On Wednesday, Jill Abramson was suddenly ousted from the editorship of The New York Times. Rumors swirl that pay equity or her management style are to blame. As yet, she’s not saying.
On Tuesday, Jill Abramson was executive editor of The New York Times, 33 months into her tenure as the first woman to run the Times newsroom in the paper’s 161-year history.
Less than a day later, Abramson, 60, is no longer even an employee of the Times, having been fired with little warning by Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. for reasons he vaguely described as an effort to “improve some aspects of the management of the newsroom.”
In remarks at the Times’s Midtown Manhattan headquarters to hundreds of shocked editors, reporters and other employees, including Times Co. chief executive Mark Thompson—but not Abramson—Sulzberger named managing editor Dean Baquet, 57, as her successor, effective immediately.
Baquet’s appointment is at least as historic as Abramson’s was: He is the first African American to serve as top editor of the nation’s most influential news outlet.
“The mood overall seemed like shock, really. I think we were all kind of blindsided,” said a Times insider who attended Sulzberger’s surprise announcement, adding that people inside the paper were asking the same questions as those outside: Why? and Why now?
Abramson—who didn’t return a phone call seeking comment–clearly intended to hold the job for another five years, until she reached the mandatory retirement age of 65. “They’re gonna have to take me out feet first,” she told this reporter for a Newsweek magazine profile, “or chop off my head.”
It seems the latter has occurred. Thus a corporate guillotine ended a stellar career at the Times, which Abramson joined in 1997, serving as Washington bureau chief and managing editor after two decades at such publications as Time magazine, The American Lawyer, and The Wall Street Journal.
Apparently Abramson had no reason to believe her job was in jeopardy until this past weekend, when Sulzberger began talking to her about making a change.
Only nine months ago, Sulzberger invited Newsweek to breakfast with chief executive Thompson in order to show conspicuous support for Abramson, who had been the subject of a negative story in Politico that asserted that her editorship was already a failure, and that her abrasive manner had alienated so many Times employees that she was “on the verge of losing the support of the newsroom.”
Insisting that Abramson was an editor who “has got leadership” in her portfolio of talents, Sulzberger declared then: “Let’s agree that all of us are human, and all of us have our faults and our flaws. And when you’re looking for someone to be a leader, one of the things you’re looking for is self-awareness. Not to suggest you’re looking for perfection, because you’re not going to find that, but for someone who says, ‘Well, yeah, I can be that way; I’m focused on it; I recognize it.’ ”
Sulzberger–who is chairman of The New York Times Co. and who, with members of his family, controls the public company through a special class of voting shares—claimed Abramson possessed the necessary self-awareness. Whether her leadership style was a factor in her dismissal was unclear Wednesday. But Ken Auletta, The New Yorker’s well-sourced media correspondent, offered an additional reason in a blog on Wednesday: money.
According to Auletta, Abramson recently pressed Sulzberger for a more generous compensation package on discovering that her pay and pension benefits fell far short of those awarded to her male predecessor, Bill Keller. For Sulzberger, whose newspaper has suffered from the same financial stresses as the journalism business as a whole, Abramson’s request was apparently too much to bear.
While one of Auletta’s sources claimed Abramson’s pay was ultimately adjusted to Keller’s level, she also learned, Auletta wrote, quoting one of Abramson’s associates, “‘that a former deputy managing editor’—a man—‘made more money than she did’ while she was managing editor. She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off”—“them” meaning Sulzberger and Thompson, a British media executive who arrived at The Times Co. 18 months ago from his perch running the BBC.
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SOURCE: The Daily Beast