New Times publisher pledges newsroom support in New Year, tells staff paper is irreplaceable

Amid the hollowing out of newsrooms nationwide, the new leader of The New York Times pledges that "we will do everything in our power to maintain a stable newsroom budget over the next two years."

A.G. Sulzberger, the 37-year-old who will succeed his father as publisher on Jan. 1, on Wednesday sent staff a "state of The Times" message that reaffirmed his family's commitment to quality journalism, heralded the newsroom's work and conceded that the industry is by and large a mess. It's partly a potent valedictory for his own father, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. but, more so, a heralding of support for the values and work of an institution he'll run. (Sulzberger is on Poynter's National Advisory Board.)

"The pages of the Harvard Business Review are littered with stories of legacy companies trying — and failing — to reinvent themselves for a new era," he writes. "But we’re actually pulling it off. This evolution is something we should all take deep pride in."

"Seeing it through will be an absolute triumph."

He cited a national magazine, The Atlantic, for tagging the obvious perils of journalism as “The Media Apocalypse” but argued that his paper – which now enters its fifth generation of family ownership – "stands out as a powerful exception."

"Our push to build a sustainable business model for great journalism is viewed as the best hope for our profession. I’ve heard that message from journalists, media executives, and devoted readers around the world: they’re counting on us."

His assumptions include the claim the paper is irreplaceable. "If The Times faltered, others would not step in to support the difficult, expensive work of deploying reporters around the world to bear witness and hold power to account."

That could certainly generate some debate, though it's hard to marshal much evidence at the moment. In its home industry, only The Washington Post is making comparable investments, albeit with the great fortune of Jeff Bezos, one of the world's richest individuals, as its owner. 

So I’m going to say something that may sound a little crazy: I believe the work we’re doing here in this building is as important as any work being done anywhere in our country right now.

That’s a huge, sweeping statement. I’m sure many would dismiss it as hyperbole. But I believe it in my bones.

Original, independent, deeply-reported journalism is the fuel that powers a healthy and engaged society.

He alludes to high-profile work now being produced, including on sexual harassment, and contends, "We’re working at the best news organization on earth in the middle of the most important stories of our time. We’re blazing a path forward for everyone who cares about journalism, at a moment when journalism is under greater siege than ever before."

"This is big, consequential stuff."

He concludes with unabashed confidence that a sixth and seventh generation will be proud.

"We’re going to be telling our grandkids about being here, at The New York Times, right now."

"Thank you for the work that you do," he tells his staff. "I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of such an extraordinary team.

That pride aside, the most telling suggestion involves dollars and cents. It's where the rubber meets the road in any news organization. And, here, he makes clear, that the upper echelon of the company is pledging to "do everything in our power to maintain a stable newsroom budget over the next two years."

 

 

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former chief media writer, The Poynter Institute.

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