Arthur Ochs Sulzberger: New York Times publisher who fought for press freedom


He championed free speech and his stance on editorial independence made him a hero

Arthur O Sulzberger, the former New York Times publisher, changed the fortunes of the paper from a regional one that had just incurred its first loss in 65 years, and transformed it into an international global brand, increasing its readership and profits, while leading it to 31 Pulitzer Prizes, and negotiating the aftermath of the Vietnam War, President John F Kennedy's assassination and defying a direct Presidential order in order to stand up for the freedom of press – a decision many historians view as his finest moment at the helm.

Sulzberger, known by his childhood nickname "Punch", was appointed publisher in June 1963, following the unexpected death of his brother-in-law, Orvil Dryfoos. Aged 37, he became the paper's youngest head. Initial concerns about his lack of executive experience, he had been in the Times executive suite for eight years in a role he later described as "vice president in charge of nothing", were soon dispelled as Sulzberger set about putting his stamp on the paper. Regarded as "a giant in the industry", he fought to preserve the vital role of a free press in society and championed journalism executed at the highest level.

In a bid to increase circulation and attract new readers, particularly women who were having a greater influence in American society, and advertisers, Sulzberger gambled and radically changed the paper's format, expanding it from two to four sections, creating the consumer-facing sections that would profoundly alter the way major newspapers covered the arts, film, television and sports. Some critics dismissed the feature sections as unworthy of a serious broadsheet. However, to the chagrin of others, the sections, SportsMonday, Science Times, Living, Home & Weekend, became an instant success, without compromising the paper's hard-news core. Sulzberger directed the Times' evolution from an encyclopaedic paper of record to a more reader-friendly product that extended across the nation.

During his three-decade tenure, weekday circulation climbed from 714,000 in 1963 to 1.1 million when Sulzberger stepped down as publisher in 1992. Over the same period, the annual revenues of the Times' corporate parent rose from $100m to $1.7bn and included 21 regional newspapers, nine magazines, eight television stations, two radio stations, a news service, a features syndicate and the Boston Globe, which was bought in 1993 for $1.1bn.

Sulzberger, however, was more than just an innovator and motivator. He was a champion of the free press and free speech and his stance on editorial independence made him a hero within the profession. During his stewardship, the Times won two landmark cases.

In 1971, the Times published the Pentagon Papers, a highly classified Defence Department history of US involvement in the Vietnam War that embarrassed President Nixon's administration. Sulzberger rejected company lawyers' warnings that even reading the Pentagon Papers, let alone publishing them, constituted a crime, and rejected Nixon's demand for the Times to stop further publication. The Times refused and the US Supreme Court ruled in the paper's favour.

The high court also sided with the paper in the Times vs Sullivan, a case that began before Sulzberger took over, but was settled in 1964 when he was publisher. The ruling shielded the press from libel lawsuits by public figures unless they could prove actual malice.

Born in New York City, February 1926, to Arthur Hays Sulzberger and Iphigene Bertha Ochs, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger was the youngest of four. Not very academic, aged 17, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served during the Second Wor ld War in the Philippines and Japan between 1944 and 1946. He then fought in Korea before being transferred to Washington. He ended his service in December 1952 as a lieutenant. Between tours, the reformed dropout attended Columbia University.

Sulzberger was the only grandson of Adolph S Ochs, the son of Bavarian immigrants who took over the Times in 1896. His grandfather led the paper until his death in 1935, when he was followed by Sulzberger's father, who remained at the helm until he retired in 1961. Except for a year at the Milwaukee Journal, 1953-4, the young Sulzberger spent his entire career at the Times, initially working to become a foreign correspondent and returning to New York by 1955, but discovered he had little to do.

In 1992, Sulzberger passed the publisher's job to his son but remained chairman of The New York Times Co. He retired as chairman and chief executive of the company in 1997 with his son then named chairman. Sulzberger stayed on the Times Co. board of directors until 2002. Over the years, Sulzberger was a director or chairman of the Newspaper Advertising Bureau and the American Press Institute.

Sulzberger died after a lengthy illness and is survived by his children and two of his sisters and nine grandchildren.

Arthur O Sulzberger, editor; born New York City, USA 5 February 1926; married Barbara Winslow Grant 1948 (divorced 1956), two children, Carol Fox Fuhrman 1956 (died 1995), one child and adopted another, Allison S Cowles 1996 (died 2010); died New York, 29 September 2012.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
voicesBy the man who has
people... and stop them from attacking people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?