The Corner

Sucker Punch

This is a speech given by Punch Sulzberger back in 1994. Punch, father of Pinch, was at that time Chairman of The New York Times. He was in his sixties back then – not old, the age of many a vigorous chief executive around the planet. But he wasn’t one of them. He warms up the crowd with a little light humor:

A number of years ago, in a speech at the Rochester Institute of Technology, I noted that a disproportionate number of this country’s fine newspapers were family owned. My conclusion was simple. Nepotism works.

I wonder if he still feels that way. And, if so, what precise relation to him that Mexican billionaire is. Then he turns his attention to the new technology:

I believe that for a long time to come this information superhighway, far from resembling a modern interstate, will more likely approach a roadway in India: chaotic, crowded and swarming with cows. Or, as one might say, udder confusion.

I’d be interested to know whether his gag writer is still on the Times payroll. Next, in a poignant moment, he brags about how much he over-paid for an even more somnolent monodaily:

We have renewed our faith in the written word by acquiring for more than a billion dollars in stock one of the country’s great newspapers – The Boston Globe.

Hmm. And what would you get for it today, assuming you could find a purchaser?

And finally:

Reader Jones might well have a deep interest in ice hockey, grain futures and foreign policy issues affecting China. A computer can easily assemble such information from many sources. But this compilation is a far cry from a newspaper.

When you buy a newspaper, you aren’t buying news – you’re buying judgment. Already in this low tech world of instant communications there is too much news. That’s the problem. Raw news will do just fine if you’re a computer buff and want to play editor. But I, for one, would rather let a professional take the first raw cut at history and spend my leisure time fishing…

Judgment, serendipity and something left over to wrap the fish, all neatly folded, in living color, and thrown at no extra cost into the bushes. All for just a few cents a day. It’s called a newspaper. And when you add a wee bit of ink for your hands and top it with a snappy editorial to exercise your blood pressure, who needs that elusive interactive information superhighway of communications.

Just point me to the fishing hole! Thank you.

His son has pointed the entire company to the hole.

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.


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