The New York Times: Father and Son

In his keynote address Friday at the Online News Association’s annual conference in New York City, New York Times Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. admitted that his newspapers’ Jayson Blair and Judith Miller scandals during the past few years were an institutional failure.

I wanted to ask him is why similar journalistic failures haven’t occured at The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, or other major American newspapers. The institution that failed is The New York Times under his reign.

I’ve known both Arthur Ochs Sulzbergers, Senior and Junior, and the key difference between them.

I knew the father from newspaper conferences during the 1970s and 1980s, and from his attempts during the 1960s and 1970s to purchase my family’s daily newspaper in New England. Senior surprised his family during the 1940s by joining the U.S. Marines, undergoing basic training, and serving as a private in the Pacific during World War II.

I’ve known the son from negotiating a Reuters contract across the table from him — a good way to take the measure of someone — during the early 1990s; from working as a new-media consultant to the Times until 1995, when he took the newspaper and its parent company; and from watching NYTimes.com ever since. Junior and I also each have decades of experience rock climbing in the Shawangunk cliffs of the Catskill Mountains, though we’ve never climbed together. Unlike his father, Junior never served in the military, although he does talk about his formative experiences as being in Outward Bound.

And therein is the difference between the father and the son: The U.S. Marine Corp. versus Outward Bound. I don’t think the journalistic failures would have occured under the father’s tougher, more rigorous reign.

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