Was The New York Times’ Jill Abramson Fired for Being Bossy While Female?
By Anita Finlay on May 16, 2014
Shock waves reverberated through the publishing world as Jill Abramson, the first ever female Executive Editor of The New York Times was abruptly sacked by Publisher/Chairman Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. on Wednesday.
Abramson allegedly had an “abrasive style” that contributed to her firing. Color me skeptical. If you want to find a reason to undercut a woman, call her “bossy,” “abrasive” or “pushy.” But being the boss was her job. This Goldilocks' “the porridge is too hot or too cold” conundrum is crazy-making. Be the boss but don’t be “bossy.” How can any woman thread this needle? Say that to a man and see how it goes over.
Coincidentally, CNN’s Frida Ghitis reported that just before Ambramson’s head went on the chopping block, “Natalie Nougayrède, editor-in-chief of the prestigious newspaper, Le Monde, was forced out of her job after other journalists accused her of being too authoritarian, or "Putin-like."” This has a familiar ring.
During Ms. Abramson’s less than three-year tenure as Executive Editor of The NY Times, the paper won 8 Pulitzers, she was credited with moving the newsroom successfully into the digital age, and the company’s stock doubled. She also made strides toward gender equality by promoting qualified female editors, rejecting the Times’ male-centric newsroom model. Slate’s Amanda Hess shared what a hero she was to many up and coming women in the newsroom.
Danielle Kurtzleben of Vox reported that “the Times’ business flourished [under Abramson’s tenure] even as other newspapers suffered. The web site, too, has been something of a marvel, generating huge revenue off of its paywall. But the upheaval necessary to stay ahead lent itself to continuous clashes between Abramson and her colleagues.”
Beyond Abramson having a management style we would be loath to criticize in any man (did WaPo’s Ben Bradlee get fired for being “brusque” or pitting rivals in the newsroom against each other), it appears the bigger problem was her discovery that she was being paid appreciably less than her predecessor Bill Keller for doing the same job. Could the real problem be that she had the audacity to contact a lawyer to make polite inquiries after feeling stonewalled?
The New York Times minced words by saying she was not making “meaningfully less” than Keller. How much is meaningful? Meaningful to whom? Management claimed that Keller had more seniority, therefore his compensation and pension package should have been higher. But that argument does not hold water when we discover that in Ms. Abramson’s prior position as managing editor, she was also being paid less than someone who would be considered her underling – a male deputy managing editor. How does the Times square that one? To my knowledge, they have not.
This is not about whether her successor, Dean Baquet, formerly managing editor, will do a good job. But the question of gender bias is worth examining here.
Arthur Sulzberger used as evidence of Abramson’s “brusque” style that she abruptly told a staffer to leave a staff meeting to replace a stale photo. Ms. Kurtzleben asks how that compares with Tim Cook, head of Apple, who, referring to a “manufacturing problem in China,” looked at an employee in a staff meeting and said “Why are you still here?” The employee raced to the airport and was aboard the next plane to China without so much as a change of clothes.
The other incident covered by a number of media outlets was a clash between Ms. Abramson and Mr. Baquet where he threw a temper tantrum, punched a wall and went home for the day.
I look forward to Mr. Baquet’s calm and congenial management style.
More likely that Ms. Abramson’s inquiry after a pay disparity is what got Mr. Sulzberger’s knickers in a twist. This is an accomplished woman who, true to form in corporate America, only got the job when the company was in deep trouble.
Per Ms. Kurtzleben:
“Abramson was appointed to her position in 2011 — a horrible time for newspapers. …In a 2005 paper, researchers from the University of Exeter coined the term "glass cliff" to refer to the tendency of poorly performing companies to appoint women leaders during periods of maximum turmoil. The result is women end up taking the helm of companies during periods of hard choices and painful cuts that can make success seem nearly impossible….Abramson was handed the reins of a New York Times undergoing a wrenching digital transition.”
Now that she’s pulled them over the hump, she is gone in favor of another male. It is also possible that Abramson was labeled combative or pushy by some dinosaurs who resented taking orders from a woman.
Per The Guardian/UK:
Nate Silver, who left the Times last July and took his highly successful FiveThirtyEight blog to ESPN, said in a tweet : “I'll always be a huge @JillAbramson fan. She did a hell of a lot more good for the New York Times than the upper management there.”
Criticizing the hypocrisy of The New York Times’ progressive proselytizing, Tony Lee of Breitbart offered an interesting theory:
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