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New York wisdom

This week, the Reuters Institute published a fascinating interview with A. G. Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times.

By James Evelegh

New York wisdom

On 4th March, New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger will give the 2024 Reuters Memorial Lecture. Ahead of the lecture, Sulzberger has given a fascinating interview to Eduardo Suárez.

To whet your appetite, here are some of Sulzberger’s thoughts on:

  • The rationale (circa 2014) behind digital transformation: “The New York Times is winning at journalism; At the same time, we are falling behind in a second critical area: the art and science of getting our journalism to readers.”
  • The importance of listening when embarking on a transformation project: “At the time (2014) we were this old institution earnestly trying to figure out how to adapt. But somehow all these people with great ideas for that weren’t being heard. And because they weren’t being heard, they were leaving for our competitors. So that insistence on hearing from the ground up is something that I have leaned heavily on.”
  • The big digital platforms: “You need to be on them, and to find ways to partner with them, but your interests are not aligned. You should be clear-eyed on that, treat this as a professional partnership and make sure it meets clearly articulated standards.”
  • Not blindly following trending topics: “We do have a lot of confidence that the public wants to be confronted not with the information they think they want but with the information they didn’t know they wanted. My grandfather had this old line: “When you buy the New York Times, you’re not buying news; you’re buying judgement.” That judgement is a really important part of our promise.”
  • The decline in local news: “I can't say strongly enough that society is in for a world of hurt if we don’t recognise that informed communities are one of the fundamental pillars of a pluralistic democratic society. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this period of division and anger and confusion in my country, in yours and others perfectly corresponds with the decline of local reporters working in their communities to make sure that they stay informed and engaged.”
  • Balance: “I don't subscribe to the belief that independence is the same as balance. Balance is actually a somewhat insidious word in our industry because it suggests that the truth is in the middle. Instead, I’m much more interested in completeness and fairness.”
  • Eschewing partisanship: “We are just stating the truth fully and plainly, but we are also doing that in a way that is unemotional. We are not anyone’s opposition and we’re not anyone’s lap dog.”
  • Why worrying can be good for your health: “Never get comfortable; always assume that the world is conspiring to take down the industry and that we will have to move heaven and earth to overcome those forces to blaze a path forward for quality journalism… It is only by worrying about them that you can prevent them from happening.”

Good stuff. I’m looking forward to the lecture already…

You can catch James Evelegh’s regular column in the InPubWeekly newsletter, which you can register to receive here.