Quotes of the day

In announcing the sudden switch to a stunned newsroom Wednesday afternoon, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the paper and the chairman of the Times Company, attributed the move to “an issue with management in the newsroom.” [Abramson’s] ouster, according to people in the company briefed on the decision, came after growing tension between Ms. Abramson and Mr. Sulzberger, and a decision by Ms. Abramson to try to hire a senior editor from outside the newspaper to share a co-managing editor title with Mr. Baquet…

“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. She did not return phone calls seeking comment…

[Sulzberger’s] vagueness on the precise reasons for the switch precipitated a swirl of rumors in a newsroom that was still trying to digest the news. But the people briefed on the process said the tension between Mr. Sulzberger and Ms. Abramson had steadily increased, most recently over criticisms of her leadership style. She had recently engaged a consultant to help her with that aspect of her job, but last week the decision was made to end her tenure.


What is immediately clear, however, is that Abramson still has a big fat New York Times “T” on her back and that tattoo removal is both extremely painful and costly.

In an April interview with Out magazine, Abramson said that she has several tattoos on her back, including the paper’s iconic “T.”

“I have two [tattoos] on my back that are the two institutions that I revere, that have shaped me,” she said at the time. “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.”



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.


[The Times], in both its news and opinion coverage, has been a leading light on the gender pay gap, having called the issue not “just a women’s issue, but a societal and moral one,” a problem that “comes from differences within occupations, not between them,” and an outrage that “persists even in workplaces committed to gender equality.”

It’s fully plausible that Abramson just had bad luck in ascending at the very moment the Grey Lady realized how dire its financial troubles were. The paper took a bath in building its ridiculous Renzo Piano-designed headquarters just as the real estate bubble burst; the industry is in secular decline; and it’s telling that one of the tropes going around today is that America’s Newspaper of Record needs to take a “digital-first” focus — a reform that will bring the paper fully up to 1995. To be fair, the Times’s site is way ahead of most newspapers’ online offerings. But I believe they still have a paywall — I don’t look at it enough to know — and online paywalls are an offense against both journalism’s future and its past. (Subscriptions and newsstand sales were always nominal revenue sources that at best covered part of the cost of delivery. Anything that stands between you and your readers is bad mojo.)


Abramson also suffered from perceptions among staff that she was condescending and combative. Sources at the Times told POLITICO last year that Abramson had become a source of widespread frustration and anxiety within the newsroom, and described her as stubborn and condescending. Such sentiments were widely criticized as sexist.

Sources also noted that Abramson rarely engaged with newsroom staff and was often absent from the office, even when the paper was undergoing a severe round of buyouts in early 2013…

Whatever the case, the decision to abruptly fire Abramson, who up until this week had been the public face of the paper, was seen by many in the newsroom as a tacit admission of management failure by Sulzberger.



When Sulzberger said he was sure it doesn’t “come as a surprise to you,” video editor Bruce Headlam spoke up in Abramson’s defense, according to a person who was present. “It does come as a surprise to me,” the source recalls him saying.

Two other editors also voiced their concerns, sources with knowledge of the meeting told Capital. National editor Alison Mitchell suggested that Abramson’s firing wouldn’t sit well with a broad swath of female Times journalists who saw her as a role model. (Abramson became the Times’ first female executive editor in 2011, after Bill Keller stepped down.) Assistant managing editor Susan Chira seconded that notion.

Our source who was in the room characterzed Sulzberger’s response thusly: When women get to top management positions, they are sometimes fired, just as men are.


Some facts, according to a recent Women’s Media Center study:

* At the nation’s 10 most widely circulated newspapers, men had 63 percent of the bylines, nearly two for every one for a woman. (The study looked at bylines only in the first section of the papers.)

* Among those papers, The Times had the biggest gender gap – with 69 percent of bylines going to men.

* Women are far more likely to cover health and lifestyle news. They’re less likely to cover crime, justice and world politics.

* At three major papers, including The Times, and four newspaper syndicates, male opinion-page writers outnumber female writers four to one.


Abramson opened up about the often harsh spotlight that followed her in a keynote speech and question-and-answer session at the Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS) annual gathering in Vermont last October. The Poynter Institute reported on and posted the speech, during which Abramson commented on an April 2013 Politico story that said she was “on the verge of losing the newsroom.”

Abramson noted that the story used “anonymous quotes,” and said of the journalists who came to her aide, “it was thrilling.” She said it was “like a prairie fire among, like, other women journalists who just, like, saw this thing as, like, a shoddy, sexist, you know, ad feminem attack on me.”

“I’m not saying I’m perfect,” she told the women at the JAWS meeting.


“And that’s all I’m going to say about it,” said Sulzberger, according to two sources who were present. “It was an issue of newsroom management.”…

The details will certainly creep out. It’s just a question of whether Gawker, BuzzFeed or The Huffington Post will get them first. Given that reality, it doesn’t make sense for the Times to sit back and concede the story to its competitors.

But even if the details weren’t likely to leak out, hypocrisy can taint a newsroom’s brand. Certainly if this were another private company where there is significant public scrutiny, Times reporters would be aggressively working sources to get the details. Journalists are often counseled to expect the same scrutiny of their lives that they provide to the lives of others. News companies should abide by the same advice.

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