Arthur Ochs Sulzberger died on Saturday at his home in Southampton, N.Y. He was 86
Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, who guided The New York Times and its parent company through a long, sometimes turbulent period of expansion and change on a scale not seen since the newspaper’s founding in 1851, died on Saturday at his home in Southampton, N.Y. He was 86.
His death, after a long illness, was announced by his family.
Mr. Sulzberger’s tenure, as publisher of the newspaper and as chairman and chief executive of The New York Times Company, reached across 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 paper he took over as publisher in 1963 was the paper it had been for decades: respected and influential, often setting the national agenda. But it was also in precarious financial condition and somewhat insular, having been a tightly held family operation since 1896, when it was bought by his grandfather Adolph S. Ochs.
By the 1990s, when Mr. Sulzberger passed the reins to his son, first as publisher in 1992 and then as chairman in 1997, the enterprise had been transformed. The Times was now national in scope, distributed from coast to coast, and it had become the heart of a diversified, multibillion-dollar media operation that came to encompass newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations and online ventures.
The expansion reflected Mr. Sulzberger’s belief that a news organization, above all, had to be profitable if it hoped to maintain a vibrant, independent voice. As John F. Akers, a retired chairman of I.B.M. and for many years a Times company board member, put it, “Making money so that you could continue to do good journalism was always a fundamental part of the thinking.”
Mr. Sulzberger’s insistence on independence was shown in his decision in 1971 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.
In thousands of pages, this highly classified archive detailed Washington’s legacy of deceit and evasion as it stumbled through an unpopular war. When the Pentagon Papers were divulged in a series of articles in June 1971, an embarrassed Nixon administration demanded that the series be stopped immediately, citing national security considerations. The Times refused, on First Amendment grounds, and won its case in the United States Supreme Court in a landmark ruling on press freedom.
Mr. Sulzberger reshaped The Times. In the mid-1970s, another financially difficult period in which he might have chosen to retrench, 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.
Some critics dismissed the feature sections as unworthy of a serious newspaper. But 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 still more innovations possible, among them a national edition, special regional editions and the daily use of color photos and graphics.
“Adolph Ochs is remembered as the one who founded this great enterprise,” Richard L. Gelb, a longtime member of the Times board, said in 1997, when Mr. 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.”
Even while the enterprise was put on a secure financial footing, ultimate control never passed from the Sulzberger family. It managed to avoid the internal strife and jealousies that tore apart other newspaper dynasties and traumatized their companies.
At Mr. Sulzberger’s 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, Mr. Sulzberger believed, that some of the country’s finest newspapers were family-owned. “My conclusion is simple,” he once said with characteristic humor. “Nepotism works.”