He was clearly studying up on everything.”Sulzberger competed in a kind of bake-off for the top spot at the paper against two of his cousins, Sam Dolnick and David Perpich. At the end of it, we had this moment that I’ll never forget. One of the first things we did after the election was we hired a conservative columnist, Bret Stephens, who had just won a Pulitzer Prize for the ? What it tells me is that our audience likes to be challenged. In that environment, I really do believe that the New York can play a role in bringing people together around a shared understanding of the truth. R.: Maybe this is a rude question, and maybe it’s a private question, but it’s an essential question to our discussion: got larger and larger—this is a historic dynamic we see in all kinds of families—and less and less interested in the challenges of journalism. We see you, and hear your commitment to journalism, but the Sulzberger family is large, complicated, diverse, [with] different opinions. S.: My family is unequivocally committed to this institution. Times were tough for much of the past decade, and the family didn’t just hold strong, we got stronger.All three are said to command respect at the , but the combination of Sulzberger’s work on the Innovation Report, his journalistic experience, and, yes, the fact that his father was first among equals in the family, helped settle matters. The conversation basically went like this: “Arthur, I’ve got a job for you at the Providence . S.: We’re committed to a really old-fashioned notion. I think it’s something you have to work at; I think it’s something that we don’t always get right. R.: I have a hard time with the notion of objectivity. And already, we’re getting notes—and I’m sure you can see on social media—of people being surprised to have ideas, assumptions challenged even in our opinion pages. Is there any guarantee against that kind of fracturing of commitment so that it’s hard to maintain a hold on it? In fact, we feel like it’s the great privilege of our lives to be in service of an institution that is so important to this country. The three cousins are said to maintain a good familial and professional relationship. It’s a two-year internship, and I’d really like you to do it. S.: Narragansett is one of the largest fishing communities in the Northeast. But I think we started to see this growth even before the election. One, we’ve gotten much better as a digital news organization. But Trump is actually part of a broader and very important story, which is the rise of global populism. K., but do you really think that it’s possible to argue that the New York , by and large, isn’t both populated by people who are left of center, and that the tone of the newspaper isn’t left of center? It’s a notion that isn’t too popular these days, which is reporting the news “without fear or favor.” Those are words that my great-great-grandfather, Adolph Ochs, wrote in our initial mission statement. Objectivity, to me, sounds to me like what you do in a science lab. And certainly we strive to do that every day in our news pages. R.: Now you have a situation where the editor of the newspaper is Dean Baquet, who is [sixty-one]. I think if you opened up my Twitter account you’d find two tweets from my Kansas City reporting days. I actually think that the smoothness of this publisher transition that you’ve just witnessed is actually a testament to how unified we are. R.: So even when times get tough, and dividends might disappear, the commitment is to the end?
Did you always know, as a kid, that this was the likely future for you? They have to ask tough questions of people, and assume people are lying to them, and wake up in the middle of the night wondering if they got something wrong. And I’d do the slice-of-life stories that any small-town reporter does. That’s aligned our journalistic mission and all of our business incentives in a really clean and consistent way. ” And then on the advertising [side], it was, “How can we get a bunch of rich and powerful corporations to buy a bunch of ads? But even the notion of news and the business sides––these are catch-all phrases that sort of miss the point. You can only imagine how worried you are that this very candid hundred-page internal document is now being read simultaneously by the entire world, and with particular interest by our competitors in media. S.: Well, I think it’s a testament to how much people love the print New York , that this is this enduring concern. S.: If we were just relying on the loyal readers who really care about that tactile experience of leaning back on their couch and unfolding the broadsheet, then we will keep printing. This is the thing I say to my colleagues, when I say it’s important for us to keep growing, I say, “Great journalism is more expensive than people understand.” This is an institution that gives reporters weeks, months, sometimes years to report a single story. The fourth story is the story around race and gender that is growing in volume, particularly since the Harvey Weinstein story that we broke. R.: For many in the general public, the New York is seen as a liberal newspaper. Ultimately, that wasn’t just good for our journalism; it was really good for our business. One of my jobs over the last few jobs is to look at all the things that we’re doing that made total sense in an era in which the news came once a day—or, if you were a Sunday subscriber, once a week—and don’t make sense in a world in which you don’t have a passive, removed audience, and you can respond immediately to concerns that arise.
