To publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, a 51-year-old heir to the fame and traditions bound up in his middle and last names he's turning out every day here "The NEW New York Times."

To Robert B. Semple Jr., former White House and London correspondent and now the foreign editor, it's still the "old" New York Times in the best sense of that image - complete, accurate, on top of major trends. That view is shared by editorial leaders of The Times under executives editor A. M. Rosenthal, who are somewhat chagrined by the promotion people's emphasis on a "new" newspaper.

To James Reston, reporter, editor or company executive of The Times since 1939 and co-publisher of the Vineyard, Mass, Gazette. "It goes against my original concept of what The Times ought to be, but I think papers have to change as time goes on and the interests of their readers change".

What these journalists and not a few readers are talking about are obvious changes in news emphasis and graphic design. In recent months, The New York Times has been transformed into a consumer product much more relevant to the daily lives and needs of human beings living in metropolitan New York and specifically those who are more affluent.

Moreover, the more lively (some say it's also less complete) Times is just one symbol of new vitality in New York journalism.

The Daily News, owned by Tribune Co. Of Chicago and the nation's largest circulation paper (1.9 million a day) has added Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin, generally beefed up its editorial staff and begun a weekly entertainment section obviously to compete with expansions at The Times and with a rejuvinated afternoon Post.

The New York Post, under Australian Press conglomerateur Rupert Murdoch, gave gossip a full tabloid page and says it is demonstrating "that a newspaper can be entertaining without being irrelevant." Murdoch purchased The Post last November and when the Long Island Press ceased publication on March 25. The Post added a Queens edition and picked up some Press circulation - a gain of 122,000 to more than 600,000 a day in May.

The Trib, a tabioid "new voice for greater New York", is scheduled to begin daily publication later this year. Headed by Leonard Saffir, the Trib said in a pilot issue of June 27 that it will be "accurate, readable, lively, balanced and intelligent."

Splashy headlings and photographs are staples of these three tabloids and they now adorn many pages of The Times too. Also at The Times, new sections have been added - Weekend, a Friday guide to entertainment and recreation, started in April 1976: Living, on Wednesday, featuring cultural and gourmet news, plus grocery ads: and Home, on Thursday, with articles on personal finance, interior design and such articles as "Singles Ileed Call of Home-Owning."

Times editorials, under new editorial page editor Max Frankel, also have become more lively and controversial. After the recent blackout and looting spree, for example, a lead editorial castigated President Carter for his response to the Consolidated Edison failure - which was the demand for a report from the Federal Power Commission.

"A President does not worry about generator nuts and bolts when the social fabric of the nation's largest city is exposed as inflammable . . . Nor does he need yet another commission to discover that half the black and Ilispanic youths in his major cities are out of work and out of hope and out of mainstream America," The Times said.In an unusually bitter and emotional tone, it went on.

"A President who knows what he does not know about urban Amercia would seize on such dramatic opportunities as the New York looting to inform himself and to rouse a nation . . . And he would find ways to lead the nation's to take up the burdens that it has unintentionally dumped upon New York and Newark, Detroit, St. Louis and Los Angeles."

The Times has expanded its financial news coverage, changed its "gray lady" format to six columns from the traditional eight and added supplemental sections for readers in various suburban regions of this sprawling community - an area that includes Long Island and other counties in New York, parts of New Jersey and Connecticut and the five boroughs of New York City, with a population of 12 million in its immediate area and some 17 million when the exurban areas are counted.

It's the population statistics that tell the real story of why the promotional people at The Times are trying to sell a "new" newspaper and why management of the paper is investing its soul and money in new sections and very specific, personal reporting for residents of the New York area.

Despite the huge population base here, The Times recently has been selling only 866,904 copies on weekdays (up from 841,476 a year ago, but below 875,700 in 1974). Of the total, 39 per cent are sold in the City, 36 per cent in the suburbs and 25 per cent across the nation.

On Sundays, The Times has a circulation of 1,479,862 - 31 per cent in the city, 35 per cent in the suburbs, and 34 per cent elsewhere.

A fact about The New York Times is that for too long it rested on its earned reputation for being the greatest daily product ever produced by the journalism profession.

The Times printed more of the news "fit to print" than any other paper in the world. It provided complete texts and exhaustive coverage from all important world capitals. But it became less and less relevant to everyday concerns of residents in Bergen County, N.J., on Long Island, and in Westchester County, N.Y., the suburbs where area population growth occurred in the decades after World War II.

Thus, prosperous and good daily newspapers filled the vacuum, papers like Newsday on the Island and the Record in New Jersey.

By serving up a daily platter of reporting and commentary that the nation's intelligentsia and political leadership found to be "must" reading. The Times did gain a significant proportion of readership outside its own metropolitan area - more so than any other U.S general circulation paper.

In the newspaper industry, however, being a national newspaper on reputation and fact (The Times is sold on newsstands across the county) is not enough. The key to survival is advertising, with most newspapers taking in $10 of ad revenues for every $4 from subscriptions or newsstand sales; The Times, in 1976, reported $219 million of ad revenues and $66 million from circulation.

