NYT — STILL NOT FOR SALE: The bigwigs of The New York Times came out Thursday at a Media Minds breakfast at the Bryant Park Grill in Manhattan to talk about the status of journalism at the Gray Lady. Times publisher and chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and chief executive officer and president Mark Thompson fielded questions from ex-journalist Alex Jones, of Harvard’s Kennedy School, as executive editor Jill Abramson looked on from her seat at the packed restaurant.

This story first appeared in the March 14, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Jones prefaced the talk with the sale of Dow Jones by the Bancroft family and the more recent sale of The Washington Post by the Graham family, asking about the possibility of a New York Times sale and a succession plan. Lamenting the sale of the Post, Sulzberger emphasized that the Times would not follow suit.

“There is a succession plan in place. It involves some family, it involves Mark,” he said, referring to Thompson. “We have six very talented members of the fifth generation [of Sulzbergers]. We are going to develop them. There will at some point be choices to be made — who is going to be the next publisher — that’s a family position, who is going to be the next chairman, that’s a family position. The family is united around its ownership and its responsibility to maintaining The New York Times and its journalistic integrity and it’s journalistic presence.”

If that wasn’t clear enough, Sulzberger added that there’s a trust in place and it can’t be sold easily.

With that chapter closed, Jones moved on to the paper’s declining advertising revenues.  In 2013, total revenues slid 1.1 percent to $1.58 billion, partially weighed down by digital revenues, which slumped 4.3 percent to $162.9 million.  Thompson said it’s “essential” to the paper that it improves on that, and he highlighted a 33.5 percent gain in revenues from digital-only subscriptions to $149.1 million, for the year.

The ceo added that the company has already picked up steam on the digital sales front with the launch of native advertising in January. He noted that the Times is becoming “increasingly” similar to an American broadcasting company, with “multiple revenue streams.” 

For his part, Sulzberger talked about the importance of mobile for the paper and continuing to do “fearless journalism” in the face of hostility from governments such as that in China. Abramson was called to stand up and speak more to that, but she took the opportunity to turn it into something a little unexpected. “The single biggest concern as executive editor that I have right now are the seven criminal leak investigations that the Obama administration is pursuing right now,” she said, referring to one in which a Times reporter may be compelled by a subpoena to reveal his source, which “he will not do.

“Of all the things that have a very chilling effect on our reporting, I would say that’s the biggest one now,” Abramson said dryly, before reclaiming her seat.

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