‘New York Times’ left reeling after editor fired

Jill Abramson’s dismissal after three years in exalted position unexpected and abrupt

 Jill Abramson with her successor Dean Baquet, left, and outgoing executive editor Bill Keller after Keller announced Abramson would succeed him and Baquet would become managing editor of the New York Times on June 2nd, 2011. Photograph: The New York Times

Jill Abramson with her successor Dean Baquet, left, and outgoing executive editor Bill Keller after Keller announced Abramson would succeed him and Baquet would become managing editor of the New York Times on June 2nd, 2011. Photograph: The New York Times


The most august newspaper in the US, the New York Times, was left reeling on Wednesday after its executive editor, Jill Abramson, was fired and replaced by her deputy less than three years into one of the most exalted jobs in journalism.

In a move that caught even the most senior staff at the paper unawares, Arthur Sulzberger jnr, publisher and chairman of the New York Times Company, announced that Abramson would be replaced immediately by Dean Baquet, the paper’s managing editor. He is the first African American to hold the job, although that milestone is likely to be overshadowed by the sudden dismissal of the paper’s first female top editor in its 162-year history.

When she took the job in September 2011, Abramson (60) said it was “meaningful” that a woman had been appointed to run the newsroom of such an influential organisation, and her removal is now certain to be perceived as an example of the “glass cliff” facing women in high journalistic office.

In a brief statement released by the New York Times, Abramson pointedly commented that under her watch “our masthead became half female for the first time and so many great women hold important newsroom positions”.

Abramson’s exit was unexpected and almost brutally abrupt. She left without addressing the newsroom, was taken off the paper’s masthead within a few minutes of staff being informed of the change, and reports suggested she will no longer work for the newspaper.

As news dripped out about the lead-up to her firing, speculation about the reasons behind Sulzberger’s decision began to focus on her recent attempts to hire Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief of Guardian US, to act as managing editor of the Times alongside Baquet. The Times reported that the move to woo Gibson had escalated the conflict between Abramson and her deputy.

Unequal pay
The Times also on Wednesday night appeared to be heading head-first into a potentially damaging furore over unequal pay of senior women on its staff. Both Ken Auletta of the New Yorker and NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik had reported that Abramson had confronted the “top brass” after she discovered she was paid much less than her predecessor, Bill Keller.

According to Auletta, “this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was ‘pushy’, a characterisation that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect”.

The sense Sulzberger faces a potential gender backlash was heightened by a report in Capital New York that said two senior Times journalists had spoken out at the newsroom meeting in which Abramson’s sacking was announced, saying the dismissal would be taken negatively by female staff members.

Sulzberger addressed the newsroom just after 2.30pm on Wednesday. According to sources, he told staff he had elevated Baquet to the top job in an effort to improve management.

Newsroom support
A Politico article published in April 2013 had described Abramson as “on the verge of losing the support of the newsroom”. It reported tensions with Baquet and Mark Thompson, the former director-general of the BBC who is now chief executive of the New York Times Company. It detailed a disagreement with Baquet in which she criticised his “boring” news judgment and he replied by storming out of her office and slamming his hand against a wall. Abramson later criticised the Politico piece as “ad feminem” attack. Citing the story’s reliance on anonymous sources, she called it “shoddy”.

“This story seemed to revolve around this silly fight that Dean Baquet the managing editor of the Times and I had had one day, but like who doesn’t occasionally have you know, spats with co-workers, and you know this one blew over in less than a day as most do,” she said.

Reports also suggested that relations between Abramson and Thompson were strained. Thompson raised eyebrows by extending his remit into areas traditionally considered the preserve of the executive editor.

In his statement announcing the convulsive changes, Sulzberger emphasised that the paper’s search for a digital future was a top priority. The new leadership had been brought in “at a time when the newsroom is about to embark on a significant effort to transition more fully to a digital-first reality”.

Abramson has long had a reputation for abrasiveness. She also earned herself enemies by leveraging the departure of about 30 editors and writers. But she had strong supporters, and could point to journalistic successes including eight Pulitzer awards in her three years in office. – (Guardian service)

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