As far as career developments go, we imagine that being named CEO of The New York Times—paper of record, beloved cultural institution, osteoporotic backbone of democracy—must feel something like a cross between being elected president and hearing one’s name called in a Hunger Games reaping.
Last week, one North Carolina man told Off the Record he would like to volunteer as tribute.
Zach Protzko, a 30-year-old commercial real estate investor, publicly announced that he has submitted his résumé to Spencer Stuart, the executive recruitment firm conducting the search for The Times.
“If they haven’t gotten it yet they will shortly,” he told us over the phone.
Mr. Protzko said he was contemplating buying one of his local papers when he heard about the so-called leadership vacuum at The Times.
“I was reading some articles that said they need a new CEO ‘to throw money’ at,” he said. (That’s how one FishbowlNY item alluded to exiting CEO Janet Robinson’s $21 million golden parachute.)
“They shouldn’t be throwing money anywhere,” Mr. Protzko explained earnestly, even offering to do the job for free for one week. “It’s not about money. It’s not about the publicity.”
So … what is it about?
“Being at the core of something,” he replied. “To turn it around and really establish something different. Take that old steam engine and convert it into diesel and then convert diesel into hydrogen.”
Forgive him the automotive metaphor: Before he got into real estate, Mr. Protzko was VP of operations at Uber Precision Manufacturing Inc., where he used his background in coding and networking to synergize the company’s race car manufacturing division with its research and development team.
“I turned the company around and we started selling capability to the Department of Defense,” he said. Credentials noted.
Off the Record asked what his first move as CEO of The New York Times would be.
“I would take down the paywall immediately,” he said. Despite the model’s yielding more than 450,000 new paid subscribers in its first year, Mr. Protzko said people still don’t want to pay for the news. “Nor should they have to,” he added.
Mr. Protzko, who gets most of his news from Mashable, is a firm believer in targeted advertising and branded content.
“With the traffic that The New York Times gets they just need to harness it.”
He added that Gray Lady could “interest more with less” by collecting user data to tailor content for specific audiences.
“The more headlines I like, the more I’m going to read,” he pointed out.
All the news that fits your interests, if you will.
“And if they’re going to be printing news, by god, we want the news,” he went on. “We don’t want opinion.”
But more than any particular strategy, Mr. Protzko said he could offer the Times Co. a “fresh mind” and a “fresh approach.”
“They have what I call an ‘aging culture,’” he said.
Asked to elaborate, Mr. Protzko countered with another question.
“Ask yourself, are they on the cutting edge or are they a clunky, old machine that needs some maintenance?”