Interview with The New York Times Publisher A. G. Sulzberger: 'To Produce Good Journalism, There Are No Shortcuts'

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Sulzberger, you are three hundred and sixty five days into your position because the writer of The New York Occasions. How a lot is resting in your shoulders?

Sulzberger: It is a truly tricky time for media. Reporters and journalism are below assault via political forces far and wide the globe. Believe in media is declining, the trade fashions are converting. Any person who cares about journalism will have to be very frightened about this. However I do not really feel a top stage of weight falling on me in my opinion.

DER SPIEGEL: The New York Occasions is 167 years previous, you’re the 5th era of the Ochs Sulzberger circle of relatives to take over as writer. Are you petrified of screwing up?

Sulzberger: Within the remaining couple of years, The New York Occasions has controlled to expand an actual transparent sense of our imaginative and prescient for what The Occasions will turn out to be at some point. And we’ve got a powerful group to pursue it: Dean Baquet is the most productive government editor within the trade, the newsroom is amazingly sturdy, our trade group too. So, I don’t believe there may be a large number of weight falling on anyone individual right here.

DER SPIEGEL: Have President Trump’s consistent assaults helped forge the group in combination?

Sulzberger: What helped to forge this group in combination is a profound and rising worry that our imaginative and prescient for high quality journalism is prone to disappearing across the nation and all over the world: journalism that takes time, that takes commute, that takes experience, that takes attorneys and fact-checking. Time and sources are the 2 issues which might be maximum in peril in our career at this time. The New York Occasions is attempting to steer the combat to end up that this sort of journalism has a trail ahead on the planet at this time. This is our project.

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DER SPIEGEL: And Trump’s consistent assaults do not subject?

Sulzberger: This management is a tale that we are dedicated to protecting the way in which we quilt each management: somewhat and aggressively.

DER SPIEGEL: In mid-July, the president invited you to the White Space for an off-the-record dialog, best to make the assembly public just a little later by means of Twitter and to as soon as once more assault The Occasions. Used to be this assembly a spotlight or reasonably a low level of your tenure as a writer to this point?

Sulzberger: I don’t believe both, it is simply a part of the activity. Because the writer I’m, in some way, the court docket of appeals: Any person who’s receiving tricky protection merits the chance to boost issues about our protection, irrespective of whether or not that is an organization like Fb, the president of america or someone else.

DER SPIEGEL: What used to be your expectation of the assembly?

Sulzberger: Trump has been very vocal in his grievance of The New York Occasions, as you recognize. He even has a nickname for us.

DER SPIEGEL: The “Failing New York Occasions.”

Sulzberger: Sure. So, I thought that I would be listening to some worry about our protection. However the dialog used to be civil. He raised some incidental issues however not anything without delay. I believe in his thoughts it used to be a simply an opportunity to satisfy.

DER SPIEGEL: Dean Baquet, the manager editor, has the golden rule of by no means chatting with the president off the list. Why did you conform to a confidential dialog with Trump?

Sulzberger: Dean Baquet is the highest journalistic chief of this corporate, and his rule makes best possible sense for the newsroom. However my activity is other. Because the writer, I am the full chief of The Occasions. For me it used to be a chance to boost my issues about his an increasing number of unhealthy rhetoric in regards to the media because the “enemy of the folk,” in regards to the affect of this language and the truth that it performs into the fingers of dictators far and wide the arena.

DER SPIEGEL: Did you may have the impact that he used to be listening?

Sulzberger: He made a display of listening carefully. I did not list the assembly, however he stated issues alongside the strains of: That isn’t excellent; you might have truly made me assume. It might were unattainable not to come away with the sense that he would consider whether or not he may just pull again.

DER SPIEGEL: Only some days later, he went to fight towards The New York Occasions on Twitter. Did you are feeling you would been used for the Trump display?

Sulzberger: No, I used to be happy that the dialog were given positioned at the list. So now, a minimum of, the arena is aware of that he used to be warned without delay, head to head, that the kind of rhetoric he is the usage of has and can proceed to have penalties. And we are seeing the ones penalties.

DER SPIEGEL: Have you ever heard from the president since?

Sulzberger: He reached out to me and invited me for an off-the-record dinner. I declined, announcing I would like an on-the-record interview that integrated two of our journalists. He agreed.

DER SPIEGEL: Two months after your first assembly, the journalist Jamal Khashoggi used to be killed, allegedly on the behest of the Saudi royal circle of relatives. He were important of the Saudi executive in his reporting. So, it’s now not only a subject of rhetoric, however of violence.

