Longtime New York Times watchers like myself received a wonderful treat Thursday: A front page Times article announcing that AG Sulzberger has been named deputy publisher, on track to succeed his father, Arthur, in the top job.
After an erratic and tumultuous career, the elder Sulzberger at age 65 will step aside one of these days. Despite frequent crises with senior editors and dubious corporate decisions, the man known as "Pinch" in his youth has kept the Times sailing. He succeeded his father, "Punch" Sulzberger, who kept the Times in business through the cultural changes from the 1960s through the 1980s.
The front-page article announcing AG's selection was packed with vintage Times corporate speak designed to present a benign company making rational decisions instead of its reality: a screwed up comic-opera operation known for muddling through.
The announcement also came with a James Barron column presenting AG Sulzberger as a hard-working, salt-of-the earth newspaperman who earned his exalted position rising from the trenches instead of through his famous name.
The 36-year-old AG - Egg? - has held several reporting and editing jobs at his family's paper. He beat out two cousins, Sam Dolnick and David Perpush, who hold Times corporate positions. Although there are several females in the new generation, they apparently are out of the running for newspaper leadership. A few weeks ago, I saw a Times wedding announcement for a young woman in the family who's pursuing art or film or theater.
The newspaper story earnestly assured readers that an objective committee evaluated the three cousins, and Sulzberger won the competition fair and square., without any interference from his father. AG will be the third generation Sulzberger male who will hold the publisher's position.
The heir apparent Sulzberger led a committee that came up with a blueprint for the newspaper's digital future. Now, according to the story, yet another report on the newspaper's future is forthcoming. The article noted that staff anxiety is high as more layoffs will be coming, cutting further into the paper's storied depth.
As the story makes clear, the Times is a 19th century family operation seeking to survive in an era of corporate media consolidation. The world of the Internet and loss of print advertising are only the latest threat to the Times, which has constantly been in peril for the last 50 years or more. Gay Talese's "The Kingdom and the Power" detailed how editor Abe Rosenthal broadened the newspaper's cultural, fashion, food and leisure offerings in the 1960s, supported by "Punch" Sulzberger.
Once known as the "old gray lady," the Times has constantly struggled to remain culturally relevant to younger generations while maintaining its authority as the nation's "newspaper of record," a position from which it has retreated in recent years.
The Times has enjoyed some success with its online paywall, and has made a few clumsy forays into video and podcasts. Whether the paper can raise sufficient revenues in the online environment to continue supporting its in-depth worldwide reporting will be young Sulzberger's biggest challenge.