Twenty years ago, Janet Robinson decided she no longer wanted to work as a public school teacher, so she began to look for a job in publishing.
She now occupies one of the most prestigious posts in the industry.
The first female president and general manager of The New York Times addressed a crowd of nearly 160 Yale students and guests in the Saybrook College multipurpose room Tuesday afternoon.
Robinson’s “September 11th and Beyond” lecture was made possible by the Gordon Grand Fellowship, which was founded to bring leaders in business and public affairs to Yale.
Robinson said she had originally intended to give the audience a guided tour through the 150-year history of the Times, but changed her approach following the recent terrorist attacks.
While Robinson spent much of the later part of the lecture discussing the marketing aspects of running the Times, she began by describing the newspaper’s reaction to the attacks.
On the morning of Sept. 11, the newspaper staff initially reacted by calling loved ones to ensure their safety, and then instinctively got back to work to serve its journalistic mission, Robinson said.
In the days after the attack, New York Gov. George Pataki offered the assistance of the New York State Police to ensure the delivery of the Times, she said.
Robinson said that the public demand for quality journalism has surged since the attacks, with newsstands selling 50,000 more copies of the paper than normal. The Times Web site also recorded more than 21 million hits after the attack.
The involvement of newspapers in the news has been a new phenomenon that has forever altered the world of journalism, Robinson said. In early October, Times biotechnology reporter Judith Miller opened an envelope at her desk containing white powder originally thought to be anthrax.
“It has generally been easy for us to think that news is something that happens to someone else,” Robinson said. “This illusion was shattered forever in the second week of October.”
Robinson did spend a few minutes discussing her original topic — the 150-year history of the Times. A brief slide show juxtaposed images of historical spectacles like the Civil War and the cloned sheep Dolly with New York Times headlines about these stories.
Robinson spoke at length about the demand-side and supply-side aspects of newspaper production and assured the audience that the increasingly complex commercial operation of the Times will not impede the quality of news coverage.
Since Robinson devoted much of her speech to the financial strategies of the Times rather than to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, audience members were mixed in their appraisal of the event.
“It wasn’t what I was looking for,” said Leela Yellesetty ’05. “There is political pressure on newspapers, and the public isn’t getting the full story. I guess I really want to know what’s going on in the newsroom, but I guess they can’t really say.”
Marvin Gittleman, an East Rock resident who attended the event, found Robinson to be very well-spoken, yet said that the content of the speech was different from what he expected.
“I was hoping for a discussion of how the hard decisions of journalism have been made harder over the last few months,” Gittleman said.