Sulzberger: Trump’s rhetoric is analogous to local weather exchange: We comprehend it’s going down, we comprehend it’s unhealthy, however it is truly laborious to characteristic anyone typhoon to local weather exchange. We are seeing the similar factor with the president’s rhetoric: We comprehend it’s unhealthy. We all know that it is making a local weather, even past the U.S., through which extra assaults on reporters are going down, the place regulations are being handed to crack down on an unbiased press. However we will’t level to any unmarried incident and say, “that used to be as a result of the president’s rhetoric.” However the U.S. has traditionally been probably the most vocal and incessant champion of loose speech and a loose press at the international degree. And we’ve got publicly retreated from that place.

DER SPIEGEL: How do you provide an explanation for that Trump’s assaults at the press are so neatly won — and now not best via his fans? What phase does the media play on this erosion of agree with?

Sulzberger: I will be able to’t get into someone’s thoughts, however we do want to recognize that there was now not simply an erosion of agree with in media however a rising political polarization. For a information group that prides itself on being unbiased and unbiased, this can be a drawback.

DER SPIEGEL: Trump’s electorate do not imagine you to be unbiased. How are you able to regain agree with?

Sulzberger: We want to do a greater activity of explaining the ordinary lengths that we pass to make sure that the whole lot we submit is truthful and correct. That, for instance, we didn’t simply discuss with the 3 folks quoted in a piece of writing however with many extra. After we invited the documentary staff from Showtime into the construction, I requested Dean why he had made this resolution in spite of the strain the newsroom used to be below. His resolution used to be: As a result of I imagine that it’s unattainable to peer our reporters, Mark Mazzetti, Maggie Haberman and others, at paintings and now not come away basically respecting what they are doing.

DER SPIEGEL: Does not the media, together with The New York Occasions, take part in Trump’s fact display via repeatedly repeating what he says and tweets?

Sulzberger: Let me get started via pushing again at the phrase “the media.” I truly in finding it a problematic phrase. Cable information operates with a basically other set of requirements than maximum virtual and conventional publishers. And plenty of of “the media” lack the sources The New York Occasions has to deeply interrogate what is occurring. Our piece at the president’s wealth and his tax schemes took 18 months, 3 full-time journalists and at the back of them a military of editors and attorneys who helped to carry that tale to lifestyles. That is a unique factor than having a panel of mavens 5 mins after the president’s speech announcing they agree or disagree.

DER SPIEGEL: Autographed footage of U.S. presidents cling in The Occasions’ boardroom. Former president Richard Nixon signed his image with the next phrases: “To the New York Occasions: Some learn it and find it irresistible. Some learn it and do not find it irresistible. However everyone reads it.” When Trump visited The New York Occasions two years in the past, your father took him previous Nixon’s picture and stated, “That used to be the remaining president to debris with the loose press. Keep in mind the way it ended for him.” Has Trump left a observe on his image?

Sulzberger: Sure. He wrote: “Arthur – Nice Being with You – MAGA. Best possible Needs!” The footage of the presidents have an extended custom in The Occasions. We’ve noticed many governments. Trump is any other one we record on.

DER SPIEGEL: The Sulzberger circle of relatives is likely one of the remaining households within the nation to have held directly to their newspaper in spite of financial dangers. How does it really feel to inherit this duty?

Sulzberger: It is a legacy. My father has accomplished one thing somewhat ordinary in his 25-year tenure as a writer, which is handy off The New York Occasions even more potent than he won it, with extra reporters, now not fewer. It is my purpose to drag this off and to turn that there’s a trail ahead for the kind of journalism we do. And the expansion we now have skilled over the previous few years proves that persons are prepared to pay for high quality journalism.

DER SPIEGEL: You began your journalistic profession at The Windfall Magazine and The Oregonian. How have been you handled there, given your well-known surname?

Sulzberger: I think I’ve been handled graciously at each forestall. I have all the time sought after to be recognized for my paintings, now not for my identify.

DER SPIEGEL: To flee your surname may well be tricky in U.S. journalism.

Sulzberger: I as soon as had an editor at The Oregonian pull me apart. He stated: journalism is likely one of the best professions the place I by no means want to meet somebody to understand how excellent he’s at his paintings. All I want is a stack of clips dropped off on my table. I attempted to turn that I used to be prepared to take any project, to paintings my ass off and to let my paintings discuss for itself. My colleagues handled me like every other reporter, and I felt like every other reporter. It wasn’t a station of the go for me. It used to be paintings I beloved doing. It is paintings I omit doing lately.

