Against the odds, a distinct American institution has actually thrived. Its chairman is retiring however the record will continue to be in the family


Where go the brand-new York time reside in the subconscious that newshounds across America? Paul Rudnick wrote this answer because that a brand-new York City mommy played by Bette Middler in seaside Elites on HBO this year:


ns love the Times. Ns feel favor it’s my child, or mine parent. Perform you recognize what the Times method to a for free Jewish woman prefer me? on the census, as soon as it asks for religion, ns don’t placed Jewish. I put the brand-new York Times. I m sorry I have delivered. The genuine Times. The newsprint Times. I recognize I’m old-fashioned, however reading the Times digital is like having sex v a robot. Ns mean, that cleaner and it’s faster but you deserve to tell the difference. OK, I’ll just say it. The brand-new York Times virtual is the new York Times because that the gentiles.

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The former new Yorker editor Robert Gottlieb put it slightly in different ways to me, lengthy ago: “The time is in the same position as the Jews: it’s supposed to behave far better than anyone else.”


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For a hundreds years, for better or worse, no institution has played a larger function in American society and politics. And no copy, group with comparable clout has actually been continuously controlled by a solitary family since 1896.

This month, at 69, Arthur Sulzberger Jr will certainly retire as company chairman, after decades of speculation that he would certainly be the critical Sulzberger to operation the business.

In 2005, a vicious profile in the new Yorker asked: “Can Arthur Sulzberger Jr conserve the times – and himself?” A couple of year later, Vanity Fair asserted that he had actually “steered his inheritance into a ditch”.

As the brand-new Yorker editor, David Remnick, placed it come the Guardian this week: “As newly as five years ago, the best question was: “Is Bloomberg going to very own the times or Carlos Slim?”

And yet, 11 days from now, Sulzberger will certainly defy almost every expectation except his own and hand over a healthy, growing enterprise come his boy AG Sulzberger, providing the 5th generation the the Ochs-Sulzbergers the rudder of the enterprise.

“It’s a rare thing and also a wonderful thing to view someone departure the stage on a note of actual triumph,” Remnick observed.

‘I realized readjust needed come happen’

I’ve to be a student of the times ever since I composed my an initial story together a 20-year-old student at Columbia, working as the paper’s university correspondent, a part-time write-up that introduced the careers of many Times editors. I just wrote for the paper for eight years, 5 as a reporter ~ above the subway staff. However the Times has tendency to go into the skeletal of everyone that works there, and also a preoccupation v its peculiarities has been mine hobby ever before since.

The first time i met Arthur Sulzberger Jr to be at a party that budding journalists in Washington at the finish of 1980. I can still view him striding into the room through a swagger, a huge smile and his child son, AG, on his shoulders. Ago then, the father was simply a young reporter in the time Washington bureau. But like nearly everyone else, i assumed ns was watching the next publisher – and also the publisher after that.

In a collection of conversations this month, father and son readily available plenty of evidence that a love for journalism deserve to indeed it is in passed down v DNA. Yet they additionally insisted that what looks prefer old-fashioned primogeniture is in reality a bit much more complicated. Every told me he had actually never feel the slightest push to monitor in his father’s footsteps – and neither decided he wanted to come to be the boss until he to be a young adult.

For Sulzberger Jr, the lightbulb came on when he went to job-related in the declaring department.

“I figured I’d offer it a year, I’d dislike it, and also I’d go earlier to the newsroom,” the said. But then the made his an initial big ad sale and also “realized that I had just spanned Johnny Apple’s liquor invoice for a year!” (RW apple Jr, a fabled political correspondent and also London office chief, had the classic journalist’s goal: to always submit the largest feasible expense account.)

“Suddenly it came to me that this was supporting the enterprise. This was the crucial part. It to be a actual eye-opener because that me.”

“And her father was totally silent around whether he want you to succeed him?” i asked.

“Oh yes, very much so. You don’t want to press somebody to carry out something they nothing want. Because in the end, if they obtain it and they don’t want it, that doesn’t assist the school or the individual. Right?”

So Sulzberger Jr embraced the exact same strategy through his very own son.


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AG Sulzberger, checked out in 2017. Photograph: Damon Winter/AP“He did not ever push me to be his successor,” AG Sulzberger said. “He was always really consistent around me adhering to my passions. However I made the failure of having actually my first job out of college being a report gig.” It to be at the Providence Journal, and he dropped in love through it.

“I would have been very happy to spend my career together a reporter or editor,” the continued. However when he was 33, Jill Abramson, climate executive editor the the Times, request him come write an innovation report around the newspaper’s future.


