Times Company chairman welcomes Mark Thompson as BBC scandal widens

Mark Thompson in 2005. ()
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Mark Thompson began his reign as chief executive of The New York Times Company this morning with a warm welcome from the man with whom he will plot the course of the company's future.

"Mark will lead us as we continue our digital transformation, bolster our international growth, drive our productivity and introduce new technologies that will help us become better storytellers and enrich the experience for our readers and viewers," wrote Times Co. chairman and Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. in a note to staff. "That is what he did as Director-General of the BBC. His experience will be of great value to our company as we continue our pursuit of creating the highest quality journalism and the business results to support it.

"All those who have met Mark," Sulzerger's note continued, "from staff members to our Board of Directors, admire his focus, meaningful expertise and appreciation for the long-term future of the Times Company."

Thompson is expected to keep a low profile during his early days running the Times Company, which is striving to turn around quarterly revenue losses by championing a global and digital expansion strategy buoyed by the mobile and online subscription model it introduced a little more than a year and a half ago.

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There will be no big public roll-out, at least not during the first few months, when Thompson will spend much of his time meeting with executives and other staffers from across the enterprise.

"He'll be spending the next few months getting to know the company and its employees," a Times Company spokesperson told Capital, "as well as getting a deeper understanding of the business issues and developing a long-term strategy."

Thompson, who was named C.E.O. eight months after the Times Company ousted his predecessor, Janet Robinson, has recently come under scrutiny as a result of the scandal enveloping his previous fiefdom, the BBC, which he headed from 2004 until earlier this year.

Scotland Yard is currently investigating claims that the late legendary BBC host Jimmy Savile sexually abused as many as 300 women and underage girls in the course of his three decades working for the U.K. broadcast giant. Thompson was drawn into the imbroglio last month when allegations surfaced that the BBC canceled a news documentary on the matter in an attempt to muffle the scandal, leading to speculation over Thompson's role in the decision.

Thompson has said he had nothing to do with the canceling of the documentary. But that didn't stop the Times' own public editor from questioning his suitability to lead the company.

The plot thickened over the weekend when Thompson's successor, George Entwistle, abruptly resigned in the face of pressure from critics who have condemned the BBC for its handling of the Savile saga.

At least one prominent media pundit believes that Thompson should do the same for the sake of the Times.

"With Entwistle’s resignation, we can expect the inquiries … into what went wrong to expand," wrote analyst Ken Doctor on Saturday. "Today, the Times has the ability to move forward, building on what’s been a very good 2012. Yet, the only way to do that is for Mark Thompson to announce that despite his full confidence that he will be cleared of any wrongdoing, the inevitable public questioning of his role — in Parliament and beyond — makes it impossible for him to proceed with his new post."

A Times Company spokesperson declined to comment on the situation at the BBC. But on the company's third-quarter earnings call several weeks ago, Sulzberger threw his support behind his incoming right-hand man.

"I'm sure you've read recent reports of a controversy regarding the BBC's decision to cancel a news story investigating allegations of child molestation by one of their talents," Sulzberger said. "Mark has provided a detailed account of the matter, and I am satisfied that he played no role in the cancellation of that segment. ... Our opinion remains that he abides by high ethical standards and is the ideal person to lead our company as we focus our business on digital and global expansion."

Sulzberger didn't mention the BBC brouhaha in his memo this morning, which you can read in full below:

Dear Colleagues,

Today Mark Thompson officially joins us as president and CEO of The New York Times Company.

We welcome him at a time of tremendous change and challenge, which must be met with equal focus and innovation. Mark will lead us as we continue our digital transformation, bolster our international growth, drive our productivity and introduce new technologies that will help us become better storytellers and enrich the experience for our readers and viewers. That is what he did as Director-General of the BBC. His experience will be of great value to our company as we continue our pursuit of creating the highest quality journalism and the business results to support it.

All those who have met Mark, from staff members to our Board of Directors, admire his focus, meaningful expertise and appreciation for the long-term future of the Times Company.

Mark was here the last two weeks of October and saw first-hand the dedication of our employees, as we all pulled together to cover the historic Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. In short order he will understand, from New York City to Boston, from Paris to Hong Kong, all that makes our company great.

Mark has already met many of us and more of you will meet him over the coming days and weeks. I encourage you to introduce yourself to him.

Arthur