Jill Abramson fired as executive editor at New York Times

It doesn’t get much more dramatic than the publisher marching into the newsroom and telling the assembled journalists that their boss for the last few years is being replaced:

“I 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 said. “You will understand that there is nothing more that I want to say about this. We had an issue with management in the newsroom. And that’s what’s at the heart of this issue.”

Jill Abramson, the first woman to lead the journalism of the Gray Lady was dumped, and she and her boss, Pinch Sulzberger, made no effort at all to pretend that her departure was voluntary.   

“I’ve loved my run at The Times,” she said in a statement. “I got to work with the best journalists in the world doing so much stand-up journalism,” she added, noting her appointment of many senior female editors as one of her achievements.

In ordinary circumstances, the firing of a “historic first” woman leader, especially one known to be as abrasive as Abramson, would lead to a feminist outburst of protest, claiming that women are derided as pushy when they are merely being as forceful as a m ale would be. We’ll see if such a protest develops.

Sulzberger may have bought himself a little immunity by appointing Dean Baquet, the paper’s managing editor, as Abramson’s replacement. Baquet will become the paper’s first African-American executive editor.

Writing in The New Yorker, Ken Auletta offers some further perspective:

Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “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. Sulzberger is known to believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, has had to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson had also been at the Times for many fewer years than Keller, having spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, accounting for some of the pension disparity. (I was also told by another friend of hers that the pay gap with Keller has since been closed.) But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy.

There were also policy issues between Sulzberger and Abramson:

She had already clashed with the company’s C.E.O., Mark Thompson, over native advertising and the perceived intrusion of the business side into the newsroom. Publicly, Thompson and Abramson denied that there was any tension between them, as Sulzberger today declared that there was no church-state—that is, business-editorial—conflict at the Times. A politician who made such implausible claims might merit a front-page story in the Times.

A third issue surfaced, too: Abramson was pushing to hire a deputy managing editor to oversee the digital side of the Times. She believed that she had the support of Sulzberger and Thompson to recruit this deputy, and her supporters say that the plan was for the person in this position to report to Baquet. Baquet is a popular and respected figure in the newsroom, and he had appeared to get along with Abramson. He is also someone whom Sulzberger passed over when he chose Abramson. But Baquet apparently felt that he hadn’t been consulted, and, according to two sources, expressed his concerns to Sulzberger. (Baquet has not yet responded to a request for comment; neither has Abramson.)

Left unmentioned by Auletta (who refers to charges of the Times’ bias by putting the word liberal in scare quotes) is Abramson’s outspoken criticism of the Obama administration’s secretiveness, something that the administration must have detested, coming from a normal ally.

My prediction is that the usual suspects who criticize slights to powerful women will mostly bite their tongues. The Times is perceived as an important ally, after all, and who wants to make it an enemy?

Abramson, on the other hand, may well end up speaking her mind, that is unless she gets a golden handshake premised on keeping her mouth shut. Two years ago, the paper’s CEO received just such a payment:

Why would any company pay off a departing CEO who saw the stock pricedecline 80% with an 8 figure package equal to more than the last 4 years of earnings, or 2.4% of the company's formerly billion-dollar market value? The foundering New York Times Company has done just that, rewarding failed CEO Janet Robinson, 61, with a departure package worth a whopping 23.7 million dollars. The company released its proxy materials yesterday, ensuring they would be reported on Saturday, the corporate world's equivalent of a Friday afternoon document dump

The circumstances of her firing suggest that Abramson has not gotten any such settlement. But I suspect that her silence could be purchased for much less than a sum that be material enough to the company that it must be disclosed to shareholders. We’ll see how she behaves.

Ironically, Sulzberger faces little possibility of being fired for his very poor performance as publisher. His family owns a controlling interest in the paper, and has never shown any interest in using merit as the criterion for appointing a replacement.


Jill Abramson claimed that she has a tottoo of the iconoic New York Times "T":

The existence of the tattoo was made public last month, when Abramsonappeared on Catie Lazarus’ podcast Employee of the Month to discuss her position at the Times. In between discussions about Nate Silver’s departure and the challenging transition from reporter to editor, Abramson revealed that she had not just one but four tattoos, including a New York subway token, the Crimson Harvard “H” and the iconic New York Times “T.”

"I think eventually, when I finish doing them, [they] will tell the story of me, of where I lived, and what things have been important to me,” Abramson said. “I have two then on my back that are the two institutions that I revere, that have shaped me. One is unsurprisingly the amazing ‘T’ in The New York Times newspaper. Then I have a Crimson Harvard ‘H’ and that’s for Harvard, and also for my husband Henry, who we met when we were in the same class at Harvard.”

Now that Abramson is leaving the Times, it’s unclear what Abramson will do about her Times tattoo.

The answer is ovious: go to work for TMZ.

J.R. Dunn quips: "Clarence Thomas is still on thebench and Jill Abramson is out of a job." I would add, who says that God is dead?

Hat tip: Lucianne Goldberg