New job, same enemy: Mark Thompson to lead NY Times
Outgoing BBC boss is to become CEO of the New York Times, rival to Murdoch's Wall Street Journal
OUTGOING BBC Director General Mark Thompson is to become president and chief executive of the New York Times Company in November. The US company, which owns television stations as well as newspapers, said the 55-year-old's experience with digital media "on a global scale" made him the "ideal candidate".
Thompson said it was a "privilege" to lead the Times, which also publishes The Boston Globe.
New York Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger said in a statement: "Mark is a gifted executive with strong credentials whose leadership at the BBC helped it to extend its trusted brand identity into new digital products and services."
The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh says Thompson leaves the BBC "on a high" following widespread acclaim for its coverage of the London Olympics. His decision to make every event available to view online won much praise – in stark contrast to the brickbats hurled at US broadcaster NBC for its more patchy coverage.
However, Sabbagh observes that Thompson "failed to woo the rank and file" at the BBC "who bore the brunt of cutbacks while the boss earned over £800,000". American employees might be more tolerant of a highly paid executive "leaving Thompson to focus his diplomatic skills in handling the complex relationship with Arthur Sulzberger who is both the controlling shareholder – Thompson's boss as chairman – and curiously his subordinate as publisher of the New York Times newspaper".
The BBC - publicly funded and ‘free' to people who pay the licence fee - has a very different model to the New York Times, which is commercial and forces readers to pay for some content. However, both are considered pre-eminent news organisations, according to Ken Doctor, a publishing analyst with Outsell.
In an interview with Bloomberg, he said: "They're both news companies with incredible global authority and also both are known for being a bit of a stick-in-the-mud."
Thompson will find one aspect of his job familiar: clashes with Rupert Murdoch, whose British papers take delight in criticising the BBC. The New York Times competes with Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, and, says Doctor, Thompson's previous skirmishes with Murdoch probably earned him points. "That's the icing on the cake."
Reuters observes that The New York Times, like the rest of the publishing industry, faces the challenge of declining ad revenues and people turning to tablets and smartphones to get their news.
Emily Bell, a former Guardian news executive and current director of digital journalism at Columbia University, believes Thompson is the right man to turn the company around. "He's the man that turns up with his dust pan and brush when the party is over," she said.
A New York Times newsroom source told Reuters that staff were pondering the implications of being led by a TV man. "The biggest question is whether this is a signal that we are going to be getting more into the TV business or is he just going to take what we do already and distribute it more broadly digitally," the source said.
But one wag believes New York Times employees might have more pressing concerns. In a reference to the controversial relocation of London-based BBC staff to Salford in Greater Manchester, BBC Radio 5 pundit Boyd Hilton tweeted: "BBC's Mark Thompson becomes New York Times CEO. Office move to Boise, Idaho imminent."