The New York Times Co will remain publicly traded, build its online business and cut costs despite brutal conditions that threaten the survival of newspapers, Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr said at the publisher's annual meeting on Thursday.
Sulzberger expressed his confidence about the future of the Times Co, while acknowledging that big problems stand in the way of improving its business.
The financial crisis and recession have had brutal effects on all of us in the media business, Sulzberger told investors from a podium in an auditorium at its headquarters in New York City, his top executives seated nearby with grim faces.
The New York Times Company is no exception, he said. Business will continue to be difficult.
The meeting did not produce any radical changes in course, nor did it produce fireworks among shareholders, even as pressure grows on Sulzberger to find a way to fix the business, and experts wonder how long the Times Co can survive.
The Times on Monday marked a journalistic triumph of winning five Pulitzer Prizes, then reported a quarterly loss on a 27 percent decline in advertising revenue the next day.
Sulzberger thanked his family, which has controlled the Times since 1896, for remaining committed to the Times despite the board's decision to kill its dividend to pay off debt.
He did not reiterate his declaration from last year that the Times is not for sale, which many media observers have speculated could happen if children in the Ochs-Sulzberger family were alarmed by their dwindling fortunes.
His cousin, Times Co Vice Chairman Michael Golden, said that the Times still is not for sale. I wouldn't read anything into that, he told Reuters, after being asked why Sulzberger did not repeat what he said last year.
Investors and media outlets searching for answers on the future of the Times and its Boston Globe, which it has threatened to shut down if it cannot get concessions from its union, heard nothing new.
Sulzberger and Chief Executive Janet Robinson declined to say what they will do with the Globe, though Sulzberger said the company cares deeply about the paper, which it bought for $1.1 billion in 1993.
They stuck mostly to highlighting cost-cut plans and ways to increase online revenue that they have shared before. The company has laid off employees, lowered pay by up to 5 percent, restructured its benefit plans, closed divisions, sold its share in its headquarters building and borrowed money from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim to help right itself.
Slim, who through his businesses has lent the Times Co $250 million in exchange for a nearly 17 percent stake in the company, almost as large as the Ochs-Sulzberger's, has not offered candidates of his own for the board, Sulzberger said.
Another shareholder, Harbinger Capital Partners, avoided a proxy battle with the Times in 2008 by getting the Times to allow to of its nominees onto the board.
NO SINGLE WAY OUT
Sulzberger said there is no single way to solve the problems that ail U.S. newspapers, which are fighting to survive plunging ad revenue and in some cases, deepening losses and mountains of debt.
He said the company is examining afresh whether it can make people pay -- through subscriptions or per-article payments -- for the news that they read online.
He said the company has not yet decided whether to charge a fee, something it has tried twice before. He also said that the Web's ascendance does not spell the end of printed papers.
Most people now read news for free online, prompting one investor at the meeting to wonder aloud why the Times keeps raising prices for its print subscribers.
Times Co investors in the company's publicly traded shares voted to re-elect five members of the company's 15-member board of directors on Thursday. Members of the Ochs-Sulzberger family, who control the company through a different class of shares, voted to re-elect the rest.
Though investors did not withhold votes in large numbers as in recent years, some criticized the executives' performance.
Times shares were unchanged at $4.94 on the New York Stock Exchange early Thursday afternoon. The stock has lost 75 percent of its value in the past 12 months and is down some 90 percent from highs of more than $50 earlier in the decade.
(Reporting by Robert MacMillan; Editing by Richard Chang)