In a generational changing of the guard, Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, 37, will become the publisher of The New York Times on Jan. 1. His father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., announced on Thursday that he was ceding the post to his son.
The ascension of the younger Mr. Sulzberger, who is known as A. G., comes just over a year after he was named deputy publisher of The Times. The New York Times Company’s board voted in favor of the move during a meeting on Thursday.
The elder Mr. Sulzberger, 66, who will stay on as chairman of The New York Times Company, has been the publisher since 1992.
“This isn’t a goodbye,” Mr. Sulzberger said in a note to Times employees on Thursday. “But, beginning in the new year, the grand ship that is The Times will be A. G.’s to steer.”
Best known for heading the team that produced The Times’s “innovation report” in 2014, A. G. Sulzberger will be the sixth member of the Ochs-Sulzberger family to serve as publisher since its patriarch, Adolph S. Ochs, purchased the paper in a bankruptcy sale in 1896.
“I am an unapologetic champion for this institution and its journalistic mission,” A. G. Sulzberger said. “And I’ll continue to be that as publisher.”
Despite his in-house reputation as an innovator, the incoming publisher said that he did not expect to shake things up early in his tenure.
“I don’t expect there to be some flurry of change,” he said.
During his quarter-century tenure as publisher, the elder Mr. Sulzberger presided over the paper’s national expansion and guided it through the advent of the internet. In 1996, Mr. Sulzberger moved The Times online. In 2011, when media companies were unsure of their digital strategies, he instituted a pay wall that at the time risked pushing away readers but has since become the centerpiece of the company’s growth model.
In recent years, as print advertising revenues declined sharply, The Times’s business plan has focused on adding subscribers and digital expansion. The Times, which has 3.5 million paid subscribers (with 2.5 million of them digital-only), is one of the few newspaper companies whose newsroom is growing at a time when the industry as a whole is struggling.
The elder Mr. Sulzberger assumed the job of publisher when George H.W. Bush was president and Max Frankel was the newspaper’s executive editor. To prepare for the role, he served in a variety of jobs at The Times, including deputy publisher and night production manager overseeing the newspaper’s printing press at its former location on West 43rd Street.
With Mr. Sulzberger in control, The Times weathered not only the sometimes glitchy early days of its digital transformation, but also an economic recession that claimed dozens of newspapers nationwide.
His term was not without financial missteps and newsroom turmoil, including the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal in 2003 and the firing of a chief executive and two executive editors, including Jill Abramson, the first woman to lead The Times’s news operation.
Yet even as American newspapers fell increasingly into the hands of corporations and powerful billionaires, Mr. Sulzberger remained staunchly committed to The Times, investing in its journalism and keeping bureaus open around the world.
The newsroom, with 1,450 journalists, is larger now than it was when he started his term. Under his leadership, The Times won 60 Pulitzer Prizes, nearly double the number the paper was awarded under his father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, who served as publisher for 29 years.
In taking the helm, the younger Mr. Sulzberger will become a national figure and a crucial steward of journalism at a time of widespread mistrust in the media, fueled by a president who delights in attacking the press.
Like his predecessors, he will oversee all aspects of the company’s news, editorial and business operations. Unlike his predecessors, A. G. Sulzberger will take control of a company whose relevance — and perhaps even its survival — depends as much on the newspaper’s adhering to its traditional values as on a fundamental business reorientation.
Over the last year, the company has undertaken an overhaul of its news operation that involved a shake-up of its leadership, a fundamental restructuring of its editing operation — including the elimination of a stand-alone copy desk — and a redesign of its physical newsroom. Hiring priorities have broadened to include positions aimed at increasing The Times’s online readership and deepening its engagement with its audience.
Although The Times was relatively quick to embrace the internet during the tenure of the elder Mr. Sulzberger, the advent of digital media proved a destabilizing force at the company for many years. Still, executives are optimistic that The Times will bring in at least $800 million in digital revenue by 2020, double what the company earned in 2014.
