New York Times

views updated


NEW YORK TIMES, newspaper and benchmark for distinguished journalism in the twentieth century, founded by Henry J. Raymond in 1851. In a crowded field, Raymond's daily found a niche among merchants and opponents of New York Democrats. It had ample capital, membership in the new Associated Press wire service, and a handsome building in lower Manhattan. The title read New-York Daily Times. ("The" was added and "Daily" was dropped in 1857; the hyphen lasted until 1896; a period survived until 1967.) The Times championed the Union and the unpopular draft during the Civil War. Raymond manned a Gatling gun from an office window at the height of antiwar feeling in the city.

The publisher, George Jones, continued to take risks after Raymond's death in 1869. The Times's publication of extensive "secret accounts" in 1871 led to the fall of the city "Boss" William M. Tweed. In its first quarter century, the New York Times did not have the intellectual reach of Horace Greeley's New York Tribune; it was not as lively as Charles Dana's New York Sun or James Gordon Bennett's New York Herald. But the paper was known as a reliable and energetic paper of the ascending Republican Party. However, when Joseph Pulitzer (New York World) and William Randolph Hearst (New York Journal) reinvented the New York daily, Jones was unable to compete, and after his death in 1891 it was just a matter of time before the Times's presses stopped unless new leadership was found.

The Times's savior was the thirty-eight-year-old Adolph S. Ochs from the Chattanooga Times. In 1896 he purchased the failing New York daily for $75,000, using the money of wealthy Democrats who saw in Ochs a man who would sincerely defend "sound money" against the Populists. (The paper had first crossed party lines in 1884.) Ochs told New Yorkers that he would "give the news impartially, without fear or favor" and he branded the front page with "All the News That's Fit to Print."

Ochs's business plan was simple: spend money on quality and profits will follow. In the first twenty-five years of his management, the paper put 97 percent of what it earned back into the enterprise. His son-in-law and successor, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, placed news above extra revenue during World War II by limiting ads in the paper. A second Ochs principle was at work here: in contrast to modern corporate theory, family ties mattered. The line of succession in publishers was to Sulzberger's son-in-law Orvil E. Dryfoos, then to Arthur Ochs "Punch" Sulzberger, then to Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.

The family's paper expanded coverage as the United States became a world power, with uneven performance. The Times and its sister periodical, Current History, reported the concealed genocide of Armenians during the break-up of the Ottoman Empire after 1915. On the other hand, as the New Republic pointed out in damning detail in 1920, the paper's account of the civil wars following the Russian Revolution was "nothing short of a disaster." The depth of reporting during World War II set the Times apart from all rivals. The Truman administration trusted the paper and the reporter William L. Laurence with advance knowledge of the atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan. To critics of the Cold War, the Times's relationship to the government was too close. The paper yielded to the Kennedy administration's request to report less than it knew about the pending Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961; two years later, the publisher, Punch Sulzberger, stood up to the young president when he asked for softer coverage of American intervention in Vietnam. The paper became the leading "establishment" critic of that war, memorialized by its decision to print the Pentagon Papers in 1971. This secret history of the war, assembled by the government, put the future of the paper at risk until the decision to publish was vindicated by a Supreme Court ruling on 30 June 1971.

In domestic coverage, the Times (especially its Washington bureau under James Reston) set an agenda for the nation's press. (A notable lapse was the Watergate conspiracy of 1972, where the Times played catch-up to the Washington Post.) After supporting the Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower for his two terms, the paper settled into a pattern of Democratic presidential endorsements. General news coverage grew more interpretive, with a broader interest in social movements and mores. The paper was at the center of coverage of the civil rights struggle, for example, and New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) extended First Amendment protection. Times reviews had great impact on Broadway, where producers and actors believed the paper was the key to a long run. New voices came from the op-ed page, begun in 1970. Sections were added to hold upscale readers: "Science Times, " "Weekend, " "SportsMonday, " "Living, " "Home, " "Circuits." Here the paper was learning from magazine pioneers such as Clay Felker's New York. The "old gray lady" was not literally that after 1993, when investments in printing allowed the paper to use color.

Religion and gender have frequently been cited in critiques of the paper. The Jewish identity of the Ochses and Sulzbergers explains little about news judgments. In coverage of the Holocaust and the formation of the state of Israel, for example, the paper did not step ahead of American public opinion. But patriarchy has been a powerful influence. Women from the families were not taken seriously as people who could lead the paper. Iphigene Sulzberger (Adolph Ochs's only child) made a key decision about succession, but no woman within the family was given the opportunity of Katharine Graham of the Meyer family, owners of the Washington Post. In 1974 women from both the editorial and business side sued the paper for discrimination. The Times agreed to an affirmative-action plan four years later in a settlement that was similar to agreements made by other large media companies. "Ms." as a term of address entered the Times style book in 1986.

No news enterprise has inspired more writing about internal dramas. Two books about the paper, The Kingdom and the Power by Gay Talese and The Trust by Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones, are particularly well informed. Joined by Times writers such as William Safire, farreaching debates about clear writing and thinking swirl around what the paper prints. With the success of its national edition (launched in 1980) and, a counterpoint to Times coverage and opinions occurs round-the-clock. The essayist Dwight Macdonald saw what lay ahead when he recalled that in the 1930s, "the N.Y. Times was to us what Aristotle was to the medieval scholastics—a revered authority, even though Pagan, and a mine of useful information about the actual world."


Robertson, Nan. The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men, and the New York Times. New York: Random House, 1992.

Rudenstine, David. The Day the Presses Stopped: A History of the Pentagon Papers Case. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Talese, Gay. The Kingdom and the Power. New York: World, 1969.

Tifft, Susan E., and Alex S. Jones. The Trust. Boston: Little, Brown, 1999.

Thomas C.Leonard

See alsoNew York City ; Newspapers .

About this article

New York Times

Updated About content Print Article


New York Times