Former 'New York Times' publisher dies aged 86

Mon, Oct 1, 2012, 01:00

NEW YORK – Former New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, who led the company for 34 years in a period of growth that made it a multibillion-dollar media enterprise, has died aged 86, the newspaper said.

Sulzberger, whose family bought the Times in 1896, died at his home in Southampton, New York, after a lengthy illness.

Mr Sulzberger, known by his childhood nickname Punch, became publisher of the Times in 1963 and it won 31 Pulitzer Prizes under his leadership. He turned over the publishing job to his son, Arthur Sulzberger jnr, in 1992 and gave him the chairman’s position in 1997. Mr Sulzberger helped the company achieve financial stability, started nationwide distribution, added sections that are now staples in newspapers across America and took the paper public in 1969 using a structure in which the family still controls about 90 per cent of Class B shares.

Sulzberger’s grandfather, Adolph S Ochs, purchased the Times in 1896 and the Ochs-Sulzbergers are one of a small group of families in the US still serving as stewards of newspapers and media empires.

Under Sulzberger’s stewardship, the Times became a media conglomerate with newspapers throughout the US, magazines, television, radio and online properties.

“He was a great champion of the newsroom,” said Joseph Lelyveld, executive editor of the Times from 1994-2001.

“I think the editors who had the good luck to serve him always knew on a key issue they could count on his backing if they truly believed it was a matter of great importance to the independence of the paper.”

The Times won two important freedom-of-the-press contests during Sulzberger’s tenure. In 1971, it published the Pentagon Papers, a highly classified government document on the Vietnam War that embarrassed the administration of Richard Nixon, which demanded the Times stop publication on grounds of national security. The Times, citing the First Amendment, refused and the US Supreme Court ruled in the newspaper’s favour.

The high court also sided with the newspaper in the Times v Sullivan, a case that began before Sulzberger took over but was settled in 1964 when he was publisher. The ruling established standards for malice that must be proved in libel cases.

In a statement from the White House, President Barack Obama said: “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.”

Sulzberger was born in 1926, the youngest of four children of Arthur Hays Sulzberger and Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger. He spent nearly his entire professional life at the Times – he worked briefly for the Milwaukee Journal and served in the US Marine Corps during the second World War and the Korean War. He started as a city staff reporter at the Times, working to become a foreign correspondent in the paper’s Paris, Rome and London bureaus. – (Reuters)