She Fought Against Sponsored Content

May 15 2014 @ 12:15pm

WIRED Business Conference: Think Bigger

We’re rounding up as many assessments of Jill Abramson’s abrupt exit from the NYT as we can, so stay tuned. But one thing is worth recalling:

Although both have denied it in public, Thompson and Abramson’s relationship spiraled down over the past year, as Thompson pressed ahead with plans to move the Times into native advertising. “She was morally opposed to that,” an executive said. “She told me it would not happen on her watch.”

But it did, of course, as the philistine from the UK pushed it through. If one factor in Abramson’s firing was her resistance to this unethical and desperate gambit, then it’s all the more depressing. And yes, I thought and think the world of Abramson. And what always struck me about her – apart from her sardonic humor, relentless drawl and revulsion at bullshit – was her transcendence of gender. She leant in at every opportunity. She never accepted a gender double standard for a second – which is why she was a real role model for other women in journalism. I sure hope these virtues – and yes, they’re virtues - weren’t behind her demise at the NYT:

As I’ve written before, female leaders are liked best when they lead their organizations not unlike one would lead a casual weekend drum circle—cheerily deferring to others and giving everyone a chance. Meanwhile, they’re resented to a greater degree than their male counterparts when behaving authoritatively. And Abramson, by all accounts, was nothing if not authoritative … 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.

And this is troubling to me:

In a controversial 2013 piece in Politico, Dylan Byers wrote: “At times, [staffers] say, her attitude toward editors and reporters leaves everyone feeling demoralized; on other occasions, she can seem disengaged or uncaring.”

But a look at the examples he gave shows just how gendered these discussions can get. In one instance, Abramson reportedly ordered an editor to leave a meeting to change a stale photo on the newspaper’s homepage. That was played in the article as proof of Abramson’s brusque, demoralizing style. But compare that to this anecdote about how Tim Cook, head of Apple, dealt with a manufacturing problem in China.

Cook forced an executive to leave the meeting to get on a plane to China, without the dude even changing his clothes. I doubt if that was regarded as “pushy”. Look: no woman has a right to keep a job she’s doing poorly in because she’s a woman. But Abramson’s management of the NYT coincided with relative success in an extremely troubled time in media – and certainly seemed to me, as a loyal subscriber, to be producing an excellent paper. The combination of that record and yesterday’s brutal, near-vindictive public firing suggests something awry. I’d say that at the very least, we need to find out exactly what the pay disparity may have been between Abramson and her predecessor, Keller. And I’d also say that this story may get some more legs if the tiny few who know all about it start to leak.

(Photo: Executive Editor of The New York Times Jill Abramson attends the WIRED Business Conference: Think Bigger at Museum of Jewish Heritage on May 7, 2013 in New York City. By Brad Barket/Getty Images for WIRED.)