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New York Times chairman speaks about truth, media and democracy

Arthur Sulzberger and Pamela Eibeck

New York Times Chairman Arthur O. Sulzberger speaks with Pacific President Pamela Eibeck about media and democracy before students, faculty and the Stockton community.

Nov 2, 2018
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Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. brought his defense of journalism to Pacific, Oct. 26, in a talk entitled "The Impact of Media and Truth on Democracy."

The chairman of the New York Times Company spoke passionately about the media's role in holding government accountable during a talk with Media X students and later at a community discussion led by Pacific President Pamela Eibeck.

Sulzberger, 67, spoke about the barrage of attacks President Trump has launched against journalists and the New York Times in particular, in which Trump labels them "fake news," "failing" and "enemies of the people." Sulzberger said the attacks are a threat, not just to the safety of reporters, but to the mission of journalism, which is to hold government accountable, a role he noted is enshrined in the First Amendment.

"The founding fathers knew from their own experience that the press was needed to speak truth to power," Sulzberger said. "Otherwise, power wins."

Trump's attacks are far from the only challenges media face, however. Sulzberger also addressed questions about the Times' financial stability and said the organization's current strength is the legacy he left when he retired as publisher last December and handed the reins to his son. He cited three key decisions as publisher:

1.      Making the New York Times a national and then international news source

2.      Embracing digital media

3.      Moving the Times to an online pay subscription model

According to Sulzberger, there was a lot of resistance from staff and customers to all those decisions, but establishing a pay wall on the Times' website may have been the most risky. It was necessary, he said, because in today's digital media landscape, the newspaper simply couldn't support itself on ads alone. Now, 78 percent of the paper's revenue comes from circulation. His philosophy is that readers should support good journalism.

"Truth is worth paying for," he said. "I believe that to the core of my soul." 

The value of the news media was something some Pacific students admitted they hadn't thought about, and listening to Sulzberger was an eye-opener.

"Where we are now is not a good place with our commander in chief so against journalism," said Media X major Piper Davis '20. "It shouldn't be so hostile."

As the fourth generation publisher of his family's newspaper ­- Sulzberger' son, A.G. is the fifth generation-journalism was in his blood. But that didn't mean he was automatically going to be a journalist. He told students he made his career choice the same way many young people do: during a summer internship at a small newspaper on Martha's Vineyard.

"It is the most rewarding job in the world," Sulzberger said. "There's a great joy to this."

Sulzberger has advice for young people who want to become journalists:

·         Start at a small organization where you can make mistakes that won't have a large audience.

·         Learn to use social media in a thoughtful way.

·        Bring other skills such as graphic design or coding in addition to writing and critical thinking.

Sulzberger was brought to the Stockton campus by former Whole Foods co-CEO and former Pacific regent Walter Robb.


Favorite movie about journalism: "Spotlight"

Most hate mail he ever got: When he added color to the newspaper

His One Word: "Truth"

How he reads the New York Times: He reads the physical paper in the morning, follows updates throughout the day on his iPhone and reads the website on his iPad at night. Sulzberger also says he reads the paper "backward" starting with the sections he cares about least (he did not say which sections those were).

What he would have been if he hadn't been a journalist: Sulzberger said he's an adventurer and would like to ride his motorcycle from Alaska to South America.  

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