“I realized how much readjust needed to occur at the Times and also how crucial that change was because that the school to continue to thrive,” that said. Suddenly, that felt prefer his “highest purpose was make the efforts to do that readjust happen”.

His father agreed: “I think that was his sort of eye-opening moment.”

One an enig to the Sulzbergers’ success is that each time power has been given to a brand-new generation, predecessors have not end up being second-guessers. This is what has actually made it possible for the file to readjust with the times.

In the instance of Arthur Sulzberger Jr, the very first and best beneficiaries the that tradition were the Times’ lesbian and gay employees. Throughout the regimen of his father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Abe Rosenthal, the peak editor native the late 60s to the mid-80s, made the clear that the career of any gay employee would finish as shortly as they come out of the closet.

When Arthur Sulzberger Jr came to be an assistant city editor, in the at an early stage 80s, he identified who every gay employee was. Climate he took each of them the end to lunch, called them the knew they were gay, and also promised this would have no result on their career once Rosenthal had actually departed.

“Until you claimed so,” David W Dunlap, climate a metropolitan reporter, wrote years later, “I couldn’t have imagined exactly how to convey my heart with my experienced calling. Currently suddenly there was a Sulzberger … cheerfully reassuring me I had actually nothing to worry about.”

Indeed, as shortly as Rosenthal was succeeded by Max Frankel as executive editor, the time was transformed from the many homophobic to the many gay-friendly major institution in America.

Articles the faith

A huge reason there to be so much skepticism the the latest Sulzberger handoff would ever take location was the fate of practically every other major American publishing family of the last 40 years. The Binghams eliminated the Louisville Courier-Journal in 1986. The Taylors unloaded the Boston globe in 1993 – to the Sulzbergers. The Chandlers that the Los Angeles Times sold their presses in 2000. The Grahams of the Washington post hung on longer, yet even they took $250m indigenous Jeff Bezos in 2013.

Sulzberger Jr insists that “just refused to to think about that kind of stuff”. Instead, as the net ate away at the print proclaiming that had fuelled the business for so long, he unloaded numerous millions the dollars in assets.

In 2007, nine TV train station went because that $575m. In 2011, it was $143m for 16 local newspapers – there had actually once to be 35. The WQXR radio station went in 2 stages, AM and also FM. In between came the toughest decision of all for the family, which drew much that its revenue from shares. In 2009, the times suspended all dividend payment to shareholders.

The Sulzbergers never flinched. But even all of that wasn’t enough. In 2009, Sulzberger Jr had actually to loaned $250m from Slim – in ~ 14% interest.

Four years before that, the paper had make its first effort to make subscription money off of its virtual edition, by putting some that its columnists behind a paywall in a program referred to as Times Select. Yet after 2 years the agency decided the ns of digital revenue was more important 보다 the obtain in subscriptions, and the paywall was abandoned.


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Sulzberger Jr listens throughout a meeting between editors and also reporters and also then president-elect Donald Trump, in ~ the brand-new York times in November 2016. Photograph: Hiroko Masuike/APThat do the decision come resume a paywall in 2011 every the more difficult – and also it only occurred after a fierce interior debate. In the end, Sulzberger Jr sided through the then chief executive, Janet Robinson. It turned the end to be his most prescient announcement.

“A few years back it was almost an short article of faith that civilization would not pay because that the content they accessed via the web,” he said. Yet he suspect the paywall would enable the firm “to develop new sources the revenue to support the continuation of our journalistic mission and also digital development … This mechanism is ours latest, and also best, demonstration of where we think the future that valued contents – be it news, music, games or much more – is going.”


He turned out to be right.

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Last month, the agency said it had actually 6 million paying virtual readers, and also for the first time an ext revenue native digital than print subscribers. The Times had $800m ~ above hand, through $250m accessible through a revolving credit transaction line. That no longer has any debt, and also last year that paid turn off a loan that allowed it to buy earlier its Manhattan headquarters.

‘It got really tough’

Sulzberger jr’s close friend Steven Rattner, a former Times reporter turned invest banker, described his success this way: “If you want simply one quality, the would need to be determination. No matter how difficult it acquired – and it obtained really hard – Arthur never provided up. He was amongst the an initial (if not the first) classic newspaper man to understand the importance of the internet, focus on it and never obtain distracted native it.”

Paul Goldberger, a longtime Times design critic and one of the paper’s wisest observers, claimed the most relevant description of Sulzberger jr philosophy might be discovered in one Italian novel, The Leopard: “If we want things to stay as castle are, things will need to change.”