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Who Will Be The Next NYT CEO?

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Who will follow Janet Robinson in one of the highest profile — and most challenging — media jobs? The rumors and suggestions, ranging from the rational to the ridiculous, are flying about possible candidates for CEO of the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) as the search for internal and external candidates begins.

Senior NYTCo execs in the running include Scott Heekin-Canedy, president and GM of the flagship paper and Chris Mayer, publisher of The Boston Globe and president of the New England Media Group; both are members of the executive committee. I’d also expect Denise Warren, GM of and chief advertising officer of the NYT and the NYT Media Group, to get a serious look.

Sulzberger cousin Michael Golden, vice chairman of and president and COO of the Regional Media Group, might be on the list under other circumstances but I don’t see the board putting family members as chairman and CEO at this point. Speculation has been raised that having Sulzberger and Golden as chairman and vice chairman caused problems for Robinson.

One name has cropped up from the editorial side via wishful thinking and “newsroom” gossip — Andrew Ross Sorkin, the financial reporter who created DealBook, the paper’s most successful new digital property. Sorkin is currently multitasking as a columnist for the NYT, editor-at-large for DealBook, and co-host of CNBC’s Squawk Box. Sorkin’s a 100-watt-bulb but it’s a pretty big leap to CEO of a public company.

It does underscore an important question now: the company has had stable, albeit staid, leadership at the very top via internal succession and has managed to survive some tough times. The board has to decide now whether it wants to continue that tradition or bring in someone charged with staying the course — or shake things up by breaking the NYT mold. How much change does the company need? How much risk can it afford? If the board goes outside, how much leeway will a new CEO have? That last will say a lot about the kind of candidates who would be interested.

It’s not like the Times needs to hire someone to make sure it goes digital. Unlike some of its competitors, it’s been moving steadily towards a digital future for years, spending on R&D, acquiring and investing in digital companies, adding digital subscriptions and paywalls, going across devices. Digital is baked in enough now that there are no plans to replace Martin Nisenholtz as corporate digital czar. Not everyone agrees with the pace but the NYTCo is far from a media dinosaur. But it does need a CEO with digital sensibilities and a sense of how to continue that transition in ways that make sense for its journalism and its shareholders — and who will invest, experiment and encourage internal entrepreneurs like Sorkin.

More important, the company needs someone who knows how to make the most money possible from the print assets as long as possible, how to manage the resurrection of, and how to make sure the digital revenue coming in will be enough to take the place of that print revenue. Robinson came up through traditional newspaper advertising; her successor should have comparable experience in a multi-platform world.

Much more in our New York Times’ archives.