Sulzberger’s Legacy

'New York Times' publisher created modern newspaper template

Arthur O. Sulzberger, the publisher who led The New York Times through three decades of change, created a template that is now taken for granted by newspaper readers around the country but was hardly universally accepted at first.

During a rough financial patch in the ’70s, Sulzberger, who died Saturday at the age of 86, recognized the paper had to find new sources of advertising to support its costly newsgathering mission. He took a gamble and expanded the paper to four sections from two, adding new lifestyle sections to appeal to women and advertisers. Regional sections would come later.

The additions of sections like Living and Home were initially criticized as unworthy of a serious newspaper and the subject of internal strife before being validated as a success as affluent readers and advertisers followed.

“What to do with Tuesday became an issue," the Times reported. "It turned into a tug of war. The business staff wanted a fashion section, seeing it as a sure way to bring in advertising. The newsroom preferred a science section, seeing it as more in tune with The Times’s traditional mandate.”

Some of that legacy has since eroded. In 2009, the paper killed its five regional sections to focus more on city coverage. As newspapers in general have fallen on hard times, the broadening of content has reversed itself as newsrooms have cut back on staffing and space devoted to soft as well as hard news coverage, a trend that seems likely to continue.

While Sulzberger is described as a mostly hands-off publisher, he showed his contrarian side again when he hired conservative William Safire as a columnist to balance out the paper’s liberal voice, a decision that was met with outrage. Since then, the Times has sprinkled its editorial pages with pundits from the right, like Bill Kristol, David Brooks and Ross Douthat.