Monday, October 06, 2008

Will there be Sulzberger’s in NYT’s future?

Today at New York magazine’s Web site we find Joe Hagen’s “Bleeding ‘Times’ Blood.”

New York's attention grabber: Which is more important to a 25-year-old Ochs-Sulzberger heir: the sense of honor that comes with owning the New York Times, or enough money to do whatever he wants for the rest of his life?

That grabbed me, I’ve just finished Hagen’s article.

While he doesn’t provide a definite answer to the question, Hagen does provide a detailed, well-written and revealing account of how financial pressures, social values, and personality conflicts and rivalries within the Sulzberger family have influenced the Times’ development and its current sense of purpose.

Hagen says - - -

…[It’s] fair to wonder, as the Times’ own public editor, Clark Hoyt, did last year, “How united are the Sulzbergers, and what holds them together? Who is the next generation, and how committed are they to the family’s long practice of investing heavily in quality journalism, even in rocky financial times?”

It’s a question that’s impossible to answer with any certainty, and one that’s difficult even to address, which is perhaps why Times editor Bill Keller has not followed through on his suggestion in that same column that “this is a story [the Times] could do.”

The Sulzberger family is a different clan from the Bancrofts [, former owners of the Wall Street Journal], who were divided by trust funds and populated with restless socialites and horse enthusiasts whose hobbies required access to substantial funds. From an early age, Sulzberger children are taught to value their role as stewards of the paper and servants to the public good.

Privately, however, the family has always quarreled and debated among themselves, with cousins and brothers jockeying for power and influence, and occasional whispers of displeasure with [current publisher Pinch] Sulzberger’s leadership.

Today there is greater possibility for division in the Sulzberger family than there was a decade ago. In the last ten years, at least seventeen new family members have turned 25, the age at which they are allowed to join the trust’s board or vote for trustees, expanding by 38 percent the number of people with input into the family’s dealings.

In 2001, the family trust was quietly amended, expanding the number of family trustees and allowing a less than unanimous vote on “extraordinary corporate transactions”—leaving the door open for a faction of family members to push for a sale. …

Will prestige and legacy alone be enough to sustain the next generation? As the financial fortunes of the New York Times wither, the sad truth is that they may not have a choice.


Hagen’s “Bleeding ‘Times’ Blood” is here.

Hat tip: Romensko @ Poynter