John D. Pomfret, who was instrumental in the mid-1970s executive officer of the New York Times in efforts to modernize the newspaper’s format, increase advertising revenue, and improve productivity through the advent of computer technology, died Jan. February at his home in Seattle. He was 93 years old.
The cause was pneumonia, said his son John E. Pomfret II.
Mr. Pomfret was one of half a dozen editors and businesspeople who, under then-publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, revitalized the company during a financially precarious period by creating a number of standalone weekly sections – on food and home design, science, and weekend entertainment – that was with readers and advertisers alike. The Times also introduced regional sections on Sunday, adding to the appeal of the newspaper to suburbanites in metropolitan New York.
Until then, the paper consisted of only two sections, each with many pages.
Mr. Pomfret was the last surviving member of the management team that led the transformation starting with the Friday weekend that debuted in April 1976. Others included Walter E. Mattson, the general manager; Louis Silverstein, the corporate art director; and the editors AM Rosenthal, Arthur Gelb and Seymour Topping.
“Our penetration of the market segment of which we believe our target group is thin in the city and worse in the suburbs,” said Mr. Pomfret to Mr. Sulzberger according to “The Paper’s Papers”, Richard F. Shepard’s 1996 book Die Zeiten. He initially proposed creating the weekend section and made tentative suggestions for the topics of four other weekday sections, each to be published weekly.
“Working as a team,” wrote Mr. Topping, who died in November, in a memoir, “we have converted the daily newspaper into a newspaper with four sections.”
Mr. Pomfret, who had learned to type by hand as the advertising manager of his college newspaper, led the Times’ labor-saving transition from typewriters and hot-lead Linotype machines to computer word processing and electronic typesetting. The move resulted from a groundbreaking 11-year trade union agreement that guaranteed 800 printers to continue working until they retired and their jobs disappeared with wear and tear.
Mr. Pomfret had taken an unorthodox route to join the business side of the Times: he got there through the newsroom. He was a reporter for the Times Washington office, covering the White House, the Supreme Court, civil rights and labor from 1962.
During the ongoing strike against New York’s newspapers in 1965, he happened to speak to Mr. Sulzberger, known as Punch, when Mr. Pomfret stated that he believed the Times Company’s labor relations were counterproductive.
Mr. Pomfret recalled in an unpublished memoir: “About a year after the end of the strike, Punch Sulzberger called me. “Pomfret,” he said. “I want you to come to New York and straighten them out.” When the top man asked you to do something, you either did it or you quit. I wasn’t ready to quit, so the family moved to New York. “
He joined The Times in 1966 as Assistant to the Labor Relations Director. He later served as director of labor relations, assistant publisher, planning coordinator and assistant general manager before being promoted to corporate vice president in 1971 and senior vice president in 1973, general manager of the Times in 1979 and executive vice president of the newspaper in 1981.
He retired in 1988 as General Manager and Executive Vice President.
Recognition…Gene Maggio / The New York Tmes
John Dana Pomfret was born on January 30, 1928 in Princeton, New Jersey, to John E. and Sara (Wise) Pomfret. His father became president of the College of William & Mary in Virginia and later director of the Huntington Library and Art Museum in California. his mother was a housewife.
Mr. Pomfret attended Princeton University, where his father taught history, and joined the campus newspaper as its advertising director. He graduated Magna cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1949 and then earned a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard.
After completing his military service, he met Mr. Sulzberger while both were young reporters for the Milwaukee Journal. Mr. Pomfret got this job because the chairman of the company was a friend of his father’s.
“Today there is a lot of opposition to equal opportunities programs for women and blacks,” Pomfret wrote in his memoir. “I am not one of the opponents because I benefited from an equal opportunity program that existed at the time and still existed for young white men.”
Shortly after returning to The Journal from a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, he joined the Times.
His wife, Margaret Elizabeth (Haas) Pomfret, died in 2016. In addition to his son, a journalist and author, his daughter Dana Katherine Pomfret and three grandchildren survive him.