Former New York Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger dies Saturday

In a note to all New York Times company employees, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., announced the death of his father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, at 86. In 1963, Sulzberger became publisher of the paper, family owned since 1896.

The Times devoted much of Sunday’s front page to Clyde Haberman’s obituary of Sulzberger.

In a statement, President Obama honored Sulzberger:

Over the course of more than 30 years, Arthur helped transform the New York Times and secure its status as one of the most successful and respected newspapers in the world.

He was a firm believer in the importance of a free and independent press — one that isn’t afraid to seek the truth, hold those in power accountable, and tell the stories that need to be told.

Arthur’s legacy lives on in the newspaper he loved and the journalists he inspired.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

In the Times obituary, Clyde Haberman details some of Sulzberger’s accomplishments:

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. …

This March 12, 1973 file photo shows New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger in his office in New York. (Anthony Camerano/AP) | View New York Times slideshow of Sulzberger

Revenue in 1963 was $101 million, with The Times newspaper accounting for almost all of it. By 1997, the total was $2.6 billion, with the newspaper accounting for about half. Today, The New York Times Media Group, made up of The Times, The International Herald Tribune and their Web sites, accounts for 66 percent of the Times Company’s total revenues of $2.4 billion. …

“I think that paper and ink are here to stay for the kind of newspapers we print,” he said in a postretirement interview. “There’s no shortage of news in this world. If you want news, you can go to cyberspace and grab out all this junk. But I don’t think most people are competent to become editors, or have the time or the interest.”

“You’re not buying news when you buy The New York Times,” Mr. Sulzberger said. “You’re buying judgment.”

In a comment on Sulzberger’s obituary, a reader identified as Ernie in Bayside, N.Y., agrees.

It is difficult, even in today cybernews era, to imagine being a well-informed person without the New York Times. And now, with the online edition, I am even more dependent on the Times for news and sundry information. … I do feel a sense of gratitude to the Ochs and Sulzbergers for keeping the Times healthy and relevant.

Sulzberger’s son became publisher in 1992, and five years later he became chairman, both roles he fills today.

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.”

Note sent to Times employees:

Dear Colleagues,

It is with deep sadness that I inform you that Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, my father, passed away last night.  Punch, as everyone knew him, brilliantly led The New York Times Company for over three decades – as chairman and CEO of the Times Company and as publisher of The New York Times.

Punch, beloved by his colleagues, was one of our industry’s most admired executives.  He spent his entire professional career with the Times Company, beginning in 1951, except for one year when he was a reporter for The Milwaukee Journal. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in both World War II and the Korean War, he was a reporter on The Times’s city staff and a foreign correspondent in our Paris, Rome and London bureaus.

Punch, the old Marine captain who never backed down from a fight, was an absolutely fierce defender of the freedom of the press. His inspired leadership in landmark cases such as New York Times v. Sullivan and the Pentagon Papers helped to expand access to critical information and to prevent government censorship and intimidation.

In this May 26, 1992 file photo, Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac, flanked by Washington Post Company President Katharine Graham, left, and New York Times Company President Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, after awarding them the Paris City Medal, in Paris. (Jose Goita/AP) | View New York Times slideshow of Sulzberger

Punch always believed that by closely adhering to our Company’s most fundamental precepts we would greatly enhance our ability to produce outstanding journalism. He was absolutely right: As publisher, Punch established new standards of journalistic excellence, with The Times winning 31 Pulitzer Prizes during his tenure.

In 2001, Punch retired from the Board of Directors after almost 50 years of service to this Company. We commemorated his innumerable accomplishments by creating the Punch Sulzberger Award to celebrate, honor and perpetuate the principles that he championed throughout his illustrious career.

Punch will be sorely missed by his family and his many friends, but we can take some comfort in the fact that his legacy and his abiding belief in the value of quality news and information will always be with us.

For that and so much more, we and future generations of Times Company men and women will always be grateful.

Arthur

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  • http://www.WhoNeedsNewspapers.org Paul Steinle

    Mr. Sulzberger was an icon – a model, caring local newspaper publisher/owner.

    I (by chance) got into into an elevator with him — just the two of us — at an ANPA convention in Chicago, perhaps in 1989, and we had a brief conversation about whether “his newspaper” was going to convert to printing in multi-color.

    He expressed deep concern about whether color photos might sensationalize the news, and he wasn’t sure it was right for “the Times.”

    The Times did convert to color, of course, and the the results were beneficial. But he cared about how his newspaper presented itself to the world, and he considered how it was to be perceived.

    The nation has been well served by “local owners” and publishers like Mr. Sulzberger (and Nelson Poynter) who cared and still care about their communities and the quality of information they provide them. Hence the sense of loss in his passing.