April 3, 2009

THE (SQUANDERED?) INHERITANCE: Mark Bowden on Pinch Sulzberger and the New York Times.

I respect people who avoid the spotlight, and a reluctance to be publicly vivisected is a sure sign of intelligence. But ducking interviews is an awkward policy for the leader of the world’s most celebrated newspaper, one that sends a small army of reporters—approximately 400 of them—into the field every day asking questions. Still, I could understand Arthur’s decision. After presiding or helping to preside over a decade of unprecedented prosperity, the publisher and chairman of the Times had recently begun to appear overmatched. Two of his star staffers were discovered to have violated basic rules of reporting practice; he had been bullied by the newsroom into firing his handpicked executive editor, Howell Raines; and he had spent much of the previous year in a confusing knot of difficulty surrounding one of his reporters and longtime friends, Judith Miller. For an earnest and well-meaning man, the hereditary publisher had begun to look dismayingly small.

He has been shrinking ever since. In 2001, The New York Times celebrated its 150th anniversary. In the years that have followed, Arthur Sulzberger has steered his inheritance into a ditch. As of this writing, Times Company stock is officially classified as junk.

It’s a sad story, overall.

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