Arthur Ochs "Punch" Sulzberger Sr., who served as publisher and chairman of the New York Times for more than 30 years, died on Saturday at 86. His family told the New York Times that he died in his Southampton, N.Y., home.
Sulzberger took over as the Times’ publisher in 1963. At that time, it was a respected publication but still narrow in scope compared to what’s on newsstands today. Sulzberger was able to expand the paper from a family operation -- his grandfather Adolph S. Ochs bought the publication in 1896 -- to one that drove the national conversation.
Under Sulzberger, the New York Times began to focus on a wider scale of news and was distributed from coast-to-coast. Today, the Times is widely considered as a high standard of journalism. In addition, the brand has expanded into magazines, television and radio, as well as online media.
The Associated Press reported that in the years that Sulzberger ran the New York Times, the paper won 31 Pulitzer Prizes and almost doubled its weekday readership from 714,000 in 1963 to 1.1 million in 1992. In the same 29 years, the Times increased its corporate earnings by a staggering amount, from $100 million to $1.7 billion.
Sulzberger’s greatest achievement could be considered his 1971 decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, documents leaked by former Robert McNamara aide Daniel Ellsburg that exposed the government's dishonesty about America's activities in Vietnam during the Vietnam war.
President Nixon, who himself was in the middle of the scandal, tried to silence the Times, calling the papers a threat to national security. Citing the First amendment, Sulzberger and the New York Times staff refused to halt publication. It was a decision that would be upheld by the Supreme Court in New York Times vs. Sullivan, a seminal victory for the freedom of the press.
“Making money so that you could continue to do good journalism was always a fundamental part of the thinking,” a former Times board member told the newspaper.
Sulzberger used that mentality to publish the Pentagon Papers. His ability to make the Times profitable was in part due to his decision to have the paper expand into more sections. The idea of diversifying into SportsMonday, Science Times, Living and Home and Weekend was unpopular at the time, but it has since become commonplace among newspapers.
Before his death in 2006, former executive editor A.M Rosenthal called Sulzberger “probably the best publisher in modern American history.”
The role of publisher was passed on to Sulzberger’s son in 1992. Keeping the New York Times in the family is a decision the publishing magnate defended at a time when most other news outlets are now controlled by corporate boards that don’t have the audience’s best interest in mind.
“My conclusion is simple,” Sulzberger said. “Nepotism works.”
“Adolph Ochs is remembered as the one who founded this great enterprise,” said a Richard L. Gelb, a long-time board member, in 1997. “Arthur Ochs Sulzberger will be remembered as the one who secured it, renewed it and lifted it to ever-higher levels of achievement.”
Sulzberger wed Barbara Grant in 1948. They had two children, Arthur Jr. and Karen. The couple divorced in 1956, at which time Sulzberger married Carol Fox, with whom he had a daughter, Cynthia, and he adopted a daughter from Fox’s previous marriage named Cathy. Carol Fox died in 1995 and one year later Sulzberger married Allison Cowles.