The promotion gives Smurl--previously the executive director for strategy and planning--a difficult task: Shoring up the paper's ad revenues at a time when big metro dailies are seeing advertisers flocking to the Internet.
While better positioned than many regional dailies, The New York Times has not been immune to the downdraft. In 2007, total ad revenues fell 4.7% compared to 2006, shedding over $100 million to end at about $2.05 billion. And the trend appears to be worsening, with ad revenues down 9.2% in the first quarter of 2008, followed by a 5.1% drop in April and 11.9% in May.
Smurl's performance will be closely scrutinized by NYTCO management, which has itself come under intense pressure from shareholders to stem losses and increase digital ad revenues.
In mid-March, the Ochs-Sulzberger family agreed to allow two candidates proposed by dissident shareholders from Harbinger Capital and Firebrand Partners to join the board of directors, increasing it from 13 to 15 members.
The two investment groups had originally proposed four candidates to be elected by regular "Class A" shareholders. The Ochs-Sulzbergers own special "Class B" shares that allow them to elect nine board members, preserving their control of the company.