DER SPIEGEL: As a Sulzberger, did you also have a selection about going into journalism?

Sulzberger: My circle of relatives has been constant in all the time announcing that they would like folks to make a choice their very own trail. So, I by no means felt below any force to pursue journalism. And for many my lifestyles I did not assume I might.

DER SPIEGEL: What would were the other?

Sulzberger: I believed the arena of nonprofits used to be attention-grabbing. I believed politics, now not as a political candidate, however as somebody who works at the back of the scenes.

DER SPIEGEL: And the way come you have been drawn into journalism in spite of everything?

Sulzberger: In school I used to be operating with a professor who used to be educating long-form writing. She additionally labored as an investigative journalist at The Windfall Magazine. It used to be probably the most I ever loved a category in faculty. I beloved how grounded the paintings used to be, how actual it used to be, and the rigor and the factors that she delivered to it. There are such a large amount of issues I like about academia, however while you had a common sense of the thesis that professors have been advocating, the paintings used to be lovely simple. To supply excellent journalism, there aren’t any shortcuts. It’s a must to be available in the market and doing the laborious paintings. On the finish of school, she presented me an internship at The Windfall Magazine, and he or she made a case that if I did not find it irresistible then I might know. I truly appreciated it and feature by no means seemed again.

DER SPIEGEL: In 2009, the Sulzberger circle of relatives needed to promote a part of The New York Occasions Corporate’s inventory to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slender to spend money on the newspaper. A couple of years in the past, rumors circulated a couple of sale to New York Town’s former mayor Michael Bloomberg. Used to be there ever some degree at which you needed to worry that The Occasions may now not be majority-owned via the circle of relatives?

Sulzberger: No, that is by no means been a idea or a priority. The Sulzberger circle of relatives is deeply dedicated to this establishment. The lengthy view that the circle of relatives has delivered to the establishment is in truth why at a length when such a lot of different journalistic organizations are in decline, we are experiencing remarkable expansion. Our dedication to The Occasions is enduring and used to be by no means in jeopardy.

DER SPIEGEL: So, there used to be by no means any reality to the rumors a couple of sale?

Sulzberger: I do not bear in mind if there have been any rumors that The Occasions used to be on the market. There are all the time rumors that individuals need to purchase it. The ones are various things. We will have to be expecting to listen to the ones rumors for the foreseeable long run, as a result of The Occasions is doing truly neatly, each journalistically and economically.

DER SPIEGEL: At a panel dialogue remaining 12 months, you have been requested what you possibly can do if a billionaire gave you one thousand million bucks.

Sulzberger: My resolution used to be: The New York Occasions isn’t on the market. And: We are going to must make that billion bucks ourselves. You already know what I will have to have stated? We get one thousand million bucks each unmarried 12 months. From our readers! I a lot favor that to the cash of a billionaire, with all of the issues and conflicts of pastime that flatter it. We make investments the readers’ cash within the newsroom, which lately is greater than ever prior to. Our readers get pleasure from this.

DER SPIEGEL: In 2014, you led a group that drafted the Innovation Record, which painted a depressing image of the state of the paper: The Occasions, the record warned, used to be in peril of being left at the back of via virtual competition corresponding to The Huffington Put up or BuzzFeed. In the event you needed to write a brand new record lately, how would you describe the present state of The New York Occasions?

Sulzberger: We’re additional alongside than I ever can have was hoping. At the moment the choice of folks studying us used to be shrinking, our subscriber expansion had plateaued. There used to be successfully a caste gadget within the newsroom with conventional reporters after which a decrease caste of folks in virtual roles. This workforce were not even allowed to have trade playing cards, as a result of they have been informed they did not need them to be perplexed for actual reporters. Our technique used to be constructed an excessive amount of round print, an excessive amount of round promoting. Lately we’re achieving 150 million folks a month, we’ve got four million paying subscribers, which is most certainly greater than two times what we had when the Innovation Record used to be launched. However the international and our trade are converting rapid, and we repeatedly must interrogate what we are doing, and adapt.

Graphic: The New York Times in Figures


Graphic: The New York Occasions in Figures

DER SPIEGEL: Are you able to give an instance?

Sulzberger: A part of my message to the group over the past 5 years is that we will have to be extra ok with errors and screw ups. For a few years we have been satisfied that podcasts do not paintings. As a result of we had attempted it, and it had now not labored. We had a day-to-day information podcast that used to be a reporter studying the entrance web page aloud. In January 2017 we created “The Day-to-day.” That is now the one maximum downloaded podcast within the nation, which reaches extra folks every day than the newspaper ever did.

