Sunday 22 April 2018

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger

'New York Times' publisher who fought for press freedom, writes Martin Childs

Arthur O Sulzberger, who died on September 29, changed the fortunes of The New York Times from being a regional newspaper that had just incurred its first loss in 65 years, and transformed it into an international global brand. He increased its readership and profits, while leading it to 31 Pulitzer Prizes and defying a direct presidential order in order to stand up for the freedom of press -- a decision many historians view as his finest moment at the helm.

Sulzberger was appointed publisher in June 1963. Aged 37, he set about putting his stamp on the paper. Regarded as "a giant in the industry", he fought to preserve the vital role of a free press in society and championed journalism executed at the highest level.

Sulzberger radically changed the paper's format, creating the consumer-facing sections that would profoundly alter the way major newspapers covered the arts, film, television and sports. They became an instant success.

He directed the New York Times's evolution from an encyclopaedic paper of record to a more reader-friendly product that extended across the nation.

During his three-decade tenure, weekday circulation climbed from 714,000 in 1963 to 1.1 million when Sulzberger stepped down as publisher in 1992. Over the same period, the annual revenues of the Times's corporate parent rose from $100m to $1.7bn.

Sulzberger was a champion of the free press and free speech and his stance on editorial independence made him a hero within the profession.

In 1971, the Times published the Pentagon Papers, a highly classified Defence Department history of US involvement in the Vietnam War that embarrassed President Nixon's administration. Sulzberger rejected Nixon's demand for the Times to stop further publication and the US Supreme Court ruled in the paper's favour.

Born in New York City in 1926, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger was the youngest of four. Aged 17, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps and served during the Second World War in the Philippines and Japan. He then fought in Korea before being transferred to Washington. He ended his service in 1952 as a lieutenant.

In 1992, Sulzberger passed the publisher's job to his son but remained chairman of The New York Times Co. He retired as chairman and chief executive of the company in 1997 with his son then named chairman. Sulzberger stayed on the Times Co board of directors until 2002.

Sulzberger died after a lengthy illness and is survived by his children, two of his sisters and nine grandchildren.

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