The Grey Lady makes history again by appointing a black editor to lead the newsroom for the first time, after the paper’s first female exec editor abruptly departs.
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The first female to helm the New York Times, Jill Abramson has fought an uphill battle since she took on the role of executive editor two and a half years ago. A story in New York magazine last September said, “Abramson has told a friend outside the paper that she feels isolated and without allies.” This isolation came to a head today, as Abramson was unceremoniously booted from her position, as a change in management was announced to the newsroom at 2 p.m.
Abramson was the only woman to ever manage the editorial side of the Grey Lady, and her tenure was highly criticized, placed under the microscope for everyone to comment on, whether it was Politico slamming her “bad behavior” cited by unnamed sources, or those who rushed to her defense in the wake of this and other seemingly sexist attacks. Anyone making big changes to a media mainstay is certain to make enemies, and Abramson was shaking things up, putting younger (also less expensive) women in reputable positions—Pamela Paul as “Book Review” editor and the promotion of Danielle Mattoon to culture editor—something female journalists around the country had hoped would be an effect of her reign. Despite the scrutiny, her success was evident in the journalism the New York Times was producing (in 2012 the paper earned more Pulitzer Prizes than it had since 2009) as well as its digital growth in a time of turmoil for daily newspapers.
But apparently this was not enough to keep her in her position, and it’s possible a recent inquiry into her compensation was the final stroke on Abramson’s pink slip. According to Ken Auletta at The New Yorker, several weeks ago, Abramson and her lawyer made a “polite” inquiry with Times management about why her compensation and pension benefits were markedly less than Bill Keller’s, her male predecessor. “‘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,” Auletta writes. Considering female employees once sued the Times for discrimination, this does not require a stretch of the imagination. The inquiry, the associate says, “set them off.”
Abramson’s replacement is managing editor Dean Baquet, with whom she had a sometimes adversarial relationship. Politico described a meeting between the two that ended with Banquet storming out of her office, slamming a wall, and leaving Times headquarters. Abramson’s statement about her departure is PR-friendly however, and belies no ill will: “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 said. “Holding powerful institutions accountable is the mission of the Times and the hallmark of my time as executive editor, whether stories about China, government secrecy, or powerful figures and corporations.”
Baquet marks another momentous appointment for the Times—he’ll be the paper’s first African-American executive editor. As the Times’ publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said, “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. 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.” Despite the loss of top-down female influence at the Times, Baquet’s appointment marks a promising trend. He is the third African-American man to take a high-profile position this week, following the replacement of Stephen Colbert by Larry Wilmore, and Dick Parsons’s appointment as interim CEO of the Clippers, in the wake of racist Donald Sterling’s ban. But will a black man draw as much scrutiny as a woman? Only time will tell.
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