In a move that many Israel supporters would call fitting, the New York Times Company has named Mark Thompson, the director general of the British Broadcasting Corporation, as the “newspaper of record’s” president and chief executive.
The 55-year-old will assume the position in November, when he will become a board member as well.
“We have people who understand print very well, the best in the business,” Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger said regarding the hiring of Thompson, a television veteran. “We have people who understand advertising well, the best in the business. But our future is on to video, to social, to mobile. It doesn’t mirror what we’ve done. It broadens what we are going to do.”
“I have been a reader of The New York Times for decades,” Thompson remarked, “and I am honored to take the new position. What we’ve got in The New York Times is an outstanding newsroom, the envy of the world.”
For years, groups that monitor the media for anti-Israel coverage have heavily criticized both The New York Times and the BBC for repeatedly perpetrating such bias. Observers are cautiously waiting to see if Thompson’s hiring will have the trickle-down effect of skewing the Times’ coverage of Israel even more to the left than it has purportedly been until now.
Since the departure eight months ago of Janet Robinson, the position of chief executive at The Times has been vacant. Sulzberger has revealed that the company was seeking someone with experience in the digital world and across multiple platforms.
Thompson’s time at the BBC has been highlighted by his efforts in digital expansion and international development of the network. He promoted the BBC’s collaboration with YouView, a joint venture with ITV, Channel 4 and other channels, that provides digital television and many other ventures, such as BBC America.
Observers have taken note of the fact that Thompson’s professional background makes him a somewhat unusual fit for The New York Times, as – in addition to being from the world of television – he was employed by a public broadcaster, which does not have the same financial responsibilities to the public as a publicly traded concern like the Times Company. “I think of myself as a journalist,” Thompson said. “I spent many of my years as a working journalist.”
Thompson’s departure from the BBC comes at a high point for the British network, especially in the news organization’s digital ventures. Its website attracted an extraordinary number of visitors throughout the July 27 to August 12 stretch of the Olympic Games, which were held in London.
“If you look at what the BBC has done with digital, especially in coverage of the Olympics and interactive, it’s been extremely good,” said Ian Whittaker, a media analyst in London. “Having said that, Mark Thompson has never had to scrap for advertising revenue or circulation revenues.”
An Oxford University graduate, Thompson began his career at the BBC in 1979 as a production trainee. Following stints as an editor on the BBC’s flagship “Nine O’Clock News” and the news program “Panorama,” he advanced to directing the separate channel BBC2 and serving as the BBC’s director of national and regional broadcasting. In 2000, Thompson moved up to become the BBC’s director of television. After two years as chief executive of Britain’s Channel 4, Thompson came back to serve as BBC Worldwide’s director general in 2004, and was given the title of chairman this year. As director general, he supervised 20,000 employees worldwide and 400,000 hours of programming.
Thompson has not been shy in terms of addressing controversies about the BBC’s news coverage. In 2010, he commented that the BBC had in the past displayed a “massive” left-leaning bias, but he added that the bias was no longer evident.
Thompson lives in Oxford with his wife, the American-born Jane Blumberg. They have three children.