The New York Times threw a swanky retirement party for publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. at The Modern on Thursday night. Sulzberger stood in the entranceway enthusiastically greeting guests and showing off the joke-filled special edition of The Times custom-made for the occasion. Late last year, he revealed that he was handing the reins of the paper that his great-grandfather bought in 1896 over to his son, A.G. Sulzberger.
New York Times journalists and editors past and present, including the Sulzberger family, former editor in chief Jill Abramson, current editor in chief Dean Baquet, business section editor Ellen Pollock, styles editor Choire Sicha, Huffington Post editor in chief and Times alum Lydia Polgreen, Vanity Fair editor in chief Radhika Jones, books editor Pamela Paul, CNN’s “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter, and a strong contingent of columnists mingled over caviar and lobster canapés while a jazz band played in the background. Non-Times men and women included actor Robert De Niro, N.Y. Sen. Chuck Schumer, restaurateur Danny Meyer and journalists Tina Brown and Harold Evans.
A.G., who the elder Sulzberger noted had become a father — and ushered in a new generation of the newspaper family — two weeks prior, collected congratulations as he made his way around the room. “To the older generation!” he was overheard saying.
During remarks to the room, the 37-year-old publisher shared stories about his father’s outdoor misadventures.
“Now, if you look at all those situations — climbing without a rope, setting oneself on fire, dodging falling boulders — you may find uncomfortably apt metaphors for the state of the newspaper industry. But I prefer to see them as tell-tale examples of my father’s courage, perseverance and calm under fire. Or, in this case, calm while on fire,” he said. “Last year, the two of us embarked on a different kind of adventure together: handing this precious institution from one generation to another. Thanks to his extraordinary work during his tenure as publisher, my cousins and I are taking the reins of this company with a sound business, a growing audience, and a news report that inspires us every single day. It’s an astonishing legacy, and it’s one I can only hope to live up to.”
Schumer, a longtime friend of the publisher, also reminisced about spending time in the outdoors with him, before turning serious about the state of journalism and the country.
“Arthur’s success mattered, not only to the staff of The New York Times or the legacy of the Sulzbergers. It’s mattered to the country, throughout his decades of leadership but especially in recent times, when the free press has been threatened like never before. Throughout our history, the Fourth Estate has always kept the government in check when it’s gone astray. We rely on newspapers and the press to inform our citizens, shine a light on injustice, establish the facts and hold elected officials like me accountable,” Schumer said.
“A free and robust Fourth Estate is how we discern democracy from autocracy, and guard against the slide from one to the other. Now, this is a time when many of us, even great optimists — and I’m a great optimist — who have had complete faith in the wellspring of democracy that has graced this great nation, are genuinely worried if it will survive,” the senator continued. “The fact that The New York Times is there, at the bulwark, independent, strong and fearless, gives me and so many other Americans solace that the greatness of America that we have known and cherished all along and is now in some peril, will ultimately prevail.”
Baquet and columnist Gail Collins also toasted the outgoing publisher and praised the transition to a digital future.
“In the last 25 years, there have been six editors, more than one existential crisis and myriad triumphs. And through it all, there has only been one publisher,” Baquet said, and went on to mention some of the financial threats to newspapers and praised Sulzberger for, among other things, not caving to pressure from Harvey Weinstein in the weeks leading up to The New York Times publishing its investigation into the sexual assault allegations against the film producer.
“Society needs great journalism now more than ever. Here and around the world, reporters are being threatened, institutions are being debased, and basic facts are somehow subject to debate. At times like these, original, deeply reported, fearless journalism, the hallmark of The New York Times for 160 years, helps make the world more transparent, more informed, and more just,” Sulzberger said.
He assured the crowd that, despite his retirement party, he is not going anywhere because he is still chairman of the company’s board of directors. “But it’s also because one never truly leaves The New York Times,” he said. “My name is not Arthur Sulzberger Jr. It’s Arthur Sulzberger Jr. of The New York Times.”