Modern journalism’s 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 I’ll furnish the war."
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 day’s standards.
The couple struggled at first in Knoxville. Julius Ochs found work as a tutor and moonlighted as a shoe-maker, while his wife taught embroidery.
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 the offense.
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 city’s 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 Knoxville’s growing Jewish population. This was a role he excelled in and enabled him to interest the congregation to construct Knoxville’s 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 printer’s apprentice. At age 13, he moved briefly to Providence, RI where he attended night school and worked as a grocer’s 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 journalism.
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 times.
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 – America’s first Jewish theological school. Although he was concerned about his daughter’s marriage to an "obscure printer," the two were married in 1884.
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 nation’s 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 couldn’t 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, pure-minded people."
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 That’s 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 massive circulation.
The paper soon began dominating in the city and quickly became one of America’s 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 America’s 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 father’s 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 city’s 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 under him.
On April 8, 1935, while visiting Chattanooga, Adolph Ochs passed away. At the time of his death, Ochs had more than superseded his original investor’s 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 Association’s 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 Nation’s 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 city’s 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 City’s 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. Knoxville’s Jewish population has always been a vibrant part of the City’s 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 city’s Jewish population.
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.