And, like any decent journalist, I have a contrarian streak, and I actually spent most of my life not thinking I would go into journalism. R.: But you grew up with the Sulzberger family and the New York . The first three months were tough, because the job of the reporter is to explain something to everyone else. S.: Well, for me, it wasn’t a specific story; it was just that beautiful combination of spending half your day learning and half your day teaching. And, unless I’ve got this wrong, the great dilemma is that print advertising has, if not cratered, than certainly declined much more rapidly than anybody had thought possible, or had hoped. When it comes to online advertising, there's the phenomenon of what we call pennies for dollars. S.: The famous phrase here is “print dollars, digital dimes, mobile pennies.”D. ” There’s an inherent tension there, which is why all these very important rules exist about ad acceptability and insuring that advertising and newsroom aren’t interacting and it wasn’t skewing the report inadvertently. Four years ago, when I started thinking about how the had to evolve in order to keep pace with this fast-changing world, one of the things that really struck me was that we regarded the members of our technology team and product team as being on the business side. There’s this phrase in journalism—“show, don’t tell”—and I think leaders of news organizations for many years had been telling people to change. S.: I think at the time it was really tough to realize that a whole bunch of digital players, like the Huffington Post and Buzz Feed, had rapidly eclipsed us and our journalism in reach. R.: And that hurt the pride of people in the newsroom? But a Pulitzer Prize winner—actually, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner—David Barstow, pulled me aside that day, and he had just read it. What I will say is that we’ve got a million loyal readers, the paper is profitable every day of the week, even without a single advertisement, and I expect it to be around for a long time. R.: But sooner or later—we all read the statistics, it’s fifteen per cent [less print advertising] this year, fifteen per cent the next year—does it matter to you in terms of the experience of reading the ? S.: I’m certainly not saying that, because, as I say, print is profitable every day of the week without a single ad dollar. R.: Despite the trucks, despite the ink and the printing and all the costs. You know, the reason I’m not predicting an end date, is that everyone who has tried to predict an end date has been wrong. And it’s proved to be not incompatible with the phone. Last year—and this is one of the statistics I’m proudest of—we put reporters on the ground in a hundred and seventy-four countries. And it’s what’s left us in such a strong position today. And I think it felt like, in some ways, we were dis-intermediating—we were putting an intermediary around—accountability, and asking a single person to call us out if we did something wrong.
And yet this is an optimistic moment for a family that bought the paper in 1896 but, despite its commitment to the future, seemed in recent years to be losing its hold.
Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the outgoing publisher—he will remain as chairman—has taken a lot of criticism, not least for making some costly deals.
The entire ad ecosystem is becoming very, very difficult for news organizations, particularly news organizations that do the expensive work of original reporting. This would force us to break a lot of habits that we had built for print and to really re-think a lot of what we were doing. R.: In other words, it’s campaigning for cultural change. And you can only imagine my surprise when, several weeks later, it was printed in full on Buzz Feed. It’s wonderful to see that institution growing again.
So the model that we shifted to about three years ago was to declare ourselves “subscription first.” Which basically means that, today, the vast majority of our revenue comes directly from our readers. R.: So at the peak of the advertising era, what percentage of the revenue of the New York came from advertisements, and what is it now? Above all, he managed to sustain, and even deepen, the quality of the paper’s journalism while deciding on the right financial path for a vital future—an emphasis on digital subscriptions sold at a high price to a national, and even an international, audience.And so even while ad revenues are dropping precipitously, the now has 3.5 million subscribers—2.5 million of them digital-only. Sulzberger led a study that became known as the Innovation Report, a self-critical hundred-page-long exploration of newsroom culture and the future that helped set the paper’s current digital direction.that carried with it the harbinger of dynastic transition. Despite the grandeur of the byline, carnivorous readers could not help but feel sympathy for their self-denying correspondent. This surely had less to do with the fact that this was his first interview as publisher than it was about the challenges at hand. Sulzberger was banging around the city, writing about a Third Avenue flop house upstairs from J. Melon, a high-end burger joint; about the maiden voyage of the U. Not long after, the very same Sulzberger was based in Kansas City, where he described the experience of being a vegetarian in a city known as a “Mecca of meat.” At Arthur Bryant’s famous barbecue place, he rejected the brisket and the “lard-bathed French fries” and drank a Bud for lunch. He seemed earnest, serious, disciplined, even a bit nervous.After about six months, I said, Is there any better way that you could spend—D. The other great factor here is that almost all the growth in digital advertising is going to two companies—Google and Facebook. There’s some evidence that that pie may actually shrink. Maybe the most important phase of that apprenticeship was working on something that become known as the Innovation Report. And her belief, which is something I really agree with, is that the newsroom should be a hub of innovation. Just move on to addressing the problems that the leaks reveal. R.: You’re the only one in political power who’s learned that lesson. And one of the theses was that, if we didn’t move fast, we were at risk of being left behind. S.: Not exclusively, but it probably trended that way. I’ve been hearing all this stuff for years, but I needed to read that. S.: I’m always amazed at how often this question comes up. It’s very hard on a device that’s the size of an index card to surface as many things as efficiently as turning the pages of a broadsheet newspaper. But you look at the type of storytelling we’re doing on the phone or on the desktop right now, or in podcasts, and it is qualitatively better experiences that we’re creating. I used to hear things about how the [Sulzberger] family wouldn’t be able to hold on to the paper anymore, because this is your only business in a sense, there’s no tech company on the side that’s providing billions of dollars. We are now the most consumed news organization in the country. And now you’ve got, in terms of authoritative newspapers, you’ve got the national, if not international, New York , which is now gone from the Graham family to Jeff Bezos. The New York , particularly under Dean Baquet, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former investigative reporter, has been deeply investing in the form of investigative and accountability reporting all around the country. After years of shrinking—you were probably there at its height. R.: Yes, but then I’d call my friends, and every afternoon they were cutting another sheet cake to say goodbye to yet another person. And it’s wonderful to see this institution—the country needs a great newspaper in Washington growing again. I have a] and for Jeff Bezos, for what they’ve done to that place in just a couple years. R.: You used to have, until very recently, a public editor, who was a kind of in-house critic of whatever he or she wanted to critique.