Arthur Ochs Sulzberger: Last of the Titans
By Gene Marbach
Back in the decade of the 70s, I was a trade reporter covering the media industry, among others. The industry was then populated with giants, people who possessed a vision and a commitment to innovation and integrity. The likes of Bill Paley, Ted Turner and Kay Graham were on the scene as was Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the former chieftain of The New York Times, who died this past weekend.
During his more than three decades at the helm of the media giant, “Punch” Sulzberger expanded the company’s influence, presided over a number innovations as well as led the fight to protect the First Amendment with the controversial decision to publish the Pentagon Papers. Mr. Sulzberger’s many accomplishments have been well-documented in the obituaries that have appeared in the wake of his passing.
The media industry has changed considerably since those days and I’m not sure that it has been for the better. We’ve witnessed a period of consolidation. Major media companies have merged, gone bankrupt or been restructured while some great properties have been traded like baseball cards. On the worst case basis, we’ve seen a number of major newspapers cease publishing altogether. In place of people with vision, we now have financial wizards and engineers. Perhaps that’s what is needed at this point in history as the newspaper industry is trying to figure out how to peacefully co-exist with the Internet. I won’t belabor that matter as it has been dissected quite well and many times by others.
Maybe I’ve become another old timer yearning for yesteryear. Perhaps, I’m yearning for a time when company leaders focused on building their enterprises by taking chances without benefit of focus groups or concern for the reactions of Wall Street investors or advertisers. Perhaps, I’m yearning to see business leaders of integrity willing to sacrifice short-term gain for a larger principle.
While we mourn Mr. Sulzberger’s passing, we celebrate his life and the example he set for us.