What the Jill Abramson Firing says to Young Female Journalists

Jill Abramson, former executive editor at the New York Times walks in with faculty and staff during commencement ceremonies for Wake Forest University on May 19 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Abramson delivered the commencement address at the university, her first public remarks since she was abruptly fired from her position. (Chris Keane, Getty Images)
Jill Abramson, former executive editor at the New York Times walks in with faculty and staff during commencement ceremonies for Wake Forest University on May 19 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Abramson delivered the commencement address at the university, her first public remarks since she was abruptly fired from her position. (Chris Keane, Getty Images)

On May 14, 2014, The New York Times abruptly fired Executive Editor Jill Abramson, the first woman to ever hold the position.

Within minutes, reports pointed to a variety of possible explanations for her swift and dramatic departure.

Most of these theories delved into Abramson’s complaints over being paid a smaller salary than that of her predecessor Bill Keller’s, as well as several male members of the editorial staff.

Others argued that her management style was questionable, with several sources referring to her as “pushy,” “dishonest,” and “unlikable.”

Which raises an common question: Was Abramson’s firing due to issues with her work, or is it an old-fashioned tale of sexism in a male-dominated industry?

The stats behind sexism in journalism

The concept of sexism in journalism isn’t a new one. According to the 2014 Status of Women in US Media Report, the total number of female staffers in newsrooms is around 36%, a number that hasn’t changed since 1999. Specific areas, such as sports, are even worse for women, with only 1% of the top 183 radio sports hosts being female.

Women aren’t just underrepresented in terms of reporting. Media sources, specifically newspapers, use fewer female sources as well.

A 2013 study conducted by the University of Nevada calculated the sources quoted in 2,411 front-page New York Times articles and found that only 19% of the quotes were from women.

A study by The 4th Estate found that even in the realm of women’s rights, 52% of quotes come from males, while only 31% come from females.

Was Abramson a victim of sexism?

Statistics aside, female college journalists have differing opinions on whether or not sexism in the newsroom was the reason behind Abramson’s dismissal.

Clarissa Fidler, a graduating master’s candidate at DePaul University, does not think that Abramson’s firing was due to gender prejudice.

“While I do not think sexism was the reason [New York Times Publisher Arthur] Sulzberger chose to fire Abramson, I do think the situation could have been handled better,” she says. “The reasons for Abramson’s dismissal were unclear, which caused a lot of speculation to occur in the initial reporting of the story.”

However, Fidler believes that being a woman did put Abramson at a disadvantage.

“I think this scenario would have played out differently had Abramson been a man. Women in high profile leadership roles face different challenges than men, no matter their competency or personality.”

Melissa Prax, a rising senior at Ohio State University, thinks that there are still many unanswered questions about the firing.

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Source: USA Today | 

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