37-Year-Old NYT Publisher Vows to Protect Journalism in Day-One Memo

The New York Times’ digital subscription revenue saw a record growth in the latest quarter. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

2018 marks the start of a new era for The New York Times. Arthur Gregg (A.G.) Sulzberger, the son of The Times’ longtime publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., officially stepped into his father’s shoes as the Gray Lady’s new publisher on Monday.

In a memo published on Monday, A.G. Sulzberger reiterated the paper’s mission instituted by his great-great-grandfather Adolph S. Ochs, who bought the paper in 1896, to “give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved” and “to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.” He didn’t lay out any imminent changes to the company, but vowed to protect those values planted by his predecessors. He wrote:

“The Times will continue to search for the most important stories of our era with curiosity, courage and empathy — because we believe that improving the world starts with understanding it. The Times will continue to resist polarization and groupthink by giving voice to the breadth of ideas and experiences — because we believe journalism should help people think for themselves. The Times will hold itself to the highest standards of independence, rigor and fairness — because we believe trust is the most precious asset we have. The Times will do all of this without fear or favor — because we believe truth should be pursued wherever it leads.

These values guided my father and his predecessors as publisher as they steered this company through war, economic crisis, technological upheaval and major societal shifts. These same values sustained them as they stood up to presidents; battled for the rights of a free press in court; and overrode the financial interests of our business in favor of our journalistic principles.”

Sulzberger, 37, is the sixth member of the Ochs-Sulzberger family to lead the newspaper since 1896. (Ochs’ son-in-law Arthur Hays Sulzberger succeeded him as publisher after he died.) He took the helm at a hopeful yet challenging time.

On the bright side, The Times finally began to see its effort in digital expansion paying off in recent financial quarters. In the latest quarter ending September 24, 2017, revenue from digital subscriptions grew 59 percent from a year ago, the highest growth since the paper introduced a paywall in 2011. As of late, the company has increased their bet on the strategy, lowering the number of free monthly articles from 10 to five.

The Times’ digital advertising revenue grew by 11 percent in the third quarter. While it hasn’t managed to offset the continuing decline in print advertising (total advertising revenue declined by 9 percent in the quarter), CEO Mark Thompson sees it as a sign for strong growth and sets an ambitious goal to double annual digital revenue to $800 million by 2020.

However, The Times in the past year has had its fair share of growing pains as the company lifted its root from print. With good intentions; the paper wants the brightest reporters and a broader content spectrum. Sulzberger wrote in the memo, “We will continue to give reporters the resources to dig into a single story for months at a time. We will continue to support reporters in every corner of the world as they bear witness to unfolding events, sometimes at great personal risk. “

Instead of raising costs, The Times wants to achieve this goal by compressing the content workflow. In May, the company announced a restructuring plan to downsize the editorial team, as to simplify the editorial process and make room for more on-the-ground reporters. Copy editors and some of their colleagues were infuriated. Feeling their jobs under threat, a group of employees staged a 15-minute protest outside the New York Times Building on the Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.

The Times currently has 2.5 million subscribers, including news, crossword and cooking products. CEO Thompson said in the third-quarter earnings call that he projected the subscription number to reach 10 million in the near future.

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