Arthur Sulzberger Jr will become interim CEO until the newspaper company can  find someone else to take on one of the most thankless jobs in media. While The New York Times Co has managed its transition to the digital world better than just about any other newspaper company, it’s still a newspaper company. And as that industry has faded, so have its profits and prospects. The New York Times’ market value is down 23% so far in 2011 — and down 69% since the end of 2006. Still, Robinson leaves with a sweet deal. She’ll be paid $4.5M over the next year to serve as a consultant on what the company calls “an as-needed basis.” But she can’t compete with the Times, hire away its employees, or bad-mouth the company for three years. Here’s the company’s release:

NEW YORK–Dec. 15, 2011– The New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT) announced today that Janet L. Robinson, 61, president and chief executive officer since 2004, will retire on December 31, 2011. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., currently chairman of the Company and publisher of The New York Times, will serve as chief executive officer on an interim basis. Ms. Robinson also will step down as a director of the Company on December 31, 2011. She has agreed to serve as a consultant to the Company for one year.

“On behalf of the Board and the entire New York Times Company I want to thank Janet for her significant contributions during her career, especially during the challenging years we most recently faced,” said Mr. Sulzberger Jr. “Among her accomplishments, she has led our continuing transition to a multi-platform company and directed steps that resulted in an improved liquidity position and significant cost reductions. This was achieved during an uneven economic recovery and challenging advertising environment.”

Ms. Robinson said: “The New York Times Company has been my home for 28 years and I leave with mixed emotions. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with so many outstanding people over the years, and I am particularly proud of my role in helping to navigate through one of the most difficult periods in publishing history as we transitioned from traditional print journalism to the digital world. At the same time, the Company’s course is set and I am excited by new opportunities that await me.”

Ellen R. Marram, presiding director of The New York Times Company’s Board of Directors, said, “The entire Board is extremely appreciative of Janet’s significant accomplishments during her tenure as CEO. As we turn to the future, we are fortunate in the strength of our management team under the leadership of Arthur Sulzberger Jr. While we initiate the search and assess the characteristics for The New York Times Company’s next CEO, the Company will continue to execute on the strategy to transform our business via a combination of prudent fiscal management, a strong focus on ongoing digital initiatives and pursuit of new growth opportunities.”

The Company is initiating a search for a new CEO and it will seek qualified candidates both internally and externally