By: Seth Sutel
The CEO of The New York Times Co. said Tuesday that the company has an “absolute priority” on expanding its operations online as a large shareholder is stepping up pressure on the Times to do even more.
Chief Executive Janet Robinson noted that the Times launched 50 blogs in the last year and has also enhanced topic-themed areas on its Web site in health, business and technology and inked one deal with CNBC to provide online video and another with Monster.com to create cobranded job search sites.
“In this era, no media company can afford to be an island,” Robinson said at a a question-and-answer session during a conference sponsored by Bear Stearns and made available through a Webcast.
Robinson didn’t refer explicitly to a challenge being mounted by Harbinger Capital Partners, an investment firm that has taken a 19 percent stake in the company. But her remarks appeared aimed at assuring investors that the Times was moving aggressively.
Harbinger, working with a New York University marketing professor, is trying to get its own set of four directors elected to the Times board, saying the company should move more quickly to shed disparate assets and invest even more in the online operations of its flagship newspaper.
In addition to its main newspaper, the company also owns The Boston Globe, a stake in the Boston Red Sox, the International Herald Tribune, a group of smaller newspapers and its new headquarters building in Manhattan. It also owns About.com, an online consumer information listings business.
Times Chief Financial Officer James Follo, who also appeared at the conference Tuesday, said the company frequently evaluates how it is allocating its resources and would consider any asset sale that would be prudent for investors.
“We love all our assets but we’re not married to any one of them,” Follo said. The New York Times newspaper was the sole asset he said was off the table.
To illustrate how strong the Times’ brand has become online, Robinson noted that the newspaper’s Web site saw a 60 percent increase in Web traffic on Monday afternoon after it posted a story about New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s involvement in a prostitution scandal.