Modern journalisms founding father
In the annals of American journalism prior to 20th century,
one will find that newspapers often served one power or another
in their content. Whether it was a political party in the cities
where they were established or other agendas, the craft of chronicling
the events of the day were often tainted with heavy inserts
of editorial opinion.
No where was this most recognized in the craft as it was during
and following the American Civil War. The nation was highly
literate at that point in United States history and the power
of the printed word such that it could literally affect American
affairs. To build circulation in the 1880s, New York publishers
began using scary headlines, and stories of scandals and sex
built upon questionable information and sources to increase
paper sales. This and a battle between illustrators over a popular
comic strip known as the Yellow Kid led to the term "yellow
journalism" to describe the reckless and inaccurate reporting.
The height of that influence was felt most following the 1898
sinking of the S.S. Maine battleship in Havana Harbor when New
York Journal publisher William R. Hearst cabled artist Frederick
Remington in Cuba for details about the war with Spain. Remington
cabled back that there was no war with Spain to which Hearst
responded "you furnish the pictures and Ill furnish
The tactics employed soon began creating a breach in credibility
between readers and journalists.
Unknown to Hearst, New York World publisher Joseph Pulitzer,
and New York Herald publishers James Bennett, however, there
was an individual in their midst that would bring about such
change that it would not only revolutionize the craft of journalism
but, in fact, set the standards that even they would eventually
have to adapt in order to survive as a news organization.
Julius Ochs immigrated to America from Bavaria, Germany in 1848.
He was well educated and a master of many languages, which allowed
him to pursue a career as a teacher in Mt. Sterling, KY. During
his travels across the South, he visited many Jewish communities
that existed in the region and, during a visit to Nashville,
met Bertha Levy and the two married on Feb. 28, 1855. The newlyweds
moved to Knoxville later that year where the Ochs tried to begin
their lives together. Although bound by love and faith, Julius
Ochs soon learned that his wife was of an independent mind and
of formidable opinion. She was considerably well read by the
The couple struggled at first in Knoxville. Julius Ochs found
work as a tutor and moonlighted as a shoe-maker, while his wife
They decided to move to Cincinnati, OH where Julius Ochs found
a better opportunity as a teacher. The couple did well for themselves
and began building a family. On March 12, 1858, Bertha Ochs
gave birth to a son they named Adolph Simon Ochs. When America
lurched into the Civil War, Julius Ochs joined the Union Army.
Ochs was an adamant Unionist, but soon found himself at odds
with his wife, who was a passionate supporter of the Confederacy.
Her dedication to their cause was such that she was arrested
for smuggling quinine to the Confederates across the Ohio River
from Cincinnati, but able to escape serious prosecution for
When Knoxville was captured and back in Union hands, the couple
returned to the city in 1864. During the last year Julius found
work as a trainer for the Knoxville home guard, whose orders
were to protect the city and serve the Union Army in maintaining
the citys security.
When the war finally ended, Ochs served as a member of the Knox
County Court and held a number of civic positions in the city,
including serving a term as Justice of the Peace. His name shows
up in numerous city records of the day as an Alderman, tax assessor,
and as a leader in Tennessee and national politics.
In addition, he formed a local German Association for the growing
number of immigrants beginning to settle in Knoxville, served
as an active member of the Holston Masonic Lodge and also acted
as a Rabbi conducting services for Knoxvilles growing
Jewish population. This was a role he excelled in and enabled
him to interest the congregation to construct Knoxvilles
first permanent synagogue in the city.
Although Julius Ochs worked hard as both a private businessman
and public citizen, hard times soon fell on the family that
had grown to include six children. While they were home-schooled
for the most part, young Adolph Ochs also attended the Hampton-Sydney
Academy in Knoxville and later the East Tennessee University.
A serious business set back for the Ochs abruptly brought Adolph
Ochs formal education to an end and, at age 11, he took
a job helping Captain William Rule of the Knoxville Journal
as a newsboy and printers apprentice. At age 13, he moved
briefly to Providence, RI where he attended night school and
worked as a grocers clerk. He returned to Knoxville a
year later, however, and went back to work with the newspaper.
Adolph Ochs would later recall his experience at the paper as
his "high school and university." For six years, he
worked his way up the ladder of the Knoxville newspaper learning
everything he could about the business and the techniques of
At the age of 19, Adolph Ochs sensed an opportunity in Chattanooga
and took a job as Editor-in-Chief of the Chattanooga Dispatch.
