Family-owned and independent newspapers are becoming increasingly rare. This week, The Boston Herald announced its publisher, Patrick J. Purcell, would be selling the paper he’s headed for over 20 years to GateHouse Media LLC. GateHouse has been sweeping up family-owned papers across the country, and is now the owner of 130 dailies and 640 community papers.
GateHouse is known for consolidating operations. This leaves local news in peril when the management running a news outlet is out of touch with the community and its issues.
But in today’s perilous media environment, even big-city papers are vulnerable.
In 2007, the Bancroft family, longtime owners of The Wall Street Journal, sold the title to media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Several years before that, the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times were both sold to conglomerates after being family-run. Bankruptcy is frequently the culprit, and as the environment becomes less stable, it’s inevitable that more papers will feel the squeeze.
But one family-owned paper is not only surviving, but charting a course for success. It just announced the next name in its legacy of publishers. Arthur Gregg (A.G.) Sulzberger will become the sixth publisher of The New York Times, effective January 1, 2018.
A.G. Sulzberger was named deputy publisher last year and began overseeing the paper’s opinion section in May. He joined the newspaper in 2009.
His father, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., had been publisher since 1992, and will remain as chairman of the company. He is responsible for taking the paper online in 1996 and erecting a pay wall in 2011. That led to an expanded newsroom, due to an influx of subscription-based money.
The Times announced this month it has hit 3.5 million digital subscriptions, with 2.5 million of those digital-only.
A.G. Sulzberger is taking the helm of the esteemed newspaper, committed to sustaining serious journalism in a digital-first environment. Credited with heading an “innovation report” that studied the importance of the paper's digital future, he transitioned to the role of digital strategist five years after joining The Times as a reporter.
Though Sulzberger lacks experience running a digital company, his willingness to transform tradition could make him an exciting new leader, while stirring up the newsroom.
In a memo to staff, the new publisher noted: “No news organization is building a more successful digital business. At a time when our company and our industry are under greater pressure than ever before, we are proving that there is a path forward for the type of quality journalism that a healthy society relies upon.”