Colleen Mihal. Encyclopedia of Journalism. Editor: Christopher H Sterling. Sage Publication. 2009.
The New York Times is the leading U.S. national newspaper and is based in New York City with 16 regional, 11 national, and 26 foreign bureaus. In early 2008, the paper had 1,332 newsroom employees, more than during any other point in its history and more than any other American newspaper. However, due to industry-wide financial losses, in 2008 the publisher decided to reduce 100 newsroom staff positions. The Times has distribution outlets throughout the world, with home delivery available for select U.S. cities. In 2007, its 12-month average circulation was 1,066,600 on weekdays and 1,529,700 on Sundays. The Times publishes in several formats: the standard print edition; electronic edition; Times Reader edition, a software program enabling users to download the paper and read it in a paginated version on or offline for a monthly subscription fee; and Nytimes. com edition, the online version of the paper based on a scrolling format and available without a subscription.
The New York Times is widely recognized as the country’s “newspaper of record,” meaning it is touted as the preeminent and most authoritative news source documenting current events. The Times first used the title to describe itself in 1927. The top of the paper carries the motto: “All the news that’s fit to print,” first used in 1896 and a permanent front-page feature a year later. The Times serves as an agenda setter for other newspapers and electronic media, which look to the Times to develop stories ideas and find leads. The New York Times ranks first among newspapers in terms of the number of Pulitzer prizes awarded. The New York Times Company received 120 Pulitzer Prizes, 96 of which were awarded to The New York Times, the rest awarded to other publications owned by the company. The paper was dubbed the “Grey Lady” early on because of its heavy text orientation. In 1997, it made extensive changes including the addition of color to advertisements and photographs in its daily editions, and the daily inclusion of separate sports and culture and entertainment sections. The first online addition appeared in 1995.
The New York Times is the chief and best known product of The New York Times Media Group, owned by the New York Times Company. In 2007, annual revenues for the company totaled $3.2 billion. The firm is divided into four business units. In addition to The New York Times, the New York Times Media Group includes International Herald Tribune (Paris), radio station WQXR-FM (New York), http://NYTimes.com, and Baseline Studio Systems, a leading database of corporate television and film information available by subscription. The New England Media Group includes The Boston Globe, Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA), and http://Boston.com. The Regional Media Group includes fifteen dailies, including The Gainesville Sun (Gainesville, Florida) and The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California). The About Group includes over 50 websites, including http://About.com, an online resource providing expert information, advice, and tutorials on a wide variety of topics.
The New York Times was founded by 31-year-old Henry Jarvis Raymond, speaker of the New York State Assembly, and George Jones, a banker. The first issue was published on September 18, 1851. Raymond had previously worked for other New York papers, including Horace Greeley’s Tribune. Jones met Raymond while working at the Tribune. The Times‘s coverage of the sinking of the Arctic, a transatlantic steamer in 1854, and the Italian Battle of Solferino in 1859, both relied on eyewitness accounts, which enabled the paper to get the scoop before its competitors.
When Raymond died in 1869, Jones gained editorial control and financial oversight of the paper. He served as editor until his death in 1891. In 1871, the Times began printing the misdeeds of William Marcy “Boss” Tweed, the head of the Tammany Hall political patronage system. The coverage is credited with bringing public attention to the Tweed Ring as well as to the newspaper. In 1884 the paper endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Grover Cleveland, breaking with its reputation as a Republican newspaper. The paper also provided significant coverage of the Civil War and Reconstruction. When Jones died in 1891, control of the Times passed to his heirs, who sold the paper to a group of investors known as The New York Times Publishing Company, led by Charles Ransom Miller.
In 1896, 38-year old Adolph S. Ochs, the successful newspaper publisher of the Chattanooga Times, bought the then-failing New York Times. It has remained under the control of the Ochs-Sulzberger family since. The Times became a public company in 1967, though the family retained ownership of Class B stocks holding controlling voting rights. In March 2008, the Times gave two hedge funds a seat on the board, the first time the Times has accepted directors nominated by outsiders. Despite the Jewish background of the Ochs and Sulzberger families, the paper has been criticized for downplaying the Holocaust of World War II and for some of its coverage of Israeli affairs.
