cover image The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times

The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times

Alex Jones. Little Brown and Company, $29.95 (704pp) ISBN 978-0-316-84546-5

When Adolph Ochs purchased the New York Times in 1896, he recognized that the paper's ""good name"" was its ""greatest value."" Today, that ""good name"" is virtually synonymous with the Sulzberger-Ochs family, ""arguably the most powerful blood-related dynasty in twentieth-century America,"" according to Tifft and Jones (The Patriarch: the Rise and Fall of the Bingham Dynasty; Jones also won a Pulitzer as a Times reporter in 1987). With unconditional access to Times archives, Tifft and Jones have erected what promises to be a lasting history of the titanic media clan, deftly mixing personal stories of the German-Jewish family in moments of official glory and tawdry embarrassment, with the definitively public sagas of the paper itself. The authors record four generations of the family's history, beginning with Adolph, who published the famous editorial promise: to ""give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect or interests involved,"" and ending with Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. (known as Punch Jr.), who publishes the paper today. Punch Jr.'s diversification of the newsroom and his introduction of color photos and new sections catering to young readers has given him a reputation as a brash upstart, according to the authors, and pitted him against Lance Primis, the New York Times Company president who urged the paper ""to abandon its `candy store' approach to running the company,"" before being dismissed in 1996. This complex family history couldn't have come at a better time. As questions about editorial succession and the advent of multimedia have shaken the stability of one of America's premiere institutions, critics will find certain proof of sycophancy's perils in this cogently written story. But on the weight of the authors' portrayal of the Times's unparalleled position in American culture, it's hard not to admire the ongoing effectiveness of an epic family institution in a world of new media upstarts and gargantuan corporate mergers. (Sept.)