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If You Like The New York Times…..

March 31, 2009

…you will appreciate a good read about the paper from Vanity Fair.  It is not a love piece, but rather a well-written article by Mark Bowden that is a fair, and at times blunt assessment of the business side to what is the  most important newspaper in the nation.   I took the liberty of using one of the pictures in the article here as it is really wonderful, and I want to show it off, and promote this read.

UPDATED….with a another view of the Vanity article.

new-york-times-0905-01

The publishers of The New York Times, from left to right: Adolph S. Ochs (who ran the newspaper from 1896 to 1935); Arthur Hays Sulzberger (1935–61); Orvil E. Dryfoos (1961–63); Arthur Ochs Sulzberger (1963–92); and Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. (1992–present).

With a doomsday clock ticking for newspapers as we know them, no one has more at stake than fourth-generation New York Timespublisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., who is scrambling to keep his family’s prized asset alive. Some see him as a lightweight cheerleader, others as the last, best defender of quality journalism. Talking to company insiders, the author examines the nexus of dynasty and character that has brought the 57-year-old Sulzberger to the precipice.

A short section of a rather long and insightful read follows.

The Sword and the Stone

America is not kind to the heir. He is a stereotypical figure in our literature, and not an appealing one at that. He tends to be depicted as weak, pampered, flawed, a diluted strain of the hardy founding stock. America celebrates the self-made. Unless an heir veers sharply from his father’s path, he is not taken seriously. Even in middle age he seems costumed, a pretender draped in oversize clothes, a boy who has raided his father’s closet. The depiction may be unfair, but it is what it is.

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. is fair-skinned with small, deep-set light-brown eyes. He has a high forehead with a steepening widow’s peak, his crown topped with a buoyant crop of wavy hair, now turning to gray. He is a slight man who keeps himself fit, working out early in the morning most days of the week. He has a wide mouth that curls up at the edges, and when he grins he is slightly buck-toothed, which adds to an impression, unfortunate for a man in his position, of puerility. He is a lifelong New Yorker, but there is no trace whatsoever of region or ethnicity in his speech. When he chooses to be, Arthur is a fluent, eager, even urgent talker, someone who listens impatiently and who impulsively interrupts, often with a stab at humor. He has delicate hands with long fingers, which he uses freely and expressively in conversation. He is long-winded and, in keeping with a tendency toward affectation, is fussily articulate, like a bright freshman eager to impress, speaking in complex, carefully enunciated sentences sprinkled with expressions ordinarily found only on the page, such as “that is” and “i.e.” and “in large measure,” or archaisms like “to a fare-thee-well.” He exaggerates. He works hard, endearingly, to put others at ease, even with those who in his presence are not even slightly intimidated or uncomfortable.

His witticisms are hit-and-miss, and can be awkward and inadvertently revealing. “Some character traits are too deep in the mold to alter,” says one longtime associate. Arthur has the clever adolescent’s habit of hiding behind a barb, a stinging comment hastily disavowed as a joke. Some find him genuinely funny. Others, particularly those outside his immediate circle, read arrogance—the witty king, after all, knows that his audience feels compelled to laugh. His humor can also be clubby. He will adopt, for instance, a pet expression that becomes an in-joke, which he will then deploy repeatedly. One of these is “W.S.L.,” which stands for “We Suck Less,” a self-deprecatory boast, which Arthur will use in discussions of the industry’s woes as a reminder to those in the know that, for all its travails and failings, his newspaper remains, after all, The New York Times.

While clearly smart, Arthur is not especially intellectual. For what it’s worth, he is a Star Trek fan. His mind wanders, particularly when pressed to concentrate on complicated business matters. Diane Baker, a blunt former investment banker who served for a time as the chief financial officer of the New York Times Company, has described him as having the personality of “a twenty-four-year-old geek.” She did not long survive Arthur’s ascension to the chairman’s office. His 30-year marriage has reportedly foundered over a relationship Arthur had with a woman named Helen Ward, from Aspen, Colorado, whom he met on a group excursion to Peru. Since separating from Gail, he has been living alone and has not been involved with Ward or anyone else. Perturbations on the home front are also a family tradition. (Arthur’s grandfather Arthur Hays Sulzberger was always, as the saying goes, a tough hound to keep on the porch. His father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, paid child support for 16 years to a newspaper-staff member who bore a child she claimed was his—this according to Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones in The Trust, a history of the Times.) Arthur is provincial. Asked once if he had seen a story on the front page of that day’s Post, he looked confused until it was explained that the item had appeared in The Washington Post. He said, “I only read the Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post.” He sometimes takes the bus or subway to work, and for many years jogged in Central Park. Recently his knees have started to bother him, so he now prefers exercising on an elliptical trainer. He also takes Pilates classes and can be evangelical about them, telling friends the practice wards off arthritis, which has begun to worry him. But he is not a complete health nut. He still enjoys unwinding with a cigar and a martini. He still goes on motorcycle treks with his cousin Dan Cohen and other friends. He is drawn to feats of personal daring, and is an avid rock climber, a vestige of his enthusiasm for Outward Bound. He has little interest in sports, particularly team sports, and dismissed as silly the effort to lure the Olympic Games to New York City, which included plans for a sports stadium in Manhattan. In a presentation at the Times building, Arthur greeted the scheme’s promoters with cutting sarcasm, even though the paper’s editorial board supported it.

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