When a print publication, especially one as widely known, recognized, and respected as The New York Times, goes through a change, it is expected that it will have varied results, and in many cases it is Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. who must field both the compliments and complaints. With company layoffs and many questions surrounding the future of print journalism, Sulzberger gave us some answers.
On Thursday, Oct.16, the New York University Arthur Carter Journalism Institute hosted Arthur Sulzberger, publisher and chairman at The New York Times, for a conversation on journalism and the future of the paper, in New York City. The talk was moderated by Meryl Gordon, director of the magazine program at NYU, and was also accompanied by Ian Fisher, deputy executive editor at The New York Times.
“One of the most challenging decisions to make in a legacy organization is to change,” Sulzberger said.
Sulzberger explained how even between layoffs, rehires, the migration into the digital world, The New York Times is constantly in change, yet somehow remains a traditional legacy paper.
The company has made many job cuts in recent months, a topic that brought some interested journalists to the talk in the first place. “I read about the newsroom layoffs and I was very curious to see how he would address them,” said Jordan Sternberg, a journalism student at NYU. Although Sulzberger didn’t elaborate on the specifics, he attributed the layoffs to be much like the papers regeneration to a digital form, informing the audience that while they are buying out many employees, they are also hiring an abundance of new talent. “Yes, we are reinvesting in our journalism just like we are investing in our digital future,” Sulzberger said. In addition he was reassuringly asserted that in face The New York Times is employing more journalists than ever before. Although many are being laid off, they are equalling if not surpassing quotas with rehires more in tune with digital practices.
For prospective journalists, Sulzberger also offered some advice; “the skills necessary to succeed in this world are truly changing,” he said, adding that although it is good to be a good writer, nowadays that might not be good enough. “There is still value in working for a smaller paper,” Sulzberger said.
Deputy executive editor Ian Fisher also gave some encouragement, “if you’re a good and true writer, you will find a job,” he said, reassuringly.
In contrast, for those print publication traditionalists who don’t like change, it’s not time to worry just yet. According to Sulzberger, “print is going to be around as long as readers want it,” he said. And, although “the good gray lady” is now bursting with colour, and soon will be even more vibrant like those papers in Europe, according to Denmark journalist Jasper Van Kilder, with the addition of upgraded printing presses, tradition will remain. In fact, where most people would expect the transition of the reading medium to be from print to digital, the greater difference is between the reigning print version and mobile. Like the paper used to be, readers choice of what they read on, is very black and white. A reader is either fully traditional, and gets the paper delivered every morning or loads it on their phone on their way to work.
In the midst of all this change however The New York Times strives to keep its integrity, and more importantly, its legacy and tradition of accurate, insightful, and proactive reporting. “I think that The Times…sort of believes it has two values, one are the great stories themselves … but then I think we’re also selling , I imagine we’re selling New York Times judgment, as a whole. I mean The New York Times front page sends a message that these are the things the are most important,” Fisher said. It is up to the editors discretion to decide what is important, what readers need to know, and readers of The Times trust that information.
Interestingly, while they invoke change in the paper, the Sulzberger family has avoided change when it comes to leadership. Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. is the 4th generation Sulzberger to be running The New York Times and under his leadership there are already six 5th generation employees at The Times. Adolf Ochs bought The New York Times in 1896 and it has remained within the Ochs-Sulzberger leadership ever since then. Sulzberger said he is blessed to be apart of this legacy, and unlike most obligatory family businesses, he took on leadership of this one willingly. Sulzberger always wanted to be a journalist, he worked on his high school paper and had a job at The Associated Press before taking a position at The New York Times. Also unlike most family run businesses, especially those in the newspaper industry, the Sulzberger family hasn’t caved. Why is that? “We stay tight” Sulzberger said, “we work really hard at having a relationship,” and it is because of that relationship that the paper thrives and survives.