Getting Awfully Crowded Here on the Grassy Knoll
Arianna has a good one today. Seems the Times’ shareholders aren’t too happy with their underperforming stock and the general state of things:
According to Seelye, investors holding 28% of the company "withheld their votes for directors at the annual [shareholders’] meeting yesterday, registering their dissatisfaction with how the company is performing" (Morgan Stanley says it was 31%). By comparison, just 1% of shareholders withheld their votes last year.
The only dissenting shareholder to go public was Morgan Stanley, the Times’ fourth largest shareholder, with 5.8 percent of the stock. But sources close to shareholders tell me that the mutineers included the Times’ top two Class A shareholders: Bruce Sherman, of Private Capital Management, which controls 14.2 percent and T. Rowe Price, the investment house which controls 13.6 percent (Adding together all of Sherman’s, Price’s and Stanley’s shares produces a total of 33.6 percent of the stock. So the Times pegs the percentage of shares withheld at 28%, Morgan Stanley puts it 31%, and my math puts it at 33%. Whatever the exact the total, it’s more than a quarter of the company’s shares.)
Sherman’s no vote of confidence is particularly significant since his dissatisfaction helped force the sale of Knight Ridder last month .
But having three of the four biggest shareholders in the company withhold their votes (and one of them publicly question the performance and salaries of top management) must put extraordinary pressure on the family to consider making a change in management – i.e. finally address its Pinch problem.
Besides having to deal with unhappy shareholders, I hear the Sulzberger clan is also getting an earful from friends on the dinner party circuit from New York to Paris (where a possible contender for Sulzberger’s job, Michael Golden, is now publisher of the International Herald Tribune). They are troubled by the Times Company’s plummeting stock price (down 47 percent since January 2004, 11 points worse than the industry average), the ongoing problems in the Times newsroom, and the ongoing Judy Miller/Scooter Libby embarrassment.
Bill Keller, from his recent online Q&A:
Sigh. I can’t imagine that there is anything to say about the Judy Miller episode that I have not already said, publicly and to The Times staff, over and over. At The Times, as in most of the media-watching world, we have registered the Miller saga as an important cautionary tale, and moved on. But the story has an afterlife in the impending trial of Scooter Libby, and, as our Q&A mailbag demonstrates, the subject has settled into some quarters of the blogosphere as a partisan obsession and an object of grassy-knoll conspiracy theories. The hard-core enthusiasts feed on blogs that have little to offer but harebrained speculation. (And they think Judy Miller was credulous!)
Would someone tell those credulous institutional stockholders to stop being such a bunch of conspiracy theorists? As Arianna notes, Pinch & pals seem to treat the likes of Morgan Stanley with the same respect they accord bloggers:
The problems are only exacerbated by the imperiousness of Sulzberger who, sources tell me, waited months before finally deigning to listen to Morgan Stanley’s concerns.
Geesh. Don’t they understand, the Times has moved on?