Conflict over the future of The Boston Globe between top executives and family members who run and control The New York Times Co. was a key factor in last year’s ouster of the company’s chief executive, according to a story in this week’s New York magazine.
Janet L. Robinson, who served for seven years as chief executive of The Times Co., which owns the Globe, left in December with little explanation and a $24 million severance package.
The article describes the decision by Arthur L. Sulzberger Jr., Times chairman, to dismiss Robinson as the culmination of a clash over how The New York Times Co. should deal with its major assets outside the Times, with the Globe and the website About.com, the largest among them.
Robinson is portrayed as having been the leading advocate within the company for keeping the Globe, after attempts to sell it in 2009 failed.
Robinson argued that the paper should be given a chance to develop its new subscription website, bostonglobe.com, and perhaps increase its market value before a sale.
Michael Golden, vice chairman and a member of the family that controls the company, took a dim view of Robinson’s strategy and moved hard against her.
“In Golden’s estimation,’’ the article said, “Robinson had not pushed hard enough to sell the paper, and he wanted to see it sold, sooner rather than later.’’
The magazine reviews how the Times has been shedding assets in an effort to raise cash, such as its Red Sox investment and its group of regional newspapers, which the company wrote down as a $161 million loss in 2011.
Last fall, Golden, a cousin of Sulzberger, visited the Globe to get his own sense of the new website’s financial prospects.
The article says Robinson sought to ward off his inquiries.
The article continues: “Robinson, according to people familiar with the matter, had instructed the Globe’s publisher, Chris Mayer, to direct any information about bostonglobe.com to her, and not to Golden.
“This put Sulzberger in a difficult position. By crossing a sacred family line, Robinson gave Golden the opening he needed to assert himself. . . . In the past, Sulzberger had the authority to keep Golden and the rest of the family at arm’s length. Now, with the business struggling . . . he was no longer in a position to protect Robinson, and maybe just as important, he had lost the will to do so.’’
There were other sources of discord within the company, which had weakened the long-time close business relationship between Sulzberger and Robinson.
The article portrays Sulzberger as frequently absent from corporate headquarters, caught up in a personal relationship, absences that frustrated Robinson.
There were also intense disputes about the company’s digital strategy, with Robinson openly clashing with and ultimately prevailing over the executive in charge of the Times’s digital operation.
After Robinson was fired, Golden was assigned to supervise the Globe subsidiary. Almost immediately, the article asserts, there was renewed speculation about the status of the Globe.
“There are already rumblings that potential buyers are being sounded out,” the article said.
Robert Christie, a spokesman for the Times, declined to comment Saturday night.
Boston Globe publisher Christopher M. Mayer declined to comment on whether the Globe is for sale.
“Our priority continues to be our journalistic mission and running the business, which is necessary in order to support that effort,’’ he said. “I continue to be pleased and proud with all the work that’s being done toward those ends.”
He said he has provided information about sales of the Globe’s digital subscriptions to the full executive committee of the Times, which includes Golden.
As of the end of March, the Globe reported more than 18,000 standalone digital subscriptions, with a significant number of print subscribers accessing bostonglobe.com.
The article also offers a vivid account of the pressures mounting on Sulzberger to find a secure financial path for the Times and speculates that he and his family may ultimately feel compelled to put the company up for sale.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire owner of a news media company, is described as one potential buyer.
The Times bought the Globe in 1993 for $1.1 billion.