When Adolph Ochs revived The New York Times starting in 1896, the paper began to value fact over entertainment, the two dominant values of news reporting in the 1890s. It also became the elite paper of New York (attracting a wealthy, upper-class audience) and soon developed the standard for modern mass circulation newspapers. In 1914, the paper was the first to report on the sinking of the Titanic. It was the only paper in the world to publish the entire Treaty of Versailles in 1918. In 1927, the Times attained exclusive worldwide rights to Charles A. Lindbergh’s personal account of his New York to Paris flight.
When Ochs died in 1935, control passed to his daughter Iphigene Sulzberger, her husband Arthur Hays Sulzberger, and his favorite nephew Julius Ochs Adler, as trustees of the Ochs Trust. Arthur Hays Sulzberger became the publisher, while Iphigene Sulzberger directed from behind the scenes. A passionate suffragist, she pushed the paper towards more progressive policies. In 1945, a drafted Times journalist was the only reporter on the Nagasaki bombing mission. In 1955, the paper published the entire 138,000-word transcript of the Yalta Peace Conference. Arthur Sulzberger, in turn, passed control of the Times to his son-in-law, Orvil Eugene Dryfoos in 1963. In December 1962, the company’s printers, represented by the International Typographical Union, led a strike against the Times and other city papers, which dragged on for an unsurpassed 114 days. After the strike, the Times revenues were down by $16 million, and daily circulation had dropped 80,000, making it the costliest strike in New York’s history. The price of the paper went up for the first time since 1946. Dryfoos felt personal responsibility for the crisis and the stress took its toll on his health. He died of heart failure, aged only 50, in 1963.
Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger, son of Arthur Hays Sulzberger, took over as publisher after Dryfoos’ death. The younger Sulzberger served as publisher until 1992, and is credited with turning the Times into a public corporation, with its 1967 offering of stock shares. Sulzberger oversaw the initial publication of the Times‘ national edition in 1980. He appointed a Times reporter and correspondent who had won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, as managing editor. Rosenthal served from 1969 to 1986, prompting Robert McFadden of the Times, writer of Rosenthal’s obituary, to refer to him as “a principle architect of the modern New York Times.” The Times was the first paper to report on General Westmoreland’s request for 200,000 troops in Vietnam following the Tet offensive of 1968. In 1970, the op-ed section was added opposite the editorial page and in 1971, the Business section was added. The Times won the Pulitzer Prize for its critical coverage of the causes behind the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986, which killed all seven astronauts on board.
Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. became publisher in 1992. He oversaw the Times‘ transition to the Internet and appointed Howell Raines, another Pulitzer Prize–winning Times journalist, as executive editor in 2001. But Raines resigned just two years later following the scandal over Jayson Blair, a Times reporter forced to resign for plagiarism and fabrication of information in many of his stories.
Women at the Times
The New York Times, like many other newspapers, has had a long history of gender-based discrimination. Compared with other major U.S. papers, however, the Times took longer to elevate women into positions of power in the newsroom. Adolph S. Ochs opposed even hiring women and resisted doing so even when more women moved into the workforce during World Wars I and II. During his tenure to 1935, only four women worked as reporters in the Times city room. Yet women had worked there before. Sara Jane Clarke, hired in the 1850s, was the first female reporter on the payroll, working under the pen name Grace Greenwood. In 1869, Maria Morgan became the first woman to have a desk in the Times city room, the heart of news operations. In 1921, Anne O’Hare McCormick began writing stories for the Times, but was not put on the payroll until 1936, a year after Ochs’ death. In 1937, McCormick, who had interviewed Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, and FDR, became the first woman to win a major category Pulitzer (for her foreign correspondence). Unlike other papers, The New York Times did not hire women en masse during World War II.
On February 1, 1972, a small group of women from The New York Times, which included Betsy Wade, founded the Women’s Caucus to address discriminatory practices. They later drafted a letter to the publishing family and directors documenting salary inequality, raise discrimination, and violation of civil rights. In 1974, seven discrimination lawsuits were brought against the Times in the U.S. Southern District Court of New York. In 1977, the judge approved a petition to pursue Boylan v. New York Times, a class action suit including 550 women. It was settled out of court in 1978.
