The early 1990s also marked the emergence of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. at the company. After stints with The Associated Press in London and on the staff of The Raleigh Times in North Carolina, the younger Sulzberger joined The New York Times in the fall of 1978 as a twenty-seven-year-old reporter in the Washington bureau. Sulzberger became the first member of the family to methodically work his way up the ladder, both on the editorial and business sides. Though there was some question whether he would be the one to emerge among the thirteen members of the so-called “cousins” generation (the offspring of the four grandchildren of Adolph Ochs), in retrospect his coronation seems predestined. “Here is to Arthur—long may he reign!” read the opening line of a poem penned in his honor by his grandfather on the day he was born, and for much of his life, Arthur was seen as the crown prince in the family.
That was not always a good thing. His quirky style (as a young man he favored a hat and cane or sometimes hippy headbands) and rambunctious demeanor (he was the family prankster) led many to dismiss him as a lightweight, in much the same way that many had done with his father, Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, a generation earlier. When Punch sought to promote his son to publisher in 1992, some members of the board initially balked, seeing the younger Sulzberger as immature. They argued that, as a publicly traded company, the Times should move toward more professional management. But they underestimated both the family’s intent to maintain control and Arthur Jr.’s determination. More so than any of his family before him, Arthur Jr. had a clear ambition to run the Times. “I have the Times; that’s my religion; that’s what I believe in,” he is quoted as saying once. When I asked him about the quote, he couldn’t recall it exactly, but said it nevertheless captured his feelings about the paper. “This is a calling for members of my family,” he said.
In 1997, the year Arthur Jr. became chairman, the family enacted a new agreement that placed all the controlling B shares into a single family trust, doing away with the four separate trusts for each branch of the family. Today, the trust holds about 88 percent of the B shares, and the agreement states that the “primary purpose” of the trust (and thus the company) was to “maintain the editorial independence of The New York Times and perpetuate it as an independent newspaper.” The best way to do that, the trust document states, is to maintain “control of The New York Times in the hands of a relatively small number of the descendants of Adolph S. Ochs acting as trustees of a single trust for the benefit of all such descendants.” The original document designated five trustees to control the trust, which was later expanded to eight. To alter the terms of the trust, six of the eight trustees must agree. The trustees are currently divided into two classes: two (Sulzberger and Michael Golden) are permanent trustees so long as they remain in their current positions as chairman and vice chairman; the other six are elected to set terms. Four of the trustees—Sulzberger, Golden, Lynn Dolnick, and Daniel Cohen—also serve on the company’s board of directors. The unusual decision to place all of the controlling B shares into a single trust—in essence to treat the increasingly far-flung family as one entity—is the rock upon which the Ochs-Sulzberger dynasty rests, and the chief difference between the clan and other newspaper families that have succumbed either to internal squabbling (such as the Binghams of the Louisville Courier-Journal) or to outside pressure (like the Bancrofts of Dow Jones).