What’s Up at the New York Times?

The sud­den oust­ing of its first woman ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor leaves many ques­tions unan­swered, in­clud­ing about pay par­ity

The Economic Times - - Q -

The New York Times abruptly re­placed its first fe­male ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor, Jill Abram­son, on Wed­nes­day and named man­ag­ing edi­tor Dean Ba­quet as the first African Amer­i­can in the top ed­i­to­rial post. Abram­son’s de­par­ture was an­nounced by the US daily’s pub­lisher Arthur Sulzberger, and the paper’s own re­port said: “The rea­sons for the switch were not im­me­di­ately clear.” The sud­den de­par­ture left many ques­tions unan­swered both in­side and out­side one of US’s most pres­ti­gious news or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Lower Pay? Pushy?

The New Yorker cited un­named sources as say­ing that Abram­son quit af­ter a con­fronta­tion over her pay, said to be lower than Bill Keller, her pre­de­ces­sor as ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor and pre­vi­ously man­ag­ing edi­tor. “She con­fronted top brass,” the mag­a­zine cited a close as­so­ciate as say­ing, adding that this may have fed into the man­age­ment’s nar­ra­tive that Abram­son was “pushy.” The re­port was backed by NPR me­dia cor­re­spon­dent David Folken­flik, who said he had con­firmed Abram­son “did in­deed chal­lenge cor­po­rate brass over what she saw as un­equal pay” and that NYT staff won­dered if gen­der had a role in her ouster.

But the NYT dis­puted that ac­count. “From the start, Jill’s com­pen­sa­tion as ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor was di­rectly com­pa­ra­ble to Bill Keller’s com­pen­sa­tion as ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor,” spokes­woman Eileen Mur­phy told AFP. “To­day’s change in lead­er­ship was a re­sult of Arthur Sulzberger’s con­cern about as­pects of news­room man­age­ment.” North­east­ern Univer­sity jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sor Dan Kennedy said the de­par­ture ap­peared ir­reg­u­lar. “This was def­i­nitely not a nor­mal change,” Kennedy told AFP. “Abram­son did not ad­dress the staff and was all but hus­tled out of the build­ing. The ex­pla­na­tion that Arthur Sulzberger of­fered about news­room man­age­ment seems com­pletely in­ad­e­quate.” Dan Gillmor, a jour­nal­ism fac­ulty mem­ber at the Ari­zona State Univer­sity, also ex­pressed scep­ti­cism. “If a top exec in any other in­dus­try left un­der mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances, @NY­Times would launch a team of re­porters to find out why,” he tweeted. Alan Mut­ter, a for­mer news­pa­per edi­tor who is now a con­sul­tant, said of the abrupt change: “We don’t know if she jumped or was pushed but the mea­gre in­for­ma­tion avail­able sug­gests the lat­ter.” Mut­ter added that the ouster “sug­gests a dis­sat­is­fac­tion with ei­ther her style and/or per­for­mance as a man­ager — and prob­a­bly does not re­flect a re­ac­tion to the on­go­ing sec­u­lar chal­lenges fac­ing news­pa­pers in gen­eral and the NYT in par­tic­u­lar.”

Abram­son was ap­pointed to head the 160-year-old paper in 2011, and led it in a pe­riod dur­ing which it was seen as hav­ing weath­ered the tran­si­tion to dig­i­tal bet­ter than many com­peti­tors.

“We suc­cess­fully blazed trails on the dig­i­tal fron­tier and we have come so far in in­vent­ing new forms of sto­ry­telling,” she said in a state­ment from the paper con­firm­ing her re­place­ment. “Our mast­head be­came half fe­male for the first time and so many great women hold im­por­tant news­room po­si­tions.”

Be­fore tak­ing the top job, the now 60-year-old jour­nal­ist had been an in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter for the ri­val Wall Street Jour­nal and then the head of the New York Times’ Wash­ing­ton bureau from 1997.

She ac­knowl­edged in an in­ter­view last month that she had four tat­toos in­clud­ing a “T” rep­re­sent­ing the NYT.

Last year, The New York Times boasted the largest daily and Sun­day circulation of any sev­en­day news­pa­per in the US, with a week­day circulation of 1,926,800 print and on­line ver­sions. Ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s 2013 an­nual state­ment, it had an an­nual turnover of $1.57 bil­lion. But like many dailies, the “grey lady” of US jour­nal­ism has strug­gled with the move away from print.

The NYT has been hit by de­clin­ing print sales and ad­ver­tis­ing, and said last year it takes in more rev­enue from read­ers than from ad­ver­tis­ing, in a ma­jor shift.

The com­pany also sold off The Bos­ton Globe and other re­gional news­pa­pers to fo­cus on its core op­er­a­tions, and also di­vested other as­sets, in­clud­ing its stake in an on­line em­ploy­ment web­site.

The com­pany brought in for­mer BBC chief Mark Thomp­son, who be­came pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive at the NYT in 2012, as part of its ef­fort to man­age a dig­i­tal tran­si­tion.

In a memo to staff, Sulzberger said the change comes “at a time when the news­room is about to em­bark on a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fort to tran­si­tion more fully to a dig­i­tal­first re­al­ity.” AFP

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