When the paper started to fail, Ochs found a way to borrow $250
and bought a controlling interest in the paper he reorganized
as the Chattanooga Times. Ochs brought in his father down from
Knoxville to work as treasurer of the company and oversee the
financial end of the business, which soon became a family enterprise.
While "yellow journalism" was taking root in the newspaper
industry, Adolph Ochs bucked the trend and established a policy
of journalistic principle, which informed his readers and staff
that the Chattanooga Times would present itself as a "clean,
dignified, and trustworthy publication." In addition, Ochs
created a publishing style that segregated news reports from
editorial content and placed it on a separate identifiable page.
His strong commitment to the Chattanooga community and what
investors called his "risky publishing style" soon
turned the financially troubled paper into one of the most influential
and prosperous daily newspapers in the South. Ochs also proved
himself a good businessman and one adept at the art of the creative
financing of the day to keep his paper afloat during difficult
While his flagship was the Chattanooga Times, Ochs also diversified
and created the Southern Associated Press Service and founded
other publications, including The Tradesmen, which became a
leading Southern business journal of the day.
While on a business trip with his father in Cincinnati to purchase
newsprint, Ochs met Iphigenia Miriam Wise, or "Effie"
as she was known. Her father, Isaac M. Wise, was one of the
most influential Rabbis in America at the time and founder of
Hebrew Union College Americas first Jewish theological
school. Although he was concerned about his daughters
marriage to an "obscure printer," the two were married
In 1896, the 38-year-old Tennessean learned of an opportunity
in New York when a newspaper, which had once been prosperous,
was nearing bankruptcy. New York City was considered then to
be the nations most influential and sophisticated city.
Ochs was a fighter and the truth in 1896 was the Chattanooga
Times was barely staying afloat. The Tennessean, however, was
at his best when his back was against the proverbial wall. Ochs
borrowed $75,000 and purchased a partnership in the failing
paper ironically named the New York Times.
It only had a daily circulation of 9,000 and was losing money
at a rate of $1,000 dollars per day. With the industry dominated
by men like Hearst, the newspaper couldnt compete in the
city and failure was imminent. Ochs convinced stockholders that
he would be able to keep the paper afloat and bring it back
to life by showing a profit for three consecutive years. It
was something even he had doubts about when he reportedly wrote
to his wife;
"Now for the supremacy of gall for a country newspaper
man burdened with debt!"
He moved to the city and took command of the New York Times
. Using the same tactics he had at the Chattanooga Times, Ochs
went against current journalistic practices of Hearst, Pulitzer,
and Bennett relying on the solid news principles that had earned
his reputation in the South. Ochs was often referred to as a
rebel in the industry and spent seven days a week at the paper
working with the reporters and making a solid commitment to
increasing subscriptions. At one drastic point, he went against
his stockholders suggestion to raise the price of the
New York Times to a nickel and instead dropped in to a penny
to appeal to a reader he often described as "thoughtful,
After taking control, Ochs held a contest for readers to both
promote and help choose a slogan for the newspaper. Ochs had
come up with the now famous "All The News Thats Fit
To Print," but, always alert to the readers, he wanted
to see if someone could come up with something better. After
reviewing all of the entries in the contest, he decided his
was best and it became the motto of the New York Times.
The Tennessean professional experiences in Knoxville and Chattanooga
had taught him the business well. While he was often criticized
for being too conservative and setting an "elitist tone"
in the New York Times, His commitment to keeping editorial content
separate from news stories and providing accurate reports to
keep his promise that he would "print the news without
fear or favor" led to a huge increase in readership and
The paper soon began dominating in the city and quickly became
one of Americas leading and most quoted newspapers, but
Ochs, afraid that old practices could reemerge, continued his
daily hands-on efforts to keep it honest and free from the brassy
sensationalism of his competitors making the newspaper
Americas first "newspaper of record." Within
four years of taking control of the operation, Adolph Ochs owned
the New York Times.
In 1901, he further expanded his newspaper empire when he purchased
the Philadelphia Times and a year later bought the Philadelphia
Ledger, which he paid $2.5 million and consolidated with the
other papers. His brother George Washington Ochs, who was a
noted journalist in his own right and a former Mayor of Chattanooga,
took over the paper as manager and oversaw its day-to-day operations.
In 1900, Ochs became the director of the Associated Press and
worked to keep the press service a leader in American journalism.
Ochs also carried on his fathers tradition of civic responsibility
and always contributed time and money to help public charities.
In 1912, Ochs began the pioneering New York Times Neediest Cases
Fund to aid the citys extremely poor in purchasing food
and clothing. In a day where charity was not a popular thing,
Ochs proved to many surprised industrial leaders that
given a chance most people would indeed contribute to
those less fortunate. The program led other newspapers across
the nation to start similar programs.
