It would appear to be another seamless generational transition at The New York Times Co.
It announced Thursday what had been telegraphed previously, with only the exact date a vague mystery: Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., 66, will retire as publisher on Dec. 31 and be succeeded in that post by his 37-year-old son, A.G. Sulzberger. The father, who took over from his dad, has held the post since 1992.
The father will continue to serve as chairman of the company’s board of directors, a position he has held since 1997.
As the company underscored in a press release, "Like the publishers before him, he will be the principal steward of the editorial independence, excellence and long-term prosperity of The New York Times."
It's a point of obvious pride, which also stands as a reminder of how the family now enters the fifth generation of ownership without the often fatal internal frictions that bring down many family-run enterprises. Key members now include thirtysomething cousins Sulzberger and Sam Dolnick, an assistant editor whose jurisdiction has included creation of the very successful podcast, “The Daily,” which averages half a million downloads a day.
The younger Sulzberger also serves on the national advisory board for the Poynter Institute,
For sure, the future is not guaranteed, but a small hint of where the paper is going was provided Tuesday evening during the Alabama Senate election when its vote update feature generated 13 million page views.
During a June chat with me for a Vanity Fair piece, Sulzberger articulated his sense of clarity of journalistic and business mission. It involves, first and foremost, the notion that "You cannot cut back on quality."
He is confident that newsroom and business goals are aligned in a fortuitous way as the paper increasingly heads toward a digital subscription-based model. It maintains a giant newsroom of about 1,300 (The Washington Post, which now is often compared to The Times, has about 750), and relations between the corporate hierarchy and Dean Baquet, who runs the newsroom, are collegial and productive.
Robert E. Denham, the presiding director of The Times Co. board of directors, said in the release, “Over his career, and in particular during this past year as deputy publisher, A.G. has displayed superb leadership skills. He asks smart questions, he challenges, he exercises excellent judgment and he makes things happen. His reputation as a fine journalist and digital strategist is well-earned. As publisher, Arthur has positioned The Times for future success, and the board is confident that A.G. is the right person to succeed him.”
Sulzberger Jr. said, “It has been an extraordinary honor to serve as publisher of The New York Times and I will step down at the end of the year prouder than I have ever been of the strength, independence and integrity of this institution. My colleagues — the women and men who have devoted themselves to producing and distributing the world’s best journalism — have made my job so fulfilling and I am forever in their debt.”
In many ways the paper, like The Washington Post, is on a roll both journalistically and on the business side, luring significant numbers of digital subscribers and creating a qualitative gulf with most of the newspaper industry.
There are differences, for sure, with the paper being the sole enterprise of the family, compared to one of many owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who's now near the top of lists of the world's richest individuals.
But, at The Times, the commitment to depth and breadth is tough to question as it remains the basis of comparison for much of its industry as it skirts the penchant for specialization and offers a broad daily look at the world, be it politics, business, international news or culture.
As the newly appointed publisher said in June, the decline in staffing at many newspaper newsrooms is self-evident. But the paper continues to see substantial investment as "part of what we're trying to do in building something of lasting value. It's good for the mission and good for value."
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Memo to Times staff from Arthur Sulzberger Jr.:
After almost 26 years, I will retire as publisher at the end of the year. This morning, our company’s board confirmed A.G to be my successor.
A.G. has been one of the most powerful forces for change at The Times. Since being named deputy publisher in 2016, and as a newsroom leader before that, he’s helped rally the organization behind a shared path forward as we accelerate our digital evolution. He’s pushed us to innovate in our journalism, our products and our business, which has helped spark the rapid digital growth we’ve experienced over the last few years. This is the kind of leadership that will continue to be critical as the pace of transformation of our industry continues to speed up. He has my full confidence and support, and I know he will have yours. More on A.G. in a moment.
While I will remain chairman of the board, this transition has offered me the opportunity to reflect on my time here and thank you all — colleagues past and present — for making me a better publisher. I said recently that I believe one of my greatest accomplishments is the fact that today, against all odds, we employ 1,450 journalists, more than when I took on my role a quarter-century ago.
That is my greatest accomplishment, but my greatest joy has been serving alongside you, my colleagues.
It would be impossible to overstate what an honor it has been to lead this organization. For the entirety of my time here, The Times has been filled with not just the most brilliant journalists, but the most exceptional people throughout our operation. You have made my job so fulfilling and I am deeply in your debt.
For more than 100 years, it has been the mission of The New York Times to produce and distribute journalism that is fearless, free of ulterior influence and dedicated to the public good. It’s a mission that is felt deeply in all corners of the world where Times women and men take on the most important subjects and tell stories that shine a light and change lives.
Like many of you, I’ve looked to that mission for guidance. Mission was front of mind when we placed a number of big bets over the last decade — going national in print; embracing our digital future and charging for digital news; and, more recently, focusing on our global expansion.
These moves all had something in common. Success was uncertain, but the company leadership knew each risk was necessary to grow. Each of these decisions led to a renewed and reinvigorated Times. The strong position we enjoy today is because we were bold and unafraid.
On January 1st, I will turn over the position of publisher to a person who embodies the values of The Times and who has shown the ability to combine our best traditions with the need to evolve and keep pace with a fast-changing world. A.G. will represent the fifth generation of family leadership of The Times, a testament to the enduring and unshakable commitment that my family, the descendants of Adolph Ochs, feel to this singular institution.
This isn’t a goodbye. As chairman, I’ll remain an active presence in the building and in the life of The Times, supporting the leadership as they continue to push the company forward. But, beginning in the new year, the grand ship that is The Times will be A.G.’s to steer.
I thank every one of you for the support you have shown me over the years and for everything you do to ensure that The New York Times remains the greatest and most important news organization in the world.