As a journalist, I have always had an appreciation for the New York Times and have personally, loved the motto of “All The News That’s Fit to Print.” Knowing it was a jab at both Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst for their “yellow journalism,” I loved that the focus was on real news, not something a writer could just drum up (despite what some folks may think). Having only worked for small newspapers, I suppose it may seem silly to say such things, but I have never appreciated celebrity magazines, etc., because it’s content is nothing but gossip. While I am human and on occasion, sadly, find myself curious about those things, in the end I could never live with myself if I made a living out of gossip. That’s not news. It’s utter ridiculousness.
It was on this day, Sept, 18, 1851, the NY Times was born. Founded as the “New-York Daily Times,” it eventually ended up as the beloved “New York Times” we know today. It went through a few iterations. Adolph Ochs acquired the paper in 1896 and it was he who brought about the now famous slogan for the newspaper. His family has controlled the paper since.
The Times has a long and varied history. Among the more interesting things to note are the Pentagon Papers and the court case “New York Times v. Sullivan.” The Pentagon Papers was an incident during the Vietnam War era. A history of the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam from the U.S. Department of Defense was leaked by former state department official Daniel Ellsberg. A friend helped him copy documents that were given to the the Times. The newspaper then began printing excerpts from the documents revealing things the government didn’t want known. The Washington Post would also get in the act and the government sought not one, but two injunctions but the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 vote, decided the injunctions were unconstitutional. While a victory, it could be argued that this case has had it’s impact on how national security issues are covered. Legislation since, such as The Patriot Act, have further made it difficult, defining many more things as national security and information not being allowed to be printed. The Freedom of Information Act and Sunshine Laws (open government laws) have slowly been chipped away at through the decades since. It’s a bit difficult to print important information when such laws don’t support such action.
Prior to the papers incident, there was New York Times v. Sullivan. This was a libel case in 1964 that would eventually help define “actual malice” standard for press reports about public officials/figures. Ultimately, the burden of proof belongs to the plaintiff and that individual or group has to prove the publisher knew the statement to be false and acted in reckless disregard. This is difficult to prove and was a factor in the Pentagon Papers case.
There is much more history when it comes to this newspaper. There has been discrimination against women in the news business; there’s been controversy in terms of its coverage of WWII and the Holocaust to be precise. There’s been periods of time when the paper hasn’t been published due to strikes and other issues. It hasn’t always been so upstanding and even know people continue to have their varied opinions of the NYTimes, as they should. As it’s run by people, there have been times when it’s been flawed or coverage seemed biased (and perhaps it was). There isn’t a publication (or other news source) out there that hasn’t been accused of such things.
It’s a newspaper, though, that’s also had a lot of success. The New York Times has won 112 Pulitzer Prizes throughout it’s history – more than any other newspaper in the country. While imperfect, the Times continues to hold itself to a high standard. People will always have their point of view and may not always agree with how the news is covered by the Times or any other publication, but the overall standard remains true to it’s slogan – “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” Happy Birthday to the NYTimes! Hopefully we’ll see more controversial publications such as the Pentagon Papers, etc., that will help challenge and further shape the country in a beneficial manner.