NYT Publisher: I Fired Abramson Over Her Management Style

Image: NYT Publisher: I Fired Abramson Over Her Management Style Left to right: The New York Times' architecture critic, Michael Kimmelman 2014 Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban, Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, and Times Chairman and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. attend the cocktail reception for the Times Cities for Tomorrow Conference on April 21, 2014. (Getty Images)

Sunday, 18 May 2014 09:22 AM

By Todd Beamon

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The publisher of The New York Times said Saturday that the abrupt firing of Jill Abramson as top editor stemmed from "a situation involving a specific individual who, as we all do, has strengths and weaknesses."

In a statement seeking to quash rumors that Abramson was dismissed over complaints about being paid less than her male predecessor, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. said his decision was based on her management style since she took the helm in September 2011.

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Late Saturday, Politico added more details about Abramson's firing, writing that Sulzberger became angry after he learned that the editor hadn't informed her subordinates about plans to hire the editor of the British Guardian to be a managing editor focusing on digital strategy.

"While several factors contributed to Sulzberger’s frustration with Abramson’s management of the newsroom, the sources, who are sympathetic to the Times management, said it was this incident that sealed her fate," Dylan Byers of Politico wrote.

"In conversations and emails, Abramson led both Sulzberger and Thompson to believe that she had consulted with other newsroom leaders about her decision to offer The Guardian’s Janine Gibson a job as co-managing editor," Byers wrote, quoting unnamed sources.

"Specifically, they said she implied that both Dean Baquet, her managing editor, and Janet Elder, the deputy managing editor responsible for newsroom resources and staff development, had been informed and were on board with the plan."

Abramson's style included "arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues," Sulzberger said in the brief statement.

He added that while he wanted Abramson to succeed as the first woman executive editor of the Times, he concluded that "she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back."

When he announced Abramson's termination on Wednesday, Sulzberger attributed it to "an issue with management in the newsroom."

In his Saturday statement, Sulzberger began by saying that the firing "has been cast by many as an example of the unequal treatment of women in the workplace" — an apparent reference to numerous reports suggesting that Abramson had balked at being paid less than Bill Keller, who held the job from 2003 to 2011.

Sulzberger replaced Abramson with the Times' managing editor, Dean Baquet, who became the first African-American to head the newspaper.

In another move sought to deflect the Abramson pay issue, Times CEO Mark Thompson told a small group of colleagues in a memo that compensation was not a factor in her dismissal.
"There are many who want to believe that pay was somehow a factor," Thompson said in the memo sent on Friday, Politico reports. "It just wasn’t.

"Despite all you may have read or heard, Jill’s compensation was in fact greater than [her predecessor] Bill Keller’s," Thompson wrote. Politico quoted a "recipient" of the email in its report.

"Nor is it true that Jill’s unhappiness with her compensation was a factor," Thompson continued. "The record shows that even until very late in the day, the company was trying to address that unhappiness — not because Jill was being unfairly compensated relative to previous incumbents but because we all wanted an executive editor who was fully engaged and focused on the task in hand.

"The actual reason for Jill’s departure is the one which Arthur referred to when he broke the news on Wednesday: his ongoing concern, notwithstanding Jill’s great journalistic and editorial talent and achievements, about management within the newsroom," Thompson added. "Amid all the swirling theories, that is the true reason."

Politico reported that Thompson sent the document after Ken Auletta reported in The New Yorker Thursday that Abramson's annual pay had been less than Keller's.

That report also said Abramson's pay had been far less than her male counterparts for her last 14 years at the Times, in some cases by as much as $100,000 a year.

And while Auletta reported that Abramson's use of a lawyer to query Sulzberger on the pay issue had been a factor in her firing, Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy told Politico that was not the case.

Murphy did say, however, that Abramson's move was seen as a hostile act against Sulzberger.

According to Auletta, Abramson’s starting salary as executive editor in 2011 was $475,000, compared with Keller’s $559,000 salary that year. Hers was raised to $503,000, and — "only after she protested" — was raised further to $525,000.

"She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes," Auletta said. "She also learned that her salary as Washington bureau chief, from 2000 to 2003, was a hundred thousand dollars less than that of her successor in that position, Phil Taubman."

When questioned about the Auletta figures, Murphy told Politico that salary was only part of Abramson's total compensation.

"The numbers in Ken Auletta's piece represent salaries, which are one part of executive compensation at The New York Times Co.," she told Politico. "Managers and executives at The New York Times receive compensation packages that include salary, bonus, and equity.

"The combination of those things equals that executive's total pay. That is the relevant figure for Jill during her time here."

"There are employees who are salaried-only, and in those cases, salary is the relevant metric," Murphy said. "Again, [that is] not applicable to Jill, Bill Keller or any of the other folks mentioned in the [New Yorker] piece.

"Jill was paid more in 2013 than Bill Keller was paid in any year that he served as executive editor," Murphy told Politico.

For her part, Abramson, 60, has not commented since her firing.

Her daughter, Cornelia Griggs, posted on Instagram a picture of Abramson in boxing gear.

The Times report on Saturday quoted another message on Griggs' account: "Big thank you to all the #pushy #bossy #polarizing women and men who get it. The story isn’t over, not even close."

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