DER SPIEGEL: How do you reconcile the traditions of a 167-year-old establishment with the want to repeatedly exchange and adapt?

Sulzberger: Crucial factor is to have a deep figuring out of what’s now not converting. If the whole lot can exchange, if the whole lot is up for debate, you haven’t any explanation why to be successful. Then more youthful, hungrier folks or firms can are available in at the back of and displace you. Understanding what is now not converting will give you a lot more self belief to lean in to switch.

DER SPIEGEL: What will have to now not exchange at The Occasions?

Sulzberger: Unique reporting, at the floor reporting, journalism that is unbiased and truthful, journalism that is skilled and with the perfect integrity. That is the base of what we do. However what is modified is the whole lot round it: How we inform the ones tales and produce them to lifestyles.

DER SPIEGEL: “The Day-to-day” used to be your remaining giant innovation. What is subsequent?

Sulzberger: We are launching a TV display known as “The Weekly” in a question of months now. “The Day-to-day” has proven that the journalism we do in print and on-line can truly paintings in a medium like audio, and that it might achieve utterly new, more youthful audiences. With a tv display I imagine we will do the very same factor. There hasn’t been an excessive amount of severe journalism there, and I imagine that individuals need it. TV is but any other a part of our technique.

DER SPIEGEL: Does the published newspaper have a long run in any respect?

Sulzberger: I believe print has a for much longer lifestyles than the general public suppose. 1,000,000 folks pay for the paper, it is a truly dependable base of readers, they spend a large number of time with the paper every week, and it nonetheless has a big and successful promoting trade. So long as folks need the inside track in print, I am hoping we are in a position to proceed turning in it that means.

DER SPIEGEL: Does not the published newspaper stand in the way in which of your on-line technique?

Sulzberger: No, however certainly the foremost exchange that this corporate has long past thru within the remaining 5 years is that we’re now not constructed round print, however reasonably across the assumption that we’re a virtual information group that still has a print newspaper. We can’t depend on print to maintain our journalistic ambitions within the close to long run. Virtual earnings has to hold the load of supporting bureaus in Iraq or Afghanistan, of supporting journeys to the entrance strains in Yemen, of supporting 18 months to dig into the president’s budget, of supporting a Washington bureau with 100 journalists. That is why our focal point is on earning money in virtual.

DER SPIEGEL: For a few years, The New York Occasions had a public editor who served as an ombudsman for readers, having a look significantly on the paper’s protection or even publishing his or her grievance within the paper. That position used to be abolished in Might 2017. Used to be smart transfer in occasions of eroding agree with?

Sulzberger: The general public editor used to be conceived in an technology prior to Fb and Twitter, when it used to be laborious to succeed in the newsroom and lift issues. We are now not in that technology. There are lots of techniques to succeed in our journalists and editors and to boost issues.

DER SPIEGEL: However does not it want somebody to package the grievance that comes by means of Twitter and Fb?

Sulzberger: The general public editor in a extraordinary means made it tougher for the establishment to just accept the truth that all of us want to be in a discussion with our readers. We’ve 1,500 reporters at The New York Occasions. The perception that best one in every of them will have to be conscious of the readers is ridiculous. A public editor who would take 5 days to decide on whether or not or now not the worries are large sufficient to jot down about them in The New York Occasions isn’t a good way within the trendy technology to interact with readers. If a tale is debatable and calls for clarification, that clarification will have to are available in actual time and it will have to come from journalists and editors.

DER SPIEGEL: In 2003, The Occasions found out that the reporter Jayson Blair had made up tales, invented quotes and stolen subject material from different newspapers on an enormous scale. With Claas Relotius, DER SPIEGEL now has its personal scandal. The previous reporter made up lots of his tales. What recommendation are you able to give us?

Sulzberger: I clearly examine it, however I have no idea the specifics of your case sufficient to present nice recommendation. We’re within the agree with trade. There is not anything extra vital than the agree with of our readers. The second one we began to appreciate that one thing profound used to be flawed with Blair’s tales, we put a few of our highest and maximum fearless journalists on appearing precisely what took place. We made them totally unbiased of the newsroom control on the time after which we printed the ones effects. It used to be probably the most longest tales we ever produced. The dedication to responsibility and transparency, particularly when issues pass flawed, is truly vital.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Sulzberger, we thanks for this interview.


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