Mark Bowden writes what half-sounds like an obituary for the New York Times in Vanity Fair. Or is for Arthur Sulzberger’s career? The question facing many in the newspaper industry is whether there is professional life after death — and what survives.
Arthur keeps a framed quotation by Winston Churchill in his office, a passage from a speech Churchill delivered during Britain’s darkest hours: “Never never never give up.” What Churchill actually said was “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in,” and he added an important qualifier: “—except to convictions of honour and good sense.” The bulldog approach worked for Churchill. But, for Arthur, as the prospect of success dims, good sense may dictate the very terms he resists. Serving the institution at some point may require selling it. Many of the newspaper’s superb journalists have already left. Many others are actively eyeing second careers. It is hard to imagine what a second career would be for Arthur.
The inheritance has shaped Arthur Sulzberger’s life, but as he turns 58, this year, the age of the newspaper may be ending. For The New York Times, the greatest of them, it would mean the collapse of a dynasty and a national treasure. No one would feel the loss more than Arthur. For him, more than anyone, everything is at stake.
“What would he do?” asks Penny Abernathy. “What would he do? That’s who he is.”
I think the fascination with the NYT’s fate — like the Titanic’s — is that it is a convenient symbol for something larger than itself. There’s an intuitive sense that it marks, in that hackneyed phrase, the End of an Era. But what Era? Some will argue that a whole way of life, a Class of people almost, has seen its sun set. Others, perhaps hungrier, the parvenus, the noveau riche, now see room at the top. It’s their dawn. The King is Dead. But long live what? The nationalized bankers? The Rahms and the Baracks? Google? Carbon traders? Lord Ahmed of Britain? Open thread.