NY Times CEO talks on role of media

by Judith Phillips | 10/5/01 5:00am

Russ Lewis, CEO of The New York Times Corp., headlined the first session of the Tuck School of Business Leadership Forum in Cook auditorium yesterday.

The event was divided into three acts: a debate, leadership advice from Lewis and questions.

Two Tuck students, Cathy Kim and Gautum Bellur, debated whether business or editorial concerns, respectively, should take priority in the print media. The students presented their arguments while Lewis fed them hypothetical situations.

Bellur commented that "The New York Times sells ... journalistic integrity," and that "there are very few absolutes in this world, and one of them is the truth."

Kim countered that the business and editorial missions "are in alignment," and that in order to provide journalistic integrity to the world, the Times "requires incredible capital."

Lewis presented the panelists with a recent print media predicament in which costs of production rose while demand for ad space decreased. A discussion ensued on the merits of shrinking the paper's width by one inch to solve the financial crunch.

Bellur argued that the societal value of the one inch was greater than its cost, while Kim said that the preservation of the Times organization would allow for the size change. She noted that newspapers such as The Boston Globe have made such changes.

Lewis said that The New York Times decided to not decrease the width of the paper in an effort to maintain its quality.

He then added another parameter -- market research showed that readers preferred the decreased size while advertisers did not. Bellur changed his position, conceding that the paper should "do what is necessary to make the public happy rather than the advertisers."

Kim said that The Times should assess whether the change would have a greater effect on circulation gross or advertisement gross.

The "oligarchy" of "price control" was another issue raised by Lewis. He said that where advertisement, demand and price historically decreased in unison, price now increases even when the other two factors decrease.

In the second act of the forum, Lewis presented leadership advice. Of particular note was his suggestion to find a job that is "personally fulfilling and contributes to society." He said that after the tragedies of Sept. 11, his job inherited an even greater personal significance.

The conference ended with a question and answer session. In response to a question regarding the liberal slant of The Times, Lewis said that the newspaper is as objective as possible, but that some liberal opinions are evident in the editorial section.

"Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," he said.