Sunday, July 29, 2007

A window on the Times-Ratner relationship, from the top? Not til 2050

The New York Times Company announced last week that it will donate its vast archives, which date back to 1851, to The New York Public Library, but the key elements for Atlantic Yards watchers probably won't be available until 2050.

The library announced that the collection contains more than 700,000 pages:
The archives contain the correspondence of each publisher of The New York Times, including the letters they exchanged with United States Presidents and other heads of state. Other highlights include select papers of Henry J. Raymond and George Jones, founders of The Times; documents relating to the critical news stories from around the world for the last century and a half; and files from both the business and editorial departments of the paper that provide a window into the day-to-day workings of The New York Times.

However, as the Times reported on Wednesday, in an article headlined For Public Library, a Trove of New York Times Records, only the papers of the earlier publishers will be released first:
William Stingone, the library’s curator of manuscripts, said the [Adolph S.] Ochs [who bought the Times in 1896] papers should be available to researchers within the year, and those of Ochs’s son-in-law and successor, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, shortly after that. The library is still negotiating with Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, nicknamed Punch, who was the publisher from 1963 to 1992, about a release date. The papers of the current publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., will not be available until 2050.
(Emphasis added)

The Times and AY

Has Sulzberger, concerned about the parent company's relationship with Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, the newspaper company's partner on the new Times Tower, influenced the Times's editorial policy on Atlantic Yards? I suspect so, as in the newspaper's conflicted silence prior to the Atlantic Yards approval last December by the Public Authorities Control Board.

After all, the Times was willing to guarantee a loan to the developer. As I've written before, I don't think the business relationship means Times reporters are in the tank, though I believe the newspaper has an obligation to be exacting in its coverage, and has not fulfilled that obligation.

Sulzberger's role

Staffers at the Times and the Wall Street Journal have been sniping at each other, in print and in interviews regarding the influence of publishers on the contents of the newspaper.

As the New York Observer reported, in a 6/12/07 article headlined After Journal ‘Insult,’ Times Editorializes: They’re ‘Balanced and Trustworthy’, the Journal, facing a potential purchase by mogul Rupert Murdoch, responded to the Times in an editorial:
"Everyone knows that the influence of Times Publisher and C.E.O. Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. extends to selecting not merely the editorial page editor but columnists, political endorsements and, as far as we can tell, even news coverage priorities," wrote The Journal."We don't see how this differs from most of what Mr. Murdoch is accused of doing with his newspapers."

Times editorial-page editor Andrew Rosenthal told the Observer that it was "absurd" to say Sulzberger "directs the news coverage."


As for the editorial page, however, the answer was more ambiguous:
Mr. Rosenthal said that Mr. Sulzberger is aware of some editorials in advance, but not others; however, he would not confirm whether the publisher laid eyes on this particular one [regarding the Journal] before going to press, or had any input

So we can safely assume that Sulzberger, at the least, is "aware" of the Times's editorial policy toward Atlantic Yards.

Last word?

The Times's feature article on the archives concluded with this charmingly self-referential paragraph:
In most of the complaints randomly picked from files, the newsroom seemed to get the last word. In 1903, George W. Daniels of the New York Central and Hudson River Rail Road Company threatened to pull display advertising because of the series of “mean articles” by F. C. Mortimer. Mr. Mortimer responded, “As for the number of ‘mean attacks’ mentioned by the amiable Mr. Daniels, they have appeared, perhaps, twice for every three times that the train service at the Grand Central Station has utterly broken down.”

But those were the days of print. In the era of the Internet, even if the Times doesn't listen, it may not get the last word.

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