The New York Times abruptly replaced its executive editor, Jill Abramson, on Wednesday, ending what had been a sometimes stormy 32-month tenure by the first woman to lead the prestigious newspaper in its 163-year history.
The Times said Abramson will be succeeded by her top deputy, Dean Baquet, the managing editor.
Abramson, who worked in Washington for the Wall Street Journal and later was the Times’ Washington bureau chief, apparently was fired by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of the New York Times Co. and publisher of the paper.
In remarks to the newspaper’s journalists disclosing the management change, Sulzberger never explicitly said Abramson, 60, had been terminated. But he made no effort to suggest that she was leaving of her own accord. He said he chose “to appoint a new leader for our newsroom because I believe that new leadership will improve some aspects of the management of the newsroom.”
He added, “You will understand that there is nothing more I am going to say about this, but I want to assure all of you that there is nothing more at issue here.”
In its coverage of the change, the Times said that Abramson had been “dismissed.” She did not appear at the newsroom meeting at which her departure was announced. The Times said she and Baquet weren’t giving interviews.
Baquet, 57, a former editor of the Los Angeles Times, will be the first African American executive editor of the Times. In a news release, he said, “It is an honor to be asked to lead the only newsroom in the country that is actually better than it was a generation ago, one that approaches the world with wonder and ambition every day.”
Abramson and Baquet had reportedly clashed over the newspaper’s daily direction and management. Some at the Times have been privately critical of Abramson’s management style, which they regarded as aloof, and her personnel appointments, which favored younger journalists over more experienced Times veterans.
People at the paper said Abramson and Sulzberger had clashed recently, too, but it was unclear what their differences were. Another factor, they said, was Abramson’s souring relationship with Mark Thompson, the chief executive of the New York Times Co. and a former journalist at the BBC whom Sulzberger recruited to the company in 2012.
The relationship with Thompson got off to a rocky start, said a former Times executive, when the newspaper pursued allegations of widespread sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile, a longtime BBC TV presenter who died in 2011. The executive spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to alienate former colleagues.
Thompson headed the BBC when the allegations came to light. A point of particular friction was when the Times published an article in November 2012 that raised questions about whether Thompson had been truthful about when he learned of the allegations.
According to the former Times executive, Sulzberger also was dismayed when Abramson didn’t initially head to the newsroom after Hurricane Sandy hit the New York metropolitan area in October 2012. Her absence gave the impression that she wasn’t sufficiently engaged in the day-to-day management of a major story, and this was intensified by Abramson’s absences to attend conferences and speaking engagements, the executive said.
There were also clashes with Thompson over his emphasis on increasing the Times’ digital video offerings and hiring of more digital editors. Abramson felt that this diverted resources from more basic coverage of major stories, the executive said.
Despite the internal turbulence, the decision to replace Abramson shocked many at the Times and elsewhere. “Everyone gob-smacked in NYT newsroom over Jill Abramson leaving and Dean Baquet taking over,” tweeted Times arts reporter Patricia Cohen not long after the news broke.
The newspaper has rarely replaced its top editor before retirement — Abramson’s immediate predecessor, Bill Keller, held the job for eight years — and Abramson was young enough to have served nearly a decade in the position before the mandatory retirement age of 65. What’s more, her status as the first woman to hold the job gave her a special distinction.
She is the second Times editor since 2003 to leave the job prematurely. The first was Howell Raines, who resigned that year amid a scandal involving plagiarism and concocted stories by a Times reporter, Jayson Blair.
Sulzberger had chosen Raines over Keller, who replaced Raines. He also chose Abramson over Baquet, who is now replacing Abramson.
The New Yorker reported Wednesday that Sulzberger and Abramson were at odds recently after Abramson asserted that her pay and pension benefits were less than Keller’s had been in identical roles. The Times disputed this account and said that Abramson’s salary was “directly comparable” to Keller’s.
In a statement released by the Times, Abramson said, “I’ve loved my run at The Times. I got to work with the best journalists in the world doing so much stand-up journalism.” She noted that her appointment of many senior female editors was one of her achievements.
The news about Abramson appeared to cause a brief dip in the price of New York Times Co. shares, but the stock recovered somewhat thereafter. It finished the day at $15.06 per share, down 71 cents, or 4.5 percent.
Baquet, a popular figure in the Times newsroom, was the paper’s Washington bureau chief before becoming managing editor in 2011. He was also managing editor and editor of the Los Angeles Times. He won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting at the Chicago Tribune in 1988.
Abramson was so loyal to the Times, which she joined in 1997, that she had a “T” tattooed on her back. She also has a tattoo of a subway token and an “H” to represent her alma mater, Harvard, and her husband, Henry, she said in an interview with Out magazine last month. She told the magazine that the letters represent “the two institutions that I revere, that have shaped me” and that they will “tell the story of me, of where I lived, and what things have been important to me.”
Abramson is scheduled to give the commencement address at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Monday. There has been no change in those plans as of Wednesday, despite her departure from the paper, the school said.