Aaron Kushner, the local businessman who a source said is preparing an offer of more than $200 million for the Times Co.’s New England Media Group. She also said the Times Co.’s interest in keeping the Globe goes beyond bottom-line matters.

“One of the things we say often, and it can’t be said enough in this community: The New York Times is very proud of The Boston Globe,’’ she said. “We’re very proud of the progress we’ve made. We’re very proud of its commitment to quality journalism.’’

Still, Robinson acknowledged that the Times Co., as a publicly traded company, would have to entertain any offer made for the Globe. But she said she has not heard from Kushner about his plans and reiterated that “we are not pursuing the sale of The Boston Globe.’’

In a statement yesterday Kushner said he still intends to make a formal offer for the New England Media Group, the Times Co. division that includes the Globe, Boston.com, and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

“We greatly respect how highly they value the Globe. We haven’t made a formal offer,’’ Kushner said. “When we do, it will be compelling for the health and long-term success of the institution itself, and for The New York Times financially.’’

Robinson’s remarks come at a crucial period of transition for both the Times Co. and its local properties. The Globe is preparing to launch a new digital media strategy later this year that will shift most of its newspaper content to a new fee-based website, BostonGlobe.com, while continuing to operate its existing free website, Boston.com.

The New York Times instituted a somewhat different pay model for its online business earlier this year, and yesterday Robinson said the initial response has been encouraging. She said company revenues in April were up, in part due to the number of subscribers who elected to pay for Times content.

Earlier yesterday, in a presentation at an investors conference in Boston, Robinson said the early success of the Times’ pay model “carries very positive implications’’ for the Globe. She also said Globe executives are not copying the Times’ approach, but rather have settled on an approach suited to Boston.

Robinson did add that the Times Co. is still trying to sell its remaining ownership interest in the Boston Red Sox, after selling a sliver for almost three times what it paid eight years ago. The Times Co. owns a little under 17 percent of the baseball club.

Times Co. shares closed up nearly 10 percent yesterday, at $7.86, following Robinson’s upbeat remarks about the company’s digital strategy at the investors conference hosted by JPMorgan Chase in Boston.

The Globe is coming off a tumultuous period in which its financial performance had so deteriorated that Times Co. executives threatened to close the paper unless it received substantial cost concessions from its employee unions. In 2009, the Globe’s major unions each adopted a package of wage and benefit reductions that produced tens of millions in savings for the company. The Globe also instituted a major price increase and closed a plant in Billerica.

At the time the Times Co. also explored selling the Globe, but elected not to after receiving several bids it deemed inadequate and seeing improved financial performance.

Since then, the erosion in advertising revenues has slowed and the Times Co. has indicated the Boston operation is now profitable. Moreover, Globe executives said yesterday that they are considering eliminating unpaid furlough days employees are taking as part of the labor concessions they made to the Times Co.

“The Globe wants to eliminate unpaid furlough days for our employees as our financial performance improves,’’ said Globe spokesman Robert Powers.

Kushner, meanwhile, has been exploring making an offer for the Globe for months and recently said he is close to doing so. He said he is being helped by a team of media and business advisers, including some members of the Taylor family, which owned the Globe for decades, and has been soliciting local business people to invest in his venture.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.

Correction: This story about The Boston Globe mischaracterized revenue at The New York Times Co. Advertising revenue trends in April improved compared with March, according to Times Co. chief executive Janet Robinson. She did not discuss overall company revenue.