First Woman Executive Editor Abruptly Fired at New York Times

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Wednesday, 14 May 2014 03:47 PM

By Joe Schaeffer

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New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson was suddenly fired on Wednesday, less than three years after taking over the top editorial position at the newspaper.

In an article posted on its web site, the Times said Abramson has been "dismissed" and will be replaced by Dean Baquet, the managing editor of the newspaper.

"I’ve loved my run at The Times,"Abramson, 60, said in a statement released by the paper. "I got to work with the best journalists in the world doing so much stand-up journalism." 

Politico reports senior editors were called to a 2 p.m. meeting at the Times headquarters and the move was announced to employees by publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. at a 2:35 p.m. staff meeting.

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Sulzberger told the employees that Abramson was leaving due to "an issue with management in the newsroom," adding that there were no editorial issues during her tenure that caused the move. Abramson was not in the newsroom during the announcement, Politico reports.

"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," Sulzberger said, according to the Politico report. "This is not about any disagreement between the newsroom and the business side."

The Times' article on the dismissal states "people in the company briefed on the situation described serious tension in [Abramson's] relationship with Mr. Sulzberger, who had been hearing concerns from employees that she was polarizing and mercurial. They had disagreements even before she was appointed executive editor, and she had also had clashes with Mr. Baquet."

The New Yorker's Ken Auletta reported in a blog post that Abramson, the first female to serve as executive editor for the prestigious newspaper, was let go because she demanded "equal pay" to male personnel, a point immediately denied by The Times.

"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," Auletta writes.

"'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," he continued.

Auletta notes that Sulzberger feels the financially-strapped Times needs to be less extravagant with its salaries and that Keller had spent many more years at the paper than Abramson, which would also explain the pension disparity.

He concludes that, whether Abramson was "right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy. A third associate told me, 'She found out that a former deputy managing editor' — a man— 'made more money than she did' while she was managing editor. 'She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off.'"

However The Times insisted that Abramson had not been earning less than Keller. "That is just incorrect," spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told Politico. "Her pension benefit, like all Times employees, is based on her years of service and compensation. The pension benefit was frozen in 2009."

Politico's Dylan Byers reported in an April 2013 article titled "Turbulence at The Times" that Abramson was considered by many to be "condescending," "disengaged" and "difficult to work with."

In the article, Byers tells of a furious Baquet leaving the newsroom after a meeting with Abramson in April 2013.

"Baquet burst out of Abramson's office, slammed his hand against a wall and stormed out of the newsroom. He would be gone for the rest of the day, absent from the editors’ daily 4 p.m. meeting, at which he is a fixture."

"Every editor has a story about how she's blown up in a meeting," a reporter told Byers.

Byers recounted one such incident.

"In one meeting, Abramson was upset with a photograph that was on the homepage," he writes. "Rather than asking for a change to be made after the meeting, she turned to the relevant editor and, according to sources with knowledge of the meeting, said bluntly, 'I don't know why you're still here. If I were you, I would leave now and change the photo.'"

The first female executive editor at the Times is being replaced by the first African-American to fill the post. Baquet, 57, was Abramson's hand-picked deputy during her term in office.

"There is no journalist in our newsroom or elsewhere better qualified to take on the responsibilities of executive editor at this time than Dean Baquet," Sulzberger said in the statement released by the paper.

"He is an exceptional reporter and editor with impeccable news judgment who enjoys the confidence and support of his colleagues around the world and across the organization.”

Politico reports the newsroom erupted in a standing ovation when word came of Baquet's appointment. He is a former Washington bureau chief for the Times and ex-editor of the Los Angeles Times.

In its own coverage of the change, the Times described the newsroom as "stunned" by the change at the top.

"Her 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," the Times report said.

The paper said Sulzberger praised Baquet during the meeting with hundreds of staff but "declined to elaborate on the question he said was 'on all of your minds' — the reason for the sudden switch."

Baquet, who won the 1988 Pulitzer Price for reporting on corruption in Chicago City Council, told the meeting, "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."

Baquet is known among staff for defying management. While he was executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, owned by the Tribune Co, he was ordered by executives in Chicago headquarters to slash staff. He refused and shortly after lost his job.

Abramson made waves in January when she said in an interview with Al Jazeera that President Obama was operating "the most secretive White House" she has ever covered.

"I would say it is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering, and that includes — I spent 22 years of my career in Washington and covered presidents from President Reagan on up through now, and I was Washington bureau chief of the Times during George W. Bush's first term," she said in the interview.

Abramson was appointed executive editor in September 2011, succeeding Bill Keller, who served for eight years.

The New York Times Chief Executive Officer Mark Thompson said in a statement, "Jill has been a brillliant and supportive partner to me over the 18 months we've worked together. She is handing over to Dean a newsroom in superb form."


Urgent: Is Obama Hurting the Economy? (Shocking Poll Results)

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