To attract advertisers, newspapers must show data on the readers they attract - how many, where they live, how much money they have to spend. And, again, it is local advertising that dominates most daily papers - accounting for $7 out of every $8 spent on newspaper advertising.

Many people had sensed a decline in the economic fortunes of The Times, which came about partly because of negligence about reporting local news and also from catering to a local audience where newsstand sales were the key element of circulation, compared with home delivery at most successful papers. But nobody really acted until Sulzberger realized what was happening.

"Punch" Sulzberger became chief executive at The Times in 1963 and took few steps to curb the paper's decline in his first years at the top. But after circulation plummeted in the early 1970s (from more than 900,000 in 1970 to under 830,000 in 1975), advertising volume also began to fall and the company's stock price was battered.

As it became obvious that other business enterprises of The Times company were subsidizing the great newspaper, Sulzberger changed business and editorial management, began building a suburban printing plant in New Jersey, got tough with labor unions and generally breathed new life into the company - including acquisitions and the startup of new ventures, such as Us Magazine, an imitative bow to Time, Inc.s suceessful People.

Sulzberger emphasized that The Times is not seeking a truly mass readership in the nation's largest metropolis. What the newpaper's new sections are aimed at are readers who are "educated, reasonably affluent people, who are concerned . . . We're principally a New York area paper with wide national readership but we edit for our region", the publisher said.

He said the paper planned no campaign to attract lower income readers within the city itself, however, Sulzberger said reduced readership among relatively poor city residents could be traced to "lousy schools" and said changes are needed in the education system to alter that pattern.

The publisher of The Times gives every impression that he is engaged in a struggle to keep his newspaper in the top ranks of American journalism.

Sulzberger greets visitors personally outside the office and appears to relish the endless series of interviews requested of the publisher at The Times. He is informal, without a jacket, but wears a correct, blue striped shirt.

Later, in an elevator ride down from his office to the third floor, which houses a newsroom that Sulzberger said is about to be remodeled, the publisher called the Times news floor "the soul" of his company. He said he wants to keep it that way and hopes his own heirs will retain family control of the paper.

For the immediate future, Sulzberger added, attention to rejuvinating The Times itself has put dreams of a national edition - one that could be printed in other cities and distributed locally every day, similar to The Wall Street Journal - on "the back burner".

The company has been experimenting with building however, and there are cific markets, however, and there are reports within the newspaper industry that The Times would like to expand its business and financial coverage as the key element in a projected national paper, to provide some competition to the Journal.

"Right now, there are no thoughts of going national in shape, but new technology will permit papers that want to, to do so and some will move out into that area," the publisher said.

He expressed doubt that a national general circulation daily could "win away" readers from "good local papers . . . you've got to buy the local paper unless it's so awful". In any event, Sulzberger emphasized, his newspaper's strength as a consumer product will continue to rest on its strong diet of national, foreign and business news and the "finest cultural report in the country.

Throuh the first half of 1977, Times management appears on the righ track. Profits of the overall company and the newspaper have been increasing along with advertising business and circulation. The firm is saving $1 million a year by printing its Sunday book review in the New Jersey plant instead of by outside contract.

In future years, officers state, The Times newspaper will contribute 35-40 per cent of overall annual earnings for the company. At the same time, the company is seeking magazines and newspapers to buy. Management hopes Times circulation will increase at a rate of 2 per cent a year.

Expectations of future economic health come on the heels of a strong improvement last year, when profits rose to $22.3 million ($1.97 a share) from $12.8 million ($1.15) in 1975. Revenues rose 14 per cent to $446 million.

Overall. the Times Co. has 6,600 employees, about 4,900 of whom work for the New York newspaper; the news report of The Times is prepared by about 475 reporters, editors and photographers, 375 of them based here. Throughout the U.S., the paper has 60 full-time reporter, more than any other general daily, with 35 based in the Washington bureau. The Times also has more than 30 foreign correspondents working out of 22 cities.

The Times has joined the technological revolution reshaping American newsrooms and is the largest daily utilizing offset printing. Virtually all classified and display advertising is photocomposed and by the end of last year, a third of all news copy was being processed through computers with the goal being phototypsetting for all news copy.

By next year, up to 300 Harris Corp, video terminals will be used by Times reporters and editors to compose the newspaper. Typewriters will be replaced and the old newsroom here modernized; reporters will be organized into small groups around several several terminals, replacing the long lineups of desks that have been traditional.

In addition to the newspaper here, the company owns six daily and four weekly newspapers in Florida and three dailies in North Carolina; a batch of consumer magazines including Family Cicle, Golf Digest, Tennis and Us; WREG-TV in Memphis and WQXR AM-FM here; book publishers; The New York Times News Service, which sells reports of the newspaper to more than 420 U.S. publications and subsribers in 53 foreign countries; a one-third interest in the International Herald Tribune of Paris; Microfilming Corp. of America; substantial equity interests in Canadian newsprint companies and a computerized information retrieval system based on contents of The Times and some 70 other publications.