While no one accuses the Sulzbergers of ostentation—“We’re not a family into yachts,” one family member told the trust lawyer, Theodore Wagner—they do live off the family money, residing in Upper East Side townhouses or maintaining country homes that wouldn’t normally be afforded by their day jobs. Beyond that, they are highly invested in their Times identity. “Their raison d’être,” observes one Times veteran who knows several members of the family, “is that they’re members of the Sulzberger family.”
The fifth generation, the sons and daughters of Arthur and his cousins born between 1965 and 1990, have largely remained in the shadows of the company’s affairs, anonymously going about their lives as beneficiaries of its generous dividends, their names listed in the occasional SEC filing detailing the family trust. Like their parents, they’ve led the lives of a prestigious trust-fund family—attending private schools like Dalton and Fieldston and acquiring Ivy League educations at Brown and Columbia, then casting about for noble life pursuits or whatever pleases them.
Sulzberger has said that his clan starts going to family meetings when they’re 10 years old and by 15 they understand their roles as caretakers of the New York Times. There’s also a one-day orientation session for kids turning 18 or 21—or people marrying into the family—to learn about the legacy of the Ochs-Sulzbergers. For the last several years, the entire family has converged annually on the Times headquarters for a review of the company’s fortunes. Afterward, they break into groups and powwow with top Times editorial and business executives. It’s the younger members who ask most of the questions, “more about the mechanics of the paper than debating this or that policy,” says a former Times executive. People who have been involved in those sessions say they’ve never seen family members express criticism or dissent.
“Once the dividend is cut, all hell will break loose,” says a former Tımes executive. “Because that’s what the family lives on.”
Younger members of the family are also inculcated in the beliefs of the Sulzbergers on private annual retreats to places like Hawaii. One Timesman compares the indoctrination to Skull and Bones, but it seems more the stuff of summer camp. They sing songs together like “We Are Family” and keep abreast of each other’s lives through a newsletter called The Lookout. A surprisingly large portion of the family stays connected through the social networking site Facebook, including Punch Sulzberger’s sister Ruth Holmberg, the 87-year-old mother of the Golden brothers, who lives in Tennessee. The Cohen boys compare favorite movies with the Golden kids, who are friends with Arthur’s 26-year-old daughter, Annie.
All this family indoctrination has not produced an obvious heir. “You don’t see a line of people in succession to run the joint,” says a former Times executive. Another person well acquainted with the family says that Sulzberger wouldn’t hesitate to promote a young family member who showed promise. “I don’t think Arthur is an egomaniac. If he saw somebody in there he thought honest to God could be better, he would go to bat in promoting talented young family members.”
As in any family business, the pool of talent in the bloodline is limited, and the bubble of affluence doesn’t always produce heirs with the proverbial fire in the belly. What it does produce, in the case of the Sulzbergers, is a variety of artists, musicians, academics, teachers, and even a fashion stylist. Hays Golden, son of Arthur Golden, is an economist seeking a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. 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. (She’s also committed to maintaining the historical integrity of lighthouses, according to a long letter she wrote to a local paper.) 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. Meanwhile, Dan Cohen’s son 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.”
Only three fifth-generation offspring have opted for careers at the New York Times so far. The oldest and highest ranking is Michael Greenspon, the 38-year-old son of Jacqueline Hays Dryfoos, a psychotherapist cousin of Sulzberger’s. After stints at the Boston Globe and the Washington Post, where he worked with Graham-family heiress Katharine Weymouth, Greenspon now works in strategic planning at the Times and is described by colleagues as quietly competent but not an obvious candidate to lead the paper. One person at the paper calls him an “odd presence” because he’s so obviously “aligned with Michael [Golden], who he’s very close to.” Two others toil in quieter quarters of the Gray Lady: James Dryfoos, son of Robert Ochs Dryfoos, works as a systems analyst. And Michael Golden’s 29-year-old daughter Rachel is new to the paper, a graduate of the University of Denver who works in digital marketing.