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Monday, October 1, 2012

A newspaper publisher like no other

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, publisher (owner) of The New York Times, died on Saturday at the age of 86.

Reading his obituary and the other articles remembering an extraordinary personality, I could not help but wonder if such a publisher exists in India.

Here is an excerpt from the tribute written by a former Times editor, Max Frankel:

[Punch, as everyone called him,] was a media mogul who never ordered an article to be printed or deleted from the news columns of his paper. In a quarter-century in which I reported directly to him, he never once summoned me to his office to complain about our journalistic decisions. As he always insisted, The Times sold not just news, but judgment about the importance and interest of news, and once invested in his choice of subordinates he wanted them to feel secure in their labors, comfortable with their judgments. He had our backs.

Read Max Frankel's appreciation here: Punch Sulzberger and His Times.

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger in 1992, the year he relinquished the position of publisher to his son, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.  The portrait in the background is of his grandfather, Adolph S. Ochs, who bought The New York Times in 1896.

Here is a telling passage from the column written by Arthur Gelb, who joined The Times in 1944 as a copy boy and retired in 1989 as managing editor:

Punch’s punctuality could feel like a reproach. In 1951, as part of Punch’s training, [managing editor Turner] Catledge had arranged for him to spend two weeks with me when I was a beat reporter at the Municipal Building. When I arrived there at 10, my regular time, Punch was waiting for me.

The next morning I arrived at 9:45. Punch was already there. The third day I arrived at 9 and there he was. Defeated, I went back to my normal arrival time.

Punch shared my love for the ambience of that old newsroom. When the newsroom’s brass spittoons were declared obsolete, he claimed one and later installed it in the den of his Fifth Avenue apartment. As publisher, he sometimes waited for the paper — still warm to the touch — to be brought up from the basement presses.

Read Arthur Gelb's column in its entirety here: "A Newsroom and a Beloved Publisher".

Nicholas D. Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Times columnist, also remembers Punch fondly and recalls his leadership style, which is something Indian newspaper proprietors (I can think of one in particular) would do well to emulate:

In a newsroom of titanic egos, often clashing, he was typically gentle and his concern was the paper rather than himself. I remember one occasion when the Times was publishing a brutal article about one of his close friends: he read the article in its entirety the day before publication, but never asked for a word to be changed. He picked the best editors, and then left the journalism to the journalists.

You can read Nicholas D. Kristof's remembrance here: "Punch Sulzberger, R.I.P.".

For the complete obituary, which also gives us an insight into the workings of a legendary institution, go to "Publisher Who Transformed The Times for New Era".
  • Photograph courtesy: The New York Times/Burk Uzzle