Fired For Being Pushy?

May 15 2014 @ 12:43pm

Ken Auletta reports on one reason Jill Abramson may have been fired as NYT editor:

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 … Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said that Jill Abramson’s total compensation as executive editor “was directly comparable to Bill Keller’s”—though it was not actually the same.

I was also told by another friend of Abramson’s that the pay gap with Keller was only closed after she complained. 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. 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.”

Bryce Covert points out that such executive pay disparities are common:

Many women who reach the top are still paid less than their male peers. The highest paid female executives at S&P 500 companies still make 18 percent less than the men in these roles, on average. For example, Heather Bresch, CEO of pharmaceutical company Mylan, makes about a third less than average CEO pay in her sector, and Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison makes about a quarter less.

Olga Khazan comments:

Economists have suggested that one factor driving the gender wage gap is that women “don’t ask” for as much money in negotiations. The implication is, then, that women should ask, since they supposedly have nothing to lose. But both social-science research and real-life job sagas have shown that women sometimes do pay a price for self-advocating. A few months ago, the story of one female job candidate went viral when her offer to teach at Nazareth College was allegedly retracted when she asked for better compensation.

Times national editor Alison Mitchell suggested to Capital New York Tuesday that Abramson’s firing “wouldn’t sit well with a broad swath of female Times journalists who saw her as a role model.” But what would be even more demoralizing is if it turns out to be true that a woman as powerful as Abramson was punished for being “pushy”—and, worse yet, if the pay gap between the two editors was real.

Chadwick Matlin observes the sizable pay gap in journalism:

If the pay gap did exist, Abramson wouldn’t have been the only woman in journalism paid less than her male peers. According to the Census Bureau’s 2008-2012 American Community Survey, the median annual earnings for a male editor was $59,183 (+/- $1,467). Female editors made $51,249 (+/- $844).

Pay gap

Hadas Gold notes that Abramson wasn’t always the easiest person to work with:

[S]ome who worked with her said she fostered an atmosphere of insecurity by seeming to regard disagreement as a personal challenge or even betrayal. In contrast to her careful and fastidious style as a reporter, her opinions as editor, some believed, were prone to snap judgments that hardly braked for conflicting evidence or points of view. She struck a note of disdain for people who considered job offers elsewhere, as though the Times were the only worthy place to practice one’s craft, and even had a tattoo with the “T” of the Times — an institutional loyalty that did not protect her from the whims and changing moods of her own boss when the going got tough.

I can imagine a man with that rep being lionized as an old-school character. A woman? Not too much. Weissmann believes “whatever the reasons for her abrupt departure, by pretty much any meaningful measure, Abramson seemed to be doing an excellent job piloting the Times into a bright digital future”:

Consider: Bill Keller led the paper from 2003 until mid 2011. During that time, its finances degenerated so thoroughly that the company was forced to borrow a glorified payday loan from Mexican oligarch Carlos Slim. Near the very end of Keller’s tenure, however, the Times finally began implementing the online paywall that’s resurrecting its business. It has almost 800,000 digital-only subscribers—the vast majority of whom have been acquired on Abramson’s watch—and is now turning a decent operating profit.

Yglesias also defends the business side of Abramson’s NYT tenure:

You often see companies change management amidst business crises. But one thing that is clear is that amidst a generalized crisis for the American newspaper industry the Times is doing quite well as a business. In the first quarter of the year, the Times scored a $22 million operating profit on $390 million in revenue. That revenue figure represented a 2.6 percent increase from the year-ago quarter, including a 3.4 percent increase in ad revenue.

The overall newspaper industry, meanwhile, is a disaster area.

Rebecca Traister calls Abramson’s firing “among the most harsh and humiliating I’ve ever seen play out in the media’s recent history”:

Within minutes of the editorial meeting at which the turnover was announced, Abramson’s name had been scrubbed from the masthead of the paper she’s run for the past two and a half years. A Times spokeswoman told Buzzfeed that Abramson would not be remaining with the paper in any professional capacity and would have no involvement in the transition of power. Sulzberger made no pretense that this was anything other than an unceremonious dump. When staffers reportedly expressed concern that Abramson’s firing would be a blow to women, he helpfully explained that that women in top management positions are just as likely to be fired as men in top management positions.

Ezra cautions:

“As part of a settlement agreement between her and the paper, neither side would go into detail about her firing,” reports the New York Times. Perhaps that’s not true. With anonymous sources you never really know who’s talking and who isn’t. But at this juncture it’s probably mostly true. The Sulzbergers are likely trying to ride this out. It sounds like Abramson is legally barred from discussing the break. Friends and allies might step into the breach, but so too will hanger-ons, troublemakers, and earnest observers who think they know a lot more than they do. Moreover, this seems to have been an incredibly well-kept secret in the Times newsroom. The universe of people who know the real story is, for now, quite small — and they’re only in the know because one side or the other is sure they won’t talk.

Which isn’t to say the reporting coming out now is wrong. It’s just not quite right, either. There’s some truth in it, a lot of truth missing, a few lies mixed in for good measure, and it’ll be a long time till we can tell which is which.