Rosenthal, A.M. 1922-2006

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Rosenthal, A.M. 1922-2006
(Abraham Michael Rosenthal)

OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born May 2, 1922, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada; died of complications following a stroke, May 10, 2006, in New York, NY. Journalist, editor, and author. A longtime editor at the New York Times, Rosenthal was a Pulitzer Prize-winning international correspondent who as editor transformed his newspaper from a stodgy, though respected, periodical with a sagging circulation into a national, dynamic publication marked by award-winning reporting. His successful adult life was a fortunate turnaround from a childhood marked by repeated tragedies. During the 1930s, the young Rosenthal lost his father in an accident, one sister to childbirth, two other sisters to cancer, and a fourth sister to pneumonia. He himself was plagued by debilitating osteomyelitis, a bone marrow disease that crippled his legs and would have prevented him from walking had he not been able to get a pro bono operation from the Mayo Clinic. Although he recovered to a great extent, Rosenthal would nevertheless suffer leg pains for the rest of his life. Fortune began to smile on him by the time he entered college at what is now the City College of the City University of New York. Here, he became involved in journalism, working for the college newspaper, as well as for the New York Times as the campus correspondent. The editors at the Times saw in him a promising future reporter, and they hired him in 1944 before he completed his degree (the college later granted him a B.S. that year, giving him credit for his work experience). It would be the beginning of a career that spanned five decades. Rosenthal's early work involved reporting on international events. He was a United Nations correspondent from 1946 to 1954, reported from India over the next four years, and was in Poland from 1958 to 1959. His India and Poland work resulted in two Overseas Press Club awards, and in 1960 he earned the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for his probing articles on the effects of the communist regime in Poland on the people and culture there. As a result of his articles on Poland, especially his criticism of the president, he was kicked out of the country. Rosenthal went on to work in Geneva, Switzerland, and Tokyo, Japan, before being named metropolitan editor at the New York Times in 1963. In this role, Rosenthal was quick to shake things up. By the early 1960s, the Times had become a clunky news organization lacking in innovation, and Rosenthal was determined to change that. To begin with, he granted assignments to reporters based on their ability, rather than their seniority; he encouraged reporters to be freer and more innovative with their writing style to make articles more interesting to read; and he was more open to the types of stories covered. One article written by his staff—a famous case about a woman who was attacked for over half an hour while no one came to her aid—was expanded upon by Rosenthal into his first book, Thirty-eight Witnesses (1964). His leadership approach has been credited by some as resulting in his staff winning two dozen Pulitzers during his years as editor. One of the major stories covered by the New York Times was the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers. The Papers were a seven-thousand-page collection of documents about secret government cover-ups concerning the Vietnam War that were obtained by New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan. President Richard Nixon sued to keep the documents suppressed, but Rosenthal and New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger fought back and won their case. Rosenthal moved up the ladder over the years at the Times, becoming managing editor in 1969 and executive editor in 1986. In these positions, he spearheaded many changes in the newspaper, organizing the periodical into separate sections, such as business and metropolitan sections, and creating regular weekday special sections on topics such as science, travel, and entertainment. He also helped orchestrate advances in printing technologies at the paper and, in 1980, created a national edition of the New York Times. Some complained that Rosenthal could be an acerbic and demanding editor, whose ire with some reporters caused them to quit their jobs, and others felt that the changes he made to the paper sacrificed erudition for popularity, but there is little doubt that Rosenthal's work vastly increased the newspaper's circulation and gained it a wide national and international audience. Rosenthal was forced to retire from his post as editor in 1986. He wished to keep working, however, and so he became a regular columnist from that time until his final retirement from the New York Times in 1999. Even then, he continued to write a column for the Daily News until 2004. The recipient of such other honors as two George Polk Memorial Awards and the 2002 Presidential Medal of Freedom, Rosenthal was the author or editor with regular collaborator Arthur Gelb of several books. Among these are The Pope's Journey (1965), The New York Times of New York: An Uncommon Guide to the City of Fantasies (1986), and the "Sophisticated Traveller" series of travel guides (1984-86).



Chicago Tribune, May 11, 2006, section 3, p. 7. Los Angeles Times, May 11, 2006, p. B10. New York Times, May 11, 2006, pp. A1, C14. Times (London, England), May 13, 2006, p. 66. Washington Post, May 11, 2006, p. B6.

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Rosenthal, A.M. 1922-2006

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