Yesterday’s announcement that The New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson was leaving the Grey Lady to be replaced by managing editor Dean Baquet came as a big surprise to all who don’t work in the NYT newsroom. The politics behind the move have unraveled at a record pace since then.
Unfortunately, the more we learn about it, the more we can guarantee that the story won’t end well for the paper of record. The biggest reveal to date came courtesy of Ken Auletta at The New Yorker: seems that Abramson didn’t just make less money than the men who preceded her–she made less than her own deputy.
10. I can now report that I have independently confirmed that Abramson did indeed challenge corporate brass over what she saw as unequal pay
— David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik) May 14, 2014
The issue: how did the Times so completely lose control of this story?
For a summary of the narrative, check out NPR reporter David Folkenflik‘s Twitter timeline, conveniently compiled by the people at Vox.
Now for the pushback: on the PR front, the NYT acted quickly to dismiss the idea that Abramson got the boot for complaining about being paid less than her male counterparts. At the same time, the team sent two different responses to Politico and Business Insider, with one claiming that Abramson’s pay was “not less” than that of Bill Keller and another adding an important qualifier: it was “not meaningfully less.”
As FiveThirtyEight noted this morning, Abramson would not have been the first female editor to receive less pay than a man for doing the same job.
Auletta’s story hinted at two other potentially lethal conflicts between Abramson and publisher Arthur Sulzberger: She didn’t like the idea of the paper’s native ad practice bleeding into the newsroom and she reportedly wanted to hire a co-deputy manager to handle the digital side of the paper (said manager would have reported to Baquet, which makes the situation even more awkward).
Seems clear that the real issue at hand was a consistent string of disagreements between Abramson and Sulzberger as well as CEO Mark Thompson, who apparently didn’t like the paper’s coverage of late, shamed TV personality Jimmy Saville–a man with whom Thompson just happened to share a former employer (the BBC).
On a side note, BuzzFeed just posted on the most recent, unsurprising NYT internal report: the paper has been extremely concerned about losing its edge to the very sort of digital-only outlets now reporting on its poor decision-making.
While spokespeople claim that the report’s conclusions had nothing to do with Abramson’s firing, it’s hard to avoid connecting them to the fact that she wanted to hire someone to oversee digital.
Finally, the very obvious PR issue at hand: the Times made the decision to let Abramson go some time ago but did not seem to anticipate the public response or the fact that the conversation would revolve around charges of sexism.
‘Just let it be,” Sulzberger tells entire room of professional reporters. ‘Don’t go speculating or trying to find out what happened.’
— Jessica Pressler (@jpressler) May 14, 2014
Sounds like a man trying to wish a problem away.
One has to wonder why staffers didn’t see the possibility of this narrative demonstrating weaknesses within the organization–especially when paired with the internal report about an org struggling to keep up with its industry.
On the other hand:
Despite the shock of the news – welcoming the first black executive editor of the New York Times is a historic moment.
— ▵ Jenna Wortham ▵ (@jennydeluxe) May 14, 2014
Unfortunately for the NYT, no one is focused on that aspect of the story.