The New York Times' Publisher Speaks on Diversity

Former New York Times publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, spoke about his past and the future of journalism to a packed room of University of Texas at Austin journalism students at the 2018 McGarr Symposium on March 19.

Story by Libby Cohen

The McGarr Symposium is an annual conference on sports and media that has hosted a variety of experts on the topic. This year, Cappy McGarr led a conversation with Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. that preceded a question and answer session from the audience. As the head publisher title is being passed from one Sulzberger to another Sulzberger, the former publisher of The New York Times had a lot to say about family tradition, while also diversifying the Times.

  Photo courtesy of Marc Speir, Moody College of Communication

Photo courtesy of Marc Speir, Moody College of Communication

Early in the discussion, McGarr brought up the Sulzberger family succession as A.G. Sulzberger, the current Times publisher, is the fifth generation of the family to hold the publisher position.

When prompted if this will be the last of the family line, Sulzberger answered with a quick “no.” He further explained that, “the reason why I say that with such certainty is that the family is very united.” This familial bond has lasted over decades as the mission of the Times has been passed down from the first Sulzberger, Adolph S. Ochs, in 1896 and continues to remain strong as Sulzberger Jr. emphasized how “stunningly united” the family is about remaining in control.

This family-owned business model has proven successful to the Times as Sulzberger Jr. attributed many of his journalistic practices to his father, Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger Sr. His father was publisher of the Times during the Pentagon Paper crisis and this is where Sulzberger Jr. learned the importance of standing up to authority in times of need.

R.B. Brenner, the former director of the UT Journalism school, gave his insight on the family dynamic at the Times. He discusses how having publications run by corporations is problematic because  owners are not local to the community and are more profit and shareholder-driven instead. “What you want are families that care about the journalism,” Brenner says.

Owners of a publication must abide by the basic rules of journalism in order to have verified and factually correct material. This passion for journalism that Brenner sees as essential to the success of a publication was highlighted throughout the symposium.

The ownership of a publication can have an undying love for journalism but if the power is passed around to the same circle of people, a question of diversity rises. Sulzberger Jr. sees the failures that the Times has made in diversifying their newsroom in the past, but promises a brighter, more colorful future.

When asked about the importance of diversity at the Times, Sulzberger says, “It is critical,” as he looked over at Kathleen McElroy. McElroy is the new UT journalism director who previously worked at the Times, holding multiple editorial positions, and she was known for pushing diversity at the publication. However, while describing the projects and initiatives the Times is taking to enhance diversity, Sulzberger says, “We have got to be better and we are making some real investments in that.”

A trailblazing publication like the Times has and continues to push for not only a diverse newsroom, but inclusion in their stories and leadership positions. Freshman journalism student Alex Legamaro shared her opinion on the importance of diversity by explaining, “Especially as a girl in the newsroom, I don’t want to be looked down upon just because of my gender. I think that everyone should have an equal opportunity to voice their opinions.”

The UT School of Journalism teaches its students the importance of diversity in the newsroom and it is not wrong for students to expect this in the workforce. The 2018 Symposium was a special occasion for rising UT journalism students as the former New York Times publisher gave his own insight on the ever-changing industry. He even pleased the crowd by throwing up a Hook ‘Em.

See the entire symposium on the Moody College of Communication Youtube page.