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The New York Times: Failing or Thriving?

New York Times“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

—Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787

With over four million paid subscribers to its news, website content, and daily newspaper, The New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT) has been a trusted source of news coverage since its inception more than 165 years ago. Launched in 1851 as the New-York Daily Times by Henry Jarvis Raymond and George Jones, The Times gained momentum as a trusted news source a decade later, when it expanded its six day per week publication to seven days, in order to cover breaking news relating to The Civil War. The Times further burnished its credentials as a source of incisive coverage of the events of the day when it exposed the corrupt practices of William M. “Boss” Tweed, a New York City leader of the Democratic Party political machine.

Rescued from financial ruin by the Ochs-Sulzberger family in 1896, the paper enhanced its reputation for quality journalism. Under the slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print” which first appeared alongside the paper’s moniker in 1897, The Times began to distance itself from many of its more sensationalistic competitors, who emphasized the more lurid stories of the day in their reportage. The Times’ focus on quality investigative journalism has enabled it to win over 122 Pulitzer Prizes—more than any other news organization—including 61 Pulitzer Prizes in the last 25 years.

The New York Times has also developed a reputation for leadership in maintaining the rights of a free press to publish articles of interest to the public at large, despite objection from the subjects of its coverage. In some cases, the company has argued its position before the US Supreme court, as it did in New York Times Co. v Sullivan in 1964, when the court established the “actual malice” standard that requires public officials or public figures acting as plaintiffs against a news organization to establish that statements about them were published in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity in order to meet the threshold of defamatory or libelous intent.

As an independent newspaper, The New York Times has had to balance its role as a responsible purveyor of news, with its responsibility to protect sensitive national security information, sometimes at the behest of the US government. Over the years the newspaper has either delayed or withheld the publication of articles, often in consultation with government officials over fears of placing lives at risk. However, the paper has at times made the decision to publish articles that it believed to be in the public interest, despite objections from the government.

In 1971, The New York Times, along with the Washington Post played a key role in publishing portions of the Pentagon Papers, a classified US Department of Defense history of the government’s conduct in the Vietnam War. When The New York Times began to print excerpts from the report, the Nixon administration sought to restrain publication on the grounds that material leaked interfered with government’s ability to conduct the war, and enter into negotiations for peace. When the newspapers refused to comply with the government’s request, the Nixon White House obtained a federal court injunction to cease publication, and called for the source of the leaks, Daniel Ellsberg, to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917. Simultaneous appeals of the government’s actions by the newspapers wound their way up the judicial chain to the US Supreme Court, which decided in a 6-3 decision in 1971 that the injunctions on the newspapers were unconstitutional prior restraints, and crucially, that the executive branch had not met the burden of proof required to enforce its order.

In addition to its award-winning news coverage over many years, the newspaper has been cited in numerous studies for the quality of its work. As a result of its reputation for quality, independent investigative journalism, The Times has become the newspaper of record for national and global events, as archived copies of the newspaper housed in libraries throughout the world are drawn upon by researchers, students, and general readers.

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