What people are saying about the firing of New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson

 

In an abrupt change of leadership, the New York Times on Wednesday dismissed executive editor Jill Abramson, the first woman in the position, which she held for more than two years.

Abramson was replaced by managing editor, Dean Baquet, who will be the paper’s first African American executive editor. Times publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., cited “an issue with management in the newsroom” when he made the announcement Wednesday afternoon at a staff meeting. As of Wednesday night, neither Baquet nor Abramson are talking.

Here’s what other people are saying about the firing.

Friction at the top

“Frictions between Sulzberger, 62, and Abramson, 60, had been worsening in recent months, said [several people familiar with the situation], who cited a fundamental clash of personalities,” Bloomberg reported.

“She had taken to giving interviews and appearing on panels without consulting the company, a move that rankled Sulzberger, according to two people,” Bloomberg said, prompting Vox’s Matthew Yglesias to muse: “Seems a little odd that a top editor couldn’t be trusted to make these decisions on her own.”

Abramson also clashed with Baquet. “Mr. Baquet had become angered over a decision by Ms. Abramson to make a job offer to a senior editor from The Guardian, Janine Gibson, and install her alongside him in a co-managing editor position without consulting him. It escalated the conflict between them and rose to the attention of Mr. Sulzberger,” wrote the Times’s David Carr and Ravi Samaiya, citing sources within the company familiar with the matter.

Issues with her management style

“She wanted to stay – this wasn’t a mutual decision,” one employee told the Financial Times. “It was an accumulation of small management disagreements between Arthur and Jill.” Another employee said Abramson could be “brusque and aloof.”

Last year Politico reported that Abramson had become “a source of widespread frustration and anxiety within the Times newsroom,” according to more than a dozen current and former members of the editorial staff, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity. Some described Abramson as stubborn, condescending, and difficult to work with, Politico said.

Clash over digital strategy

Politico also reported last year that Baquet once “slammed his hand against a wall and stormed out of the newsroom” after Abramson complained the paper’s news coverage was not “buzzy enough.”

Abramson is “credited with guiding the organization at a time of deep changes, including the paper’s aggressive shift toward digital journalism and its decision to charge readers for digital content,” USA Today noted.

“She also alienated CEO Mark Thompson, who was pushing a video-heavy strategy for the Times’ digital push, something Abramson feared would be a diversion for the paper,” NPR reported.

“Last week, the [Times] released an internal memo, following a 6-month review of its digital strategy, that called for more urgency in the implementation of its digital goals….Sulzberger noted on Wednesday that Baquet was ‘closely involved’ with the team that produced the memo,” USA Today reported.

Pay disparity?

According to the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta, Abramson discovered a few weeks ago that her pay and pension benefits as executive editor, and before that as managing editor, were significantly lower than what her predecessor Bill Keller, a man, had received. “‘She confronted the top brass,’ one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was ‘pushy,’ a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect,” Auletta wrote. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik confirmed Auletta’s report on Twitter.

“Jill’s total compensation as executive editor was not meaningfully less than Bill Keller’s, so that is just incorrect,” Times spokesman Eileen Murphy wrote in an e-mail to Business Insider. “Her pension benefit, like all Times employees, is based on her years of service and compensation. The pension benefit was frozen in 2009.”

Gender

“Her firing is freighted with outsized meaning, precisely because there are still so few women and people of color occupying positions that were once the exclusive domain of white men,” wrote Rebecca Traister of the New Republic.

“It’ll be some time before we know the full story behind Jill Abramson’s ouster at the New York Times — if we ever really do. But from what we do know, her whole career at the Times tracks why it sucks to be a woman leader in America today,” wrote Danielle Kurtzleben of Vox.

“In the shadow of Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ and other articles and commentaries on the challenges of being a female leader, there will be speculation on whether or how much her leaving is tinged with sexism and a different set of expectations,” The Washington Post’s Mary C. Curtis predicted.

“What’s more telling – and disturbing – is reports that emerged even before the firing, of Abramson’s ‘pushy’ personality. … Women continue to work in a world where they are expected to be demure and agreeable. Sulzberger Jr., for example, has been lauded for his tough and diligent stewardship of the Times, but the word ‘pushy’ has never appeared next to his name,” wrote Forbes contributor Ruchika Tulshyan.

Times national editor Alison Mitchell suggested to Capital New York that Abramson’s firing “wouldn’t sit well with a broad swath of female Times journalists who saw her as a role model.”

“Yet the depression I feel about her ugly departure stems from a larger sense of futility regarding what many refer to as ‘the glass cliff.’ It’s a description of an increasingly common circumstance: what happens when people who’ve long been sidelined from power finally get a chance at prominent jobs, but only when the power and possibility of those positions has eroded. See also: Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer, evening news anchors; Mary Barra CEO of GM; and Barack Obama, president of the United States. Oh, and: Dean Baquet, the new executive editor of The New York Times,” wrote Rebecca Traister of the New Republic.

“If it’s true that Sulzberger and others were perturbed by Abramson’s ‘aggressive’ style, their dynamic is representative of a series of findings from management psychology which show that female leaders are disproportionately disliked for behaving forcefully … female leaders are liked best when they lead their organizations not unlike one would lead a casual weekend drum circle — cheerily deferring to others and giving everyone a chance. Meanwhile, they’re resented to a greater degree than their male counterparts when behaving authoritatively. And Abramson, by all accounts, was nothing if not authoritative,” observed the Atlantic’s Olga Khazan.

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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