The New Generation
The younger Mr. Sulzberger was one of three cousins who were candidates for the job of publisher. The others were Sam Dolnick, 37, now an assistant managing editor who oversees many digital and mobile initiatives; and David Perpich, 40, a senior executive at The Times who helped establish its pay wall.
Succession at The Times has been a fraught process in previous years, with some family members perceiving that sons in the Sulzberger line had an advantage. The most recent selection process included the formation of a seven-member committee, whose work was intended to give each candidate equal consideration.
The Ochs-Sulzberger family, through several trusts, controls about 91 percent of the stock that elects 70 percent of The New York Times Company’s board members.
A fifth-generation descendant of Mr. Ochs, the younger Mr. Sulzberger is soft-spoken and measured. Where his father is quick with quips, some of which miss the mark — he once joked to President George W. Bush that he thought it was fascinating they both worked in their fathers’ old offices (Mr. Bush, he said, did not respond) — the younger Mr. Sulzberger is more restrained. While acknowledging that he does not seek the spotlight, A.G. Sulzberger says that he has strong views and is willing to push the company.
“I wasn’t someone who grew up aspiring to become publisher of The New York Times,” Mr. Sulzberger said an interview in his office this week. “But having spent the last eight years of my life here and understanding how important the work being done here everyday is, I can’t imagine a more fulfilling or rewarding way to spend my days.”
Born in Washington, Mr. Sulzberger grew up in Manhattan and attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, an elite private school known for its progressive ethos. His mother, Gail Gregg, is a painter and writer who has worked as a journalist. She and his father divorced in 2009 after more than 30 years of marriage. (The elder Mr. Sulzberger remarried in 2014.)
After graduating from Brown University in 2003 with a degree in political science, Mr. Sulzberger worked as a reporter at The Providence Journal and The Oregonian. He joined The Times in 2009 as a reporter on the metropolitan desk. Later, as the head of the Kansas City bureau, he covered the Midwest, including the devastating tornado in Joplin, Mo., in 2011.
In his office, he keeps a framed metal plate of the front page that featured his first article as Kansas City bureau chief, about a 103-year-old federal judge. Those who have worked with Mr. Sulzberger have noted his whimsical descriptions of his quests for sustenance as a vegetarian in the Midwest.
He established himself as a newsroom leader in a different role — as a key member of the team that produced the so-called “innovation report,” a document that became a guide for the company’s digital transformation and a template for the rest of the industry.
“The ambition of the report was really Arthur’s,” Adam Bryant, who was on the committee that released the report, said in an interview with The Times last year, referring to the younger Mr. Sulzberger.
From there, Mr. Sulzberger was named an associate editor. He was among the group that outlined the plan to double The Times’s digital revenue by 2020.
“He’s not a vocal, stand on the desk, beat-his-chest kind of leader — but that’s not the only kind of leadership,” Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, said. “He is very thoughtful. He is very forceful.”
Since he was appointed deputy publisher last year, Mr. Sulzberger, who had spent his journalism career in newsrooms, has devoted much of his time to learning about other parts of the company, including advertising, marketing, technology and human resources, sometimes holding small group sessions with colleagues to ask and answer questions.
He also said he had “spent a lot of time getting to know the opinion folks,” which included working with James Bennet, the editorial page editor. Over the last year, Mr. Bennet has added more politically diverse voices, including Bret Stephens, a right-leaning columnist from The Wall Street Journal.
The news and business sides of The Times have traditionally been kept separate, divided by a metaphorical wall. But as The Times has adapted to the faster pace of the digital and mobile age, that barrier has crumbled, and some in the newsroom have expressed concern about the blurred lines. Mr. Sulzberger, however, said he viewed the shift as necessary.
“I believe we are one company,” Mr. Sulzberger said. “We share a mission and we share a strategy and we should be working alongside each other as partners to achieve that.”