Hard Times at The New York Times

The New Yorker on-line has a section called From the Archives. Right now, the feature of the section is Hard Times. It included three old profile pieces the magazine has done for three influential figures of The New York Times: Howell Raines(60, Executive Editor who resigned last week), Joseph Lelyveld(66, previous Executive Editor, Raines’ predecessor), and Auther Sulzberger, Jr. (52, Publisher, Chairman of Times Company).

I just finished reading the one on Auther Sculzberger, Jr., who succeed his father in 1992 as the publisher of Times, which remained till this day a family business. Auther Jr., forty-one years old, growing up in the 60’s and ran the family business his way.

He has promoted a boldness¡ªsome critics would say a shrillness¡ªof opinion on the paper’s editorial and Op-Ed pages. And he has prodded editors into broadening the paper’s news coverage to an unprecedented degree in an effort to appeal to a younger, more diverse readership. (He once remarked that if older white males were alienated by his hipper version of the Times then “we’re doing something right.”)

Most important, he has radically changed the Times’ corporate culture by encouraging the hiring of more minority employees; by promoting more women to executive positions; and by demanding teamwork and open communication in a work atmosphere that was notorious for its backbiting and petty rivalries. He has also demonstrated an ability to make tough decisions. He recently removed his first cousin and best friend Dan Cohen as senior vice-president of advertising,

What really caught my eyes was this!

… he has refused to join the boards of prominent cultural institutions or philanthropies. On weekends, he pursues his great passion of rock climbing, in the Shawangunk Mountains near his country house in New Paltz, New York.

A Rock Climber! That’s a boss I would die for. Someone who is brave enough and stupid enough to hang his life on a rope hundred feet off the ground, that is someone you can have some serious fun with. You know you won’t get bored, for sure. 🙂

And a Star Trek fan:

He took off his watch and showed us an inscription on the back: “Live long and prosper,” the famous greeting by “Star Trek” ‘s Mr. Spock. “My favorite episode of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ is the one in which the captain gets a chance to relive his youth,” he told us. “He vows to not make the mistakes of exuberance that he made then. So the greatest mistake in his life never takes place, because he doesn’t allow it to take place. And when he’s whisked back [to the present], he’s an underling. An underling! It’s an amazing story, because what he learns is that those mistakes were what helped define him¡ªthe things that pushed him a little bit…

He went to Tufts University in 1970 and got himself arrested twice during antiwar movement. His dad Punch was running the family business then.

Punch had showed little reaction after the first arrest, but when he got word of the second one he flew to Boston. Over dinner, he asked his son why he was involved in the protests and what kind of behavior the family might expect from him in the future. Arthur assured his father that he was not planning on a career of getting himself arrested. After dinner, as the two men walked in the Boston Common, Punch asked what his son later characterized as “the dumbest question I’ve ever heard in my life”: “If a young American soldier comes upon a young North Vietnamese soldier, which one do you want to see get shot?” Arthur answered, “I would want to see the American get shot. It’s the other guy’s country; we shouldn’t be there.” To the elder Sulzberger, this bordered on traitor’s talk. “How can you say that?” he yelled. Years later, Arthur said of the incident, “It’s the closest he’s ever come to hitting me.”

Nepotims is rare in today’s America, but it has been practised dutifully for over a centure at Times since Auther Jr.’s great-grandfather Adoph Ochs bought this newspaper in 1896. Auther Jr. himself has been put through a tough “training” program to make sure he would be ready for the job.

Reading this article made me want to check out the book writen by the same two authors of this article: “The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times” by Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones.