Will the Times end up like the Wall Street Journal, sold off by disgruntled, money-grubbing family members? To find out, New York investigated the fifth generation of the Times' controlling Sulzberger family. The good news, for those who want to see the Times stay in family hands, is that none of these young men and women (some shown in this handy PDF chart) would talk smack about their poorly-managed company to a reporter, in contrast to the Bancrofts who sold off the Journal. All family kids are being indoctrinated at special "orientation sessions," camps and annual business meetings, starting at age 10. Everyone stays connected on Facebook, including an 87-year-old Sulzberger grandmother. The bad news: No one knows if this unity will hold together when the company cuts unsustainably high stock dividend. Also, the family twentysomethings seem at least as unlikely to ever run the company as acid-dropping Pinch Sulzberger did 35 years ago. Here, for example, is what Judith Sulzberger's young grandson Alex Cohen recently wrote on his Facebook:
Alex, a student at NYU, plays drums in a band called the Mysterious Case of Jake Barnes with cousin Dave Golden (making it the unofficial Ochs-Sulzberger house band). He also flexes his editorial muscle on his Facebook page: “Alex Thinks Sarah Palin Can Suck A Dick And Leave Us All Alone.”
New York found other embarrassing online moments amidst the lives of Times heirs (emphasis added):
Ben Dolnick, the 26-year-old son of Lynn Dolnick, Michael Golden’s sister, is a successful fiction writer living in a brownstone secured by his grandmother, Ruth Holmberg. Victoria Dryfoos, daughter of Katie, lives in Martha’s Vineyard and has sought to “promote awareness of … and provide income for Huichol families,” a Native American group in Mexico.
Sarah Perpich, David’s 28-year-old sister and Sulzberger’s niece, is a fashion writer, stylist, and personal shopper. “For me, fashion is life, and life is art,” she writes on her blog.
Annie Sulzberger shows little interest in the Times, pursuing a career in art preservation while “aspiring to be a Daily Show correspondent,” according to her Friendster page (which also features a photo of her and her brother smoking a hookah while watching a Woody Allen film). A college friend from Brown, Dennis Kwan, says Annie was always circumspect about her identity as a Times heiress. “She tried to distance herself from it,” he says. She saw it as a “burden” because “people would talk about it.”
These lifestyles are funded by Times Company profits, via the stock dividend. But if the paper has been borrowing money to support those payouts, and now faces having its debt cut to junk status. Once the dividend is cut, as all financial logic indicates it must be, it's possible the fifth generation will try and force, at a minimum, professional non-family management.
Or it might turn to other leaders within the family:
Earlier this year, Michael Golden, the only other cousin in a position to run the company, returned to New York from Paris. While they maintain a cordial relationship, Golden is more conservative and mild-mannered than his prickly cousin, who sometimes criticizes Golden in front of surprised staffers, according to a person who has witnessed it. Golden still maintains the vice-chairman title and ostensibly oversees international operations but is, according to a person who knows him, “fishing for something to do” while he sits in an office down the hall from Sulzberger.
If he's looking for something to do, perhaps Golden could fashion some sort of advisory committee among the internet-savvy fifth generation of the extended Sulzberger clan. They might not be the most discreet lot, but they can, at the very least, prevent the company from another boneheaded new media decision like, say, passing on the chance to invest in Google pre-IPO.