His efforts and work in Public Service Journalism finally brought
the Tennessean national recognition and success from the industry
in 1918 when the New York Times won the first Pulitzer Prize
for Public Service in journalism an organization endowed
by one of the very competitors Ochs had taken on with his "new
style of journalism." Numerous awards and accolades followed
and Ochs was often referred to as the "Honorable Titan"
because of his continuous work in community service.
In the later years, the paper further established its leadership
role in America and abroad with its coverage of World War I
and other national news stories.
Regardless of the story or its subject matter, Ochs always maintained
the highest of ethics and demanded excellence from those working
On April 8, 1935, while visiting Chattanooga, Adolph Ochs passed
away. At the time of his death, Ochs had more than superseded
his original investors expectations. The New York Times
was a internationally recognized financial success boasting
more than 500,000 daily readers with a Sunday readership of
more than 700,000.
While there were many notable newspaper publishers in America,
Adolph Ochs reputation stood out above the rest leading
a noted biographer of the day to state in eulogy:
"Adolph Ochs was just, considerate, resourceful, enlightened
of view, undaunted by difficulties, and unspoiled by success,
preferring always the straight and open way to the path of indirection,
as mindful of public responsibility as private duty, loyal to
principal even at the cost of present advantage, one of the
best and highest examples of the commercial publisher. Mr. Ochs
was a recognized force of international importance."
The New York Times and the Ochs publishing empire remained a
vibrant part of American culture for many years. The paper fought
its way through the depression, union fights, and World War
II to emerge as one of the most recognized in the world.
It created a legacy around Ochs that would make him a legendary
figure in American journalism one that would come to
emphasize community service and journalistic responsibility
to writers and editors throughout the world.
His home state of Tennessee also felt deeply the loss of one
of its most celebrated journalists. Following the establishment
of the Tennessee Press Associations Newspaper Hall of
Fame in 1965, Adolph Ochs was among the first to be inducted.
The Ochs family was among one of the most influential in Tennessee
history. They donated huge sums of money that helped purchase
land at Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge for inclusion into
what would become the Nations first National Military
Battlefield Park, where an observatory is named in honor of
Adolph Ochs. He also donated $500,000 to an organization which
made possible the publication of the first Dictionary of American
Biography. His generous contribution to The Dictionary of American
Biography was one of his most monumental gifts to America. It
not only helped ensure numerous future printings of the publication,
but offered researchers as well as readers the first definitive
source of information on individual contributions to American
culture and society. The New York Times still operates the Neediest
Cases Fund for the citys poor and raises around $2 million
annually in donations from readers.
In addition, Adolph Ochs helped finance the Julius and Bertha
Ochs Memorial Temple in Chattanooga, which was named in honor
of his parents and serves as a synagogue for the Citys
Jewish population. It deserves mention that Julius Ochs was
a leader in establishing and developing Jewish congregations
in East Tennessee. Early Jewish populations in the region saw
steady growth, but many communities lacked the organization
that was needed to establish a place of worship. Most Jewish
families met in homes to conduct religious ceremonies. Julius
Ochs work in establishing the faith in East Tennessee
is well recognized in both the religious history of the state
and synagogue records. Knoxvilles Jewish population has
always been a vibrant part of the Citys culture and history.
They have grown from the one small synagogue organized by Julius
Ochs in the 1870s to four synagogues today.
In Chattanooga, Julius Ochs continued his work as a civic leader
and also helped establish a synagogue for that citys Jewish
Adolph Ochs father-in-law Rabbi Isaac Wise would exert
considerable influence on Adolph Ochs with his philosophy of
Reform Judaism to which Ochs prescribed throughout his
life. Although Ochs often stated it was his Jewish home life
and religion that gave him the ethical ideas and willingness
to excel, he consistently tried to reconcile the ancient traditions
of his faith with the contemporary values of the days in which
he lived believing that Judaism was a religion and did
not belong to any particular race of people.
While there have been numerous documented fights for control
of the New York Times, the organization still remains one of
the last family-owned news operations in America. The New York
Times is published today by Ochs great-grandson Arthur
Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. and is still regarded as the American standard
in journalism and exerts considerable influence in political
and foreign affairs.
The New York Times Company posts $2.9 Billion in annual revenues
and employs more than 13,000 people. They own numerous newspapers
throughout America, including The Boston Globe, the Chattanooga
Daily Times and also an eight station television network and
two major market radio stations.