NYT publisher A.G. Sulzberger says an independent press is an 'American ideal'

New York (CNN Business)A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

A.G. Sulzberger, the still relatively new publisher of The New York Times, says this is an "all-hands-on-deck time" for journalism.
And he is in charge of one of the ships. Sulzberger took the reins from his father Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. about a year ago. He worked in the newsroom and in the business ranks of the paper before taking the top post. Now he's in charge of growing the digital footprint to The Times and managing the decline of the print edition.
    On Monday he sat down with me at CNN's day-long political forum, CITIZEN by CNN, for one of his first interviews since becoming publisher.
    The full session is up on YouTube... And here are the takeaways:
    -- Key quote: "To me, this is an all-hands-on-deck time" for journalism...
    -- "An independent press is not a liberal ideal or a progressive ideal or a democratic ideal. It's an American ideal..."
    -- I asked if the paper's mission has changed in the Trump age. "No," he said. But he agreed with my assertion that the Times should be a bulwark of democracy...
    -- Too often, Sulzberger said, outlets like The Times do so much reporting but don't show the readers the work that went into a finished story. These old conventions "actually hide the answer to the question: 'Why should you believe us?'" So we should show our work, so to speak...
    -- "Journalism in the abstract can be made into a menace. But the practical art of journalism is the art of digging and listening and the learning and empathy. It's hard to demonize that..."
    -- The NYT has done survey work on the unifying traits of its audience base, and the top trait is "curiosity," he said...
    -- Will the Times bring back the public editor column? Per his answer, it sure doesn't sound likely...

    About his meeting with POTUS...

    Sulzberger has no regrets about having an off-the-record meeting with President Trump over the summer, even though Trump later tweeted about it and (according to the Times) mischaracterized the meeting. Sulzberger said he wanted to hear Trump out, just as he'd listen to any prominent figure's concerns about the paper's coverage. And he wanted to raise his own concern -- about Trump's hateful anti-media "enemy of the people" talk.
    "I'm not sure how many people had looked him in the eyes... and said 'I believe that your rhetoric isn't just divisive, it's not just irresponsible, it's potentially dangerous,'" Sulzberger said. In the future, "he certainly can't say that he wasn't warned..."

    Ten million subscribers?

    Right now The Times has 3.6 million subscriptions. So I asked Sulzberger how much growth he foresees. He said that 10 million is a number that gets thrown around internally...
    But the Times and other brands need to keep making a market for paid journalism. The market is "fundamentally immature right now," Sulzberger said. He tipped his hat to Spotify and Netflix for helping get people more comfortable paying for digital content.
    "We're trying to create a market for paid journalism," he told me. "And this is why I'm cheering on the growth of the WSJ, WaPo. I think all of us are in the same place, which is, we are trying to convince more people that it is worth paying money for quality journalism. What does that market look like? At the biggest level, it's curious, English-speaking people around the world..."

    More headlines from the forum

    -- Van Jones had a very rare interview with Jared Kushner... When Jones asked about Jamal Khashoggi, Kushner said it "seems to be a terrible situation," but "we have to be able to work with our allies..."
    -- In a session with Gloria Borger, former White House lawyer Ty Cobb said the Mueller probe is NOT a "witch hunt," contra his former boss...
    -- Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward sat together for a rare joint interview... Moderated by Jamie Gangel... They compared covering Nixon and Trump...
    -- I chuckled at this Woodward line: "One of the joys of my life is I don't do Twitter..."
    -- Nancy Pelosi told Dana Bash: If the midterm election were today, the Democrats "would handily win the House..."
    -- Michael Calderone's summary of John King's session: "Anyone who tells you 15 days out what will happen on election night is lying..."

    FOR THE RECORD

    -- Very important story by Michael Gordon: The Army produced a study about the Iraq War, but it still hasn't been published... (WSJ)
    -- All eyes on WikiLeaks: Robert Mueller's scrutiny of Roger Stone "includes investigating whether Stone had backchannels to WikiLeaks during the 2016 election..." (CNN)
    -- Another headache for Silicon Valley? Donie O'Sullivan emails: Richard Blumenthal wrote to Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Reddit on Monday asking them about Psy Group. That's the firm that reportedly ran dark social media ops that are now on Mueller's radar. Watch this space, I bet we'll be hearing a lot more about these guys...

    Trump's lying IS the story...

    Whatever the Toronto Star is paying Daniel Dale, it's not enough. His live fact-checking of Trump's rallies and interviews keeps me glued to Twitter. Dale wrote Monday, "I've fact-checked every word Trump has uttered for two full years. This is one of his most dishonest weeks in political life. He's lying about so many different things at once, and in big ways -- not exaggerating or stretching, completely making stuff up."
    Apologies for repeating myself, because I've said this several times in the past two years, but sometimes the lying IS the story. This is one of those times. Chris Cuomo led his 9 p.m. program on CNN with Trump's "strong and wrong" problem. (Dale was a guest!) Tuesday's WaPo story about the GOP stoking fear notes, high up, that "many of the president's assertions are false or clear distortions of the facts." Here's my related story...

    On Page One of Tuesday's NYT

    The headline reads "Trump Escalates Use of Migrants As Election Ploy." The story says that Trump and other GOPers are "seeking to divide the electorate along racial lines" by delivering messages "plainly aimed at stoking cultural anxiety among white voters and even appealing to overt racism..."

    Anatomy of a Trump tweet

    Oliver Darcy emails: Another day, another instance in which Trump seizes on right-wing media reports and uses them as a basis to make a wild, unfounded claim. In Monday's episode, Trump warned in a tweet that "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in" the caravan of migrants headed toward the United States.
    The president offered no evidence. But for several days, right-wing media sources have been suggesting that ISIS and other terrorists and criminal groups could infiltrate the caravan and ultimately gain entry into the United States. Some of the stories stemmed from an October 11 article in a prominent Guatemala newspaper which quoted the Guatemalan president saying the country had captured nearly 100 people linked to terrorism, including ISIS.Judicial Watch picked up that story, then other right-wing media blogs, then Fox News, and then Trump. My full story here...

    Shep debunks Trump's scare-mongering

    "President Trump is calling caravan a national emergency, claiming criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in," Shep Smith said on Fox Monday afternoon. "Important note: Fox News knows of no evidence to suggest he's accurate, and POTUS has offered no evidence..."

    Meantime, Obama says...

    The crowd at this Nevada rally loved Barack Obama's implicit jab at Trump on Monday: "Unlike some I actually try to state facts. I believe in facts," he said, earning loud cheers. "I believe in a fact-based reality and a fact-based politics. I don't believe in just making stuff up."

      Back to the rallies...

      Worth noting: For the past few weeks, Fox News has been showing its regular talk shows instead of Trump's rallies... but on Monday night the network showed Trump's mega rally in Houston from start to finish...