The New York Times Company on Wednesday named Meredith Kopit Levien, the news organization’s chief operating officer, as its next president and chief executive, making her the youngest person ever to lead its executive ranks.
Ms. Levien, 49, will succeed Mark Thompson, the chief executive since 2012, on Sept. 8. Ms. Levien also will serve on the company’s board.
A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher and a board member, called Ms. Levien “a brilliant and transformative leader.”
“Everything she has touched in the organization, she has made better,” Mr. Sulzberger said.
Ms. Levien joined The Times in 2013 as its head of advertising. She was promoted to executive vice president and chief revenue officer in 2015 and became the chief operating officer in 2017. That put her in line to succeed Mr. Thompson, who helped transform The Times into a digital-centric news operation.
In an interview, Ms. Levien said it was “an honor of a lifetime” to be named to the job. She will assume control of the company’s business at a time when a divided nation, in the throes of a pandemic, heads into the final months of a presidential campaign.
The company’s board voted unanimously to appoint Ms. Levien to the post during a meeting on Tuesday.
After starting their search for a new chief executive about a year ago, Times board members concluded that “there really was no one else,” Mr. Thompson, 62, said in an interview.
He added that he had expected to remain in the job for about five to eight years and started talking to the board about his departure in early 2019. “I’ve had a good, long run at The Times,” he said. He hired Ms. Levien shortly after he joined the paper and steadily promoted her over the years, effectively setting her up to succeed him.
As chief executive, Ms. Levien said she would continue to expand the company’s strategy of “subscription-first journalism,” a plan that has helped The Times weather a downturn in advertising while improving its financial fortunes.
The Times recently topped six million paying readers, putting it more than halfway toward the company’s ambitious target of hitting 10 million subscribers by 2025. Like other news publishers, The Times has suffered a hit to its advertising business because of the pandemic. The company forecast that ad revenue would continue to decline by as much as 55 percent for the second quarter of 2020. (The Times will report second-quarter results on Aug. 5.)
Ms. Levien emphasized that The Times would continue to invest heavily in its journalism, adding that she also favored the addition of digital games and other non-news content. Along with its main news offering, The Times has attracted subscribers with a crossword app and a cooking site.
“We have really big ambitions for The New York Times and we have big ambitions for independent journalism, more generally,” she said.
The Times has fared better than many other news organizations since readers started showing a preference for getting their news on screens, rather than print. Newspaper publishers, many now under hedge fund ownership, have cut back staff and resources in recent years. Roughly half of all newspaper jobs were eliminated from 2004 to 2019.
The Times Company has a healthy balance sheet, with about $687 million in available cash. Ms. Levien said she would not rule out acquisitions, while adding that the market for additional subscribers was vast — potentially as many as 100 million people, she said.
“The Times has a big opportunity to go after it,” she said.
Ms. Levien, who was the chief revenue officer at Forbes Media before joining The Times, said she was skeptical, at first, when she was approached to join the paper seven years ago.
“I asked people for advice, and just the sentiment was that it was a great journalism company, but maybe the best days of its business were behind it,” she said.
“But in the end,” she added, “I love the place and I love the mission.”
Growing up in Richmond, Va., she did not regularly have access to The Times, she said. When her parents, both native New Yorkers, occasionally brought the paper home, it struck her as different from the local daily she was used to reading.
“One was about the things we already knew,” she said. “The other was the world.”
Ms. Levien hit a bump during her steady rise when she was named in a discrimination lawsuit brought in 2016 by two women who worked at The Times. In the suit, the women said that Ms. Levien had “made it very clear that she was looking for a very particular work force, one that was filled with ‘fresh faces,’ i.e., younger employees without families, and who were white.”
The suit was settled in December. “The Times does not admit to any liability,” the paper said in a statement at the time. Ms. Levien said the claims in the suit “had no merit.”
During Mr. Thompson’s eight-year tenure, The Times’s digital readership has jumped to more than five million subscribers from 640,000. The company’s digital revenue now tops $800 million a year. In 2015, when online sales had skipped past $400 million, Mr. Thompson said he hoped to hit $800 million by 2020.
“I feel we’ve achieved everything we had hoped to achieve,” Mr. Thompson said.
Mr. Thompson added that he had no immediate career plans, saying, “I’ll figure out what I’ll do next after I’ve had some time to step back.”
Mr. Thompson made $17.4 million in salary, stock awards and bonuses from 2017 to 2019. Ms. Levien made about $9.6 million in the same period. Her new employment agreement includes a 14 percent salary increase to $900,000 a year and increased incentive awards, putting her in position to earn up to $5.9 million in a maximum payout for 2021, according to company filings.
A former director general of the British Broadcasting Corporation, the London-born Mr. Thompson said he was likely to remain in the United States. He has three adult children who have started careers here, and his wife is an American who also has British citizenship.
Of Mr. Thompson’s legacy, Mr. Sulzberger said, “I don’t think you’ll find another leader who’s done more to prove a path forward in the world of digital media.” He added, “I will really miss Mark.”