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13 March 2008

New York Times Publisher
Contemplates Future of Newspaper Industry
in Ayers 2008 Lecture Series

By Nick Cenegy
Star Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Lecture entertains, stirs thoughts of listeners

Some in the 200-person audience on the 11th floor of the Houston Cole Library came seeking answers from the prophet of the high church of journalism. There were students, faculty, regional communications professionals and the curious from among the public.

Though some may have agreed others not with the comments on the state and future of the newspaper industry given by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times and chairman of The New York Times Company, the lecture seemed to entertain and stir the thoughts of listeners.

Sulzberger was 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. He addressed a variety of topics relating to newspapers' journey into "a new era in communication," as they "embrace their digital future."

Despite the industry's strong push toward an online future, he cautioned that "new mediums have always been a journalistic obsession," and print newspapers have endured the introduction of a laundry list of technologies.

Sulzberger was unflinching in his optimism and support for digital technologies that could further the journalistic effort but said the chief concern is "how we grow in a world where the operating premise is always in such flux."

He said he has adhered to lessons that will help guide his newspaper and the company through the turmoil. He emphasized the importance of staying faithful to principles, even in the face of change while still embracing uncertainty and ensuring that fundamentals stay fundamentals. Sulzberger lauded the importance of learning all about the Millennial generation and their affinity for interactivity and personalization. Overall, he stressed the value in bringing in outside help and being willing to experiment, knowing that there will be failure on occasion.

Rochelle Dalton, a junior studying broadcasting at Jacksonville State University, said that some of what Sulzberger spoke of resonated with her. As a member of the Millennial generation, she said that she agrees with Sulzberger on at least one point: that her generation will be strong enough to carry the industry forward through a difficult time of transition.

"I think there's enough of the optimistic among them to carry the apathetic through," said Dalton.

Ryan Dodd, a mathematics major at JSU with experience in radio broadcasting, agreed with Sulzberger's remarks about not deviating from the principles of journalism regardless of medium.

"No matter what technology comes along, biases can't be shown and a standard has to be met," he said.

Sulzberger also took time to field a few questions from the audience.

He addressed the recent resignation of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and his excitement about having an African American and a "good man" in line to be governor.

Sulzberger also defended a recent story about Senator McCain (R-Ariz.) that caused widespread criticism for The Times.

"In retrospect, we could have explained more about the purpose of the story publicly," said Sulzberger. Though he said they had editors answer readers' questions about it online.

In a response to a question of why so many other newspapers use the New York Times editorials on their opinion pages, "Because we're that damn good," he quipped.

About Nick Cenegy

Nick Cenegy is crime and courts beat writer for The Star.

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