Generational shift - Centre of gravitas shifts at The New York Times
Agnes T Crane
One of the 20th century’s most influential American publishers, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, died on
Saturday. He was 86. The grandson of Adolph S Ochs who bought The New York Times more than a
century ago, Sulzberger transformed what had been a struggling paper into a media empire.
Upheaval in the news business, however, has forced his son Arthur Sulzberger, Jr to dismantle it.
The elder Sulzberger’s gravitas will be missed as his heir struggles to keep the paper a family affair.
Tough economic times for one of America’s most influential newspapers are nothing new. The
paper reported a loss in 1963, the year Sulzberger took over from his brother in-law who died
unexpectedly, according to his obituary in the Times. A decade later Punch, his nickname from
childhood, would fight a grim bottom line by expanding the breadth of the newspaper and bolting
on new businesses.
His son has taken a different tack. In recent years, he has sold 16 regional papers, the online
service About.com, television stations and other holdings to create what’s become an enviable
cash pile. The company needs the financial buffer. Though digital subscriptions have bumped
revenue higher, the current publisher still faces challenges more daunting than those his father
stared down more than four decades ago. The Internet and social media are upending newspapers
and shredding the old print advertising model that once made large newsrooms, far-flung bureaus
and generous employee pension plans possible.
That makes Sulzberger Jr’s next move a favorite parlor game among not only journalists, but
investors, who have had to stomach a 60 per cent stock decline since 1997, the year Punch
stepped down as chairman. Alongside incoming Chief Executive Mark Thompson, the 61-year old
Sulzberger will be under pressure to use the cash to pay a dividend to the patient Ochs-Sulzberger
clan, which still controls the company. Alternatively he may be tempted again to make acquisitions
to leverage digital publishing.
While Punch was alive an outright sale of the flagship paper was unthinkable even as other
publishing families, like the Bancrofts at the Wall Street Journal, threw in the towel. The Ochs-
Sulzbergers have loyally stood by the Grey Lady. But Sulzberger Sr.’s passing gives the family an
opportunity to rethink its legacy, financial and otherwise, for future generations. That could move
the unthinkable into the realm of possibility.
Tag : Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, New York Times, Punch, Ochs-Sulzberger, United States, Wall Street
Journal, Adolph Ochs, Mark Thompson