He has been behind the handlebars of one of the world's most influential
newspapers for the past 15 years, guiding it through an undefined time of
transition. Yet Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times and
chairman of the New York Times Co., looks down the road with optimism.
Sulzberger is scheduled to take time away from his news empire and his
cherished 1968 BMW R-60 motorcycle Wednesday afternoon to relate his thoughts
and experiences as the guest speaker for the 2008 Harry M. and Edel Y. Ayers
Lecture Series at Jacksonville State University.
Sulzberger, 56, is part of an Ochs-Sulzberger family legacy that has reigned
over the Times since 1896.
Sulzberger said that because many of the previous speakers have been top-tier
journalists, he likely will address the evolving business realities brought by
"I am absolutely optimistic about the future of newspaper," Sulzberger said
in a phone interview. Newspapers have endured change before, he said.
What has remained is that quality information matters, whether at the
community level, as in school districts, or at a global level, as with the war
in Iraq, he said.
During his tenure, the paper has been awarded 28 Pulitzer Prizes, including
coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks. Sulzberger oversaw the growth and development
of the newspaper's Web site, NYTimes.com, which is now the most highly
trafficked newspaper Web site in the nation.
The paper has also been through scandals including plagiarism and
falsification in 2003 by reporter Jayson Blair and the 2005 imprisonment of
Judith Miller after she refused to reveal sources to federal investigators.
In recent months, a Birmingham-based investment firm, Harbinger Capital, has
been raising its stake in the newspaper company, closing in on the controlling
ownership stake of the Sulzberger family. As it stands, the Sulzberger family is
entrusted with electing nine of the Times' 13 directors through a special class
of shares. Four are elected by public shareholders.
To pay for efforts to compete better in the online world, the investors have
expressed an interest in selling some of the company's assets, such as The
Boston Globe, a group of 15 local papers, a minority stake in the Boston Red Sox
and the new corporate headquarters in Midtown Manhattan.
Sulzberger said the family will continue to provide a stable base for the
"We don't have to defend anything," he said. "We have a trust that makes it
clear what the role of the trustees is."
Sulzberger's confidence and enthusiasm — often referred to as "infectious" —
is at times the target of critics.
"I love this profession. I love what we do," he said. The Times performs a
service to society and does it better than any other newspaper, he added.
The paper has an average circulation of about 1.1 million readers daily and
reported 20.5 million unique visitors in January on NYTimes.com. Sulzberger
said. But the horizons are ever-expanding, he said.
"The ability to translate into different languages using the Web means people
in Russia can read the Times' series on Vladimir Putin," said Sulzberger.
It will also allow for newspaper companies to use multimedia as a way to
further convey powerful images.
"I think we have the ability to make this our own," he said.
"If you look out a few years, you see a tipping point where digital revenue
will make up 10 percent of the revenue for the New York Times Company," he said.
Things can get tough during the transition, but it is a worthy pursuit, he
"The digital world does give us some tools," he said, like an ability for
newspapers to have a more immediate conversation with readers. "They can ask the
editor a specific question and get a response quickly instead of waiting 24 to
48 hours for letters to the editor," he said.
With some moderation, readers also can add their comments on stories, he
"It is more than instant gratification, it is a discussion," he said.
Though the feedback is on vastly different scales and infinitely more
immediate, it is not altogether different from his time working for the Raleigh
Times in the 1970s, he said.
"The joy of writing for the Raleigh Times in North Carolina was that when the
mayor got upset with a story you wrote, he would yell at you on the street. You
learn the impact of journalism in a real way when you write about your
neighbors," said Sulzberger.
The broad platform of the New York Times changes the dynamic of the
conversation, he said.
"The president of the U.S., of the U.N. General Assembly or of Mobile Oil
rarely picks up the phone to respond to a story. I don't mean to suggest we
don't get feedback, but it's not as emotional," he said.
But in order to facilitate a forum for discussion, the company has to first
navigate a landscape shifting in two ways. One is the change of a growing
digital realm; the other is the cyclical nature of a weakening economy,
But he said he is not losing sleep over either.
If you go
• When: Lecture begins: 2 p.m.
• Where: 11th floor of
Houston Cole Library on the Jacksonville State University campus.
• Open to
About Nick Cenegy
Nick Cenegy is crime and courts beat writer for The Star.
See story at The Anniston Star's website: www.annistonstar.com