Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, who made the New York Times one of the worlds most influential newspapers, died today at his home in Southampton, New York after a long illness. He was 86.
He had had been chairman and chief executive of The New York Times Company, for 34 years, from the heyday of postwar America to the twilight of the 20th century, "from the era of hot lead and Linotype machines to the birth of the digital world," the Times said.
When he took over as publisher in 1963 the paper was: respected and influential - but in a precarious financial condition. It had been a family operation since 1896, when it was bought by his grandfather Adolph S. Ochs.
When Arthur, know as "Punch, Sulzberger passed the reins to his son, as chairman in 1997, the enterprise had been transformed.
It was distributed from coast to American coast and become the heart of a multibillion media operation encompassing newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations and online .
The expansion, said the Times, reflected Sulzberger’s belief that a news organisation, above all, had to be profitable if it hoped to maintain a vibrant, independent voice.
John Akers, retired IBM chairman . and for many years a Times board member, put it, “Making money so that you could continue to do good journalism was always a fundamental part of the thinking.”
In 1971 he decided to publish a secret government history of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers. It was a defining moment for him and, in the view of many journalists and historians, his finest, said the Times.
"In thousands of pages, this highly classified archive detailed Washington’s legacy of deceit and evasion as it stumbled through an unpopular war."
The Nixon administration demanded that the series be stopped immediately, on the grounds of national security. The Times refused, on First Amendment grounds, and won its case in the United States Supreme Court, "a landmark ruling on press freedom.," said the Times.
In the mid-1970s, another financially difficult period , he expanded the paper to four sections from two, creating separate sections for metropolitan and business news and introducing new ones oriented toward consumers. They were a gamble, begun in the hope of attracting new readers, especially women, and advertisers.
The sections — SportsMonday, Science Times, Living, Home and Weekend — were an instant success, without compromising the paper’s hard-news core. They were widely imitated.
Over the next two decades, a billion-dollar investment in new printing facilities made a national US edition possible, special regional editions and the daily use of color photos and graphics.
“Adolph Ochs is remembered as the one who founded this great enterprise,” board member Richard Gelb said in 1997, when Sulzberger stepped down as chairman. “Arthur Ochs Sulzberger will be remembered as the one who secured it, renewed it and lifted it to ever-higher levels of achievement.”
At his death, The Times was being run by a fourth generation of his family, a rarity in an age when the management of most American newspapers is determined by distant corporate boards. A family trust, unaffected by his death, guarantees continued control by Adolph Ochs’s descendants.
It was no coincidence, Sulzberger believed, that some of the country’s finest newspapers were family-owned, said the Times “My conclusion is simple,” he once said with characteristic humour. “Nepotism works.”
Sulzberger's son, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. is the current Times publisher,
When Sulzberger left as Times chairman in 1997, he remained convinced that newspapers — at least good newspapers — had a bright future.
“I think that paper and ink are here to stay for the kind of newspapers we print,” he said in an interview. “You’re not buying news when you buy The New York Times. You’re buying judgment.”