History of Newspapers: New York Times Part 1

About the history of the United States newspaper The New York Times, information about the paper and some of their scoops.


The Past. The New York Times, 1st published in 1851, was the brainchild of journalist Henry J. Raymond and 2 financiers--George Jones and Edward B. Wesley. Then called the New York Daily Times, it was a 4-page paper, selling at 1 cent a copy. In its early days, the Times was conservative, with a high moral tone. After a period of decline from 1884 to 1896, the paper was bought by Adolph Simon Ochs, part owner of The Chattanooga Daily Times, who wrote to his wife at the time, "Here I am in New York ready to negotiate for the leading and most influential newspaper in America. The supreme gall of a country newspaperman burdened with debt."

Ochs revitalized the Times. He put more stress on news, eliminated fiction, started a weekly book section and coined the phrase "All the News That's Fit to Print," which is still included on the masthead. He also cut the price, which had risen to 3 cent, back to a penny. In 3 years he more than quadrupled the circulation.

In 1935, Ochs died and his son-in-law, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, took over the paper. He, in turn, was followed by another son-in-law, Orvil E. Dryfoos, who died in 1963, when Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the present publisher, took over.

Mildly reformist, the paper has been politically liberal for most of its life. It supported Wendell Willkie in 1940, was critical of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, and backed David Halberstam--who sent back pessimistic reports in his coverage of the Vietnam War--when Washington officials wanted his stories toned down.

A. M. Rosenthal, who was made managing editor in 1969, livened up the gray, somewhat monotonous layout of the Times; started the Op Ed page (an editorial feature presenting contrasting ideas and attitudes), and lightened the somewhat heavy tone the paper was famous for.

The Present. The New York Times is the most important paper in the U.S., consistently ranking number one for editorial quality and news coverage in surveys of journalists. It is housed in an old, undistinguished building in a run-down corner of New York City, not far from seedy Times Square.

The biggest U.S. paper in total operations, it is among the top 3 in circulation, with readers in every State in the country. With The Washington Post, it publishes the Herald Tribune in Paris, and it owns radio station WQXR, educational book divisions, and interests in Canadian newsprint mills.

The New York Times does endeavor to print "all the news that's fit to print." Physically the paper is big; the Sunday edition usually weighs over 7 lbs. Known for its thorough coverage of the news, the Times prints important speeches and documents in full. (The day after it was released, the 290,000-word Warren Commission Report appeared in the Times.) James Reston, Times associate editor, has said, "Our primary responsibility is not . . .to the commuter reading the paper on the train. Our primary responsibility is to the historian of 50 years from now. Unique among newspapers, The Times is prime source material--and we must never poison the stream of history."

In addition to exhaustive news coverage, The New York Times provides excellent reporting on issues vital to women, on culture including rock music and other counterculture arts, religion, art, education, food, law, science. Its distinguished staff, which numbers over 1,000, includes some of the most respected newspaper people of our time: city reporter John Corry, theater critic Clive Barnes, architecture expert Ada Louise Huxtable, reporter Seymour Hersh (who 1st exposed the My Lai massacre), education editor Fred Hechinger, Pulitzer Prize winners James Reston and David Halberstam, and many others.

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