The Times Co.'s super-potent silent treatment

If a tree falls in the Forest Dept.
By ADAM REILLY  |  July 29, 2009

In an earnings conference call last week, Janet Robinson, the president and CEO of the New York Times Co., had choice words — make that one choice word — for published reports on the Times Co.'s attempts to unload the Boston Globe. "While there has been speculation concerning the sale of the Boston Globe," said Robinson (emphasis added), "we have not and are not commenting on this."

Actually, there's been more than "speculation." Back in May, the Phoenix reported that former Globe executive VP Al Larkin had been working for several months on behalf of the Times Co. to find a buyer for the paper. On July 3, the Globe itself reported that two prospective local buyers — advertising legend Jack Connors and Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca — had received approval from the Times Co. to craft a combined offer. And four days after that, the Globe noted that the Times Co. had extended the July 8 deadline that Goldman Sachs — which was managing the sale process for the Times Co. — had previously established for preliminary bids.

So why did Robinson intimate that these detailed reports were little more than wacky rumors? When I posed that question via e-mail to Catherine Mathis, the Times Co.'s senior VP of corporate communications, she reiterated: "We have not commented on a potential sale of the Globe."

The argument, then, seems to be this: happenings at the Times Co. remain "speculation" until the Times Co. deigns to weigh in on them, at which point they become "real." That's a strange line of reasoning, since the New York Times' own mandate includes reporting on facts that the powers-that-be would rather not acknowledge, but which exist just the same.

Still, this mindset does shed light on the Times Co.'s strange handling of the recent Globe crisis. When the threatened closure of the Globe was first reported in April, the company's refusal to comment simply seemed like poor PR. Ditto the unwillingness of top Times Co. brass, including Robinson and chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr., to visit Boston and discuss the closure threat and concessions demand with the Globe's employees.

But Robinson and Mathis's comments suggest a different interpretation. Perhaps the Times Co. was reticent during the Globe crisis because, according to the aforementioned logic, unpleasant realities at Morrissey Boulevard could be ignored — at least in New York — as long as everybody stayed quiet. After all, as long as nobody talked, the unpleasant realities in question didn't officially exist.

Related: Will the Globe survive?, Man bites newspaper, No free ride at Daily News' Web site, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Janet Robinson, new york times co., Newspapers,  More more >
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