The landmark New York Times Co. v. Sullivan Supreme Court case arose as a result of a full-page ad, “Heed Their Voices,” published in the Times on March 29, 1960. The court decision established “actual malice” as the standard to be met by public officials in libel cases. It marked the first time the Supreme Court dealt with civil libel law, which previously fell within state jurisdiction. Before Times v. Sullivan, many different definitions of malice existed in various states.
The Union Advertising Service for the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South, a civil rights group, paid for the full-page ad that ignited the lawsuit. The ad included text critical of violence against student civil rights activists and the Southern justice system. Four Montgomery County commissioners brought a civil libel suit against the Times for the ad’s content. The suit brought by Commissioner L. B. Sullivan was the first to go to trial and move on to the Alabama Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the plaintiff, stating that the Times ad had identified and defamed the plaintiff. The defense could not argue truth (the standard defense), as there were factual errors in the ad. The case was appealed by the Times to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Court unanimously ruled in favor of The New York Times. Justice Brennan wrote, “A state cannot, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, award damages to a public official for defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves ‘actual malice’—that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.” The Court also held that falsity is not sufficient to warrant the award of damages to public officials in libel cases.
The Pentagon Papers was the informal name of a 47-volume, 7,000-page classified study commissioned by the Pentagon to assess U.S. policy and planning in Vietnam. The study was made public in a Times series that began on Saturday, June 12, 1971. The Washington Post and other papers soon picked up the story. The publication of the stories and the ensuing Supreme Court case (on whether the papers were within their rights to publish secret government documents) were significant because they dealt with government accountability, censorship, and the papers’ First Amendment rights. The studies were classified as top secret-sensitive and only fifteen copies of the final study were produced. Former RAND and Pentagon researcher Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to Times reporter Neil Sheehan. Familiar with the Papers from his work at the Pentagon, Ellsberg was convinced that making the documents public could stop what he perceived as escalation, let alone continuation, of the war. There was significant debate among the top officials at the Times over whether or not to publish the Papers, and if so, how. In the end, publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger approved a ten-part series, with a six-page daily limit.
On June 14, 1971, the day after publication of the initial report on the classified documents, Attorney General John Mitchell requested that the Times halt publication of the series, claiming that publication posed a significant and immediate threat to national security. On June 15, the government won a temporary restraining order against the Times, which stopped publication. The order was later extended to The Washington Post when they commenced publication. The Times appealed the injunction against publication to the Supreme Court, arguing that the restraining order constituted prior restraint in violation of its First Amendment rights. Relying on language from the 1931 Near v. Minnesota decision (the first concerning the First Amendment’s press clause), the government argued that publication posed a threat to national security, which trumped the First Amendment rights of the press. The Court ruled 6 to 3 in favor of the Times, issuing a per curiam opinion (one that is not signed by any one justice) which stated, “Any system of prior restraints of expression comes to this Court bearing a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity… [The government] thus carries a heavy burden showing justification for the enforcement of such a restraint.” Weakening the precedent-setting value of the decision, however, there were nine separate opinions, none joined by more than three justices.
The Court’s decision affirmed that the First Amendment rights of The New York Times and The Washington Post to publish the Pentagon Papers could not be abridged by the government. At the same time, the court did not hold that prior restraint was always unconstitutional. There was no evidence that the publication of the Pentagon Paper harmed the U.S. military, defense, intelligence, or international affairs. Nor did publication lead to the end of the war. What publication did do was add to the public debate over whether or not government had intentionally misled the American public.
The New York Times has long been the leading daily American newspaper. It has played an important role in U.S. history and it has been a party to landmark legal cases, which have set important precedents for the press. As an agenda setter for other media outlets, the stories the Times covers and the type of coverage it provides is significant. As traditional newspapers struggle to survive in an online market, The New York Times has managed to stay afloat. How it negotiates the changes in the marketplace, especially the online world, will determine whether or not the Times remains the preeminent news source in the United States.