Jill Abramson, ousted executive editor of The New York Times.
When Arthur Sulzberger Jr. named Jill Abramson the first woman editor of the New York Times Co. in 2011, he sang her praises as “the perfect choice to lead the next phase of The Times’s evolution.”
In fact, the newspaper’s publisher and chairman was never comfortable with Abramson, according to several people familiar with the situation, and yesterday he unceremoniously pushed her out. Frictions between Sulzberger, 62, and Abramson, 60, had been worsening in recent months, said the people, who cited a fundamental clash of personalities.
“None of this makes sense for it to happen the way it did,” said Alex S. Jones, a director at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University and author of the book, “The Trust,” about the Ochs-Sulzberger family that controls the Times Co. “Especially given everything that it took to get her there, and what she represents as an icon of journalism.”
Abramson’s successor, Dean Baquet, the newspaper’s first African-American executive editor, takes over as The Times battles shrinking advertising sales and competition from a flurry of blogs and upstarts that appeal to younger readers. Chief Executive Officer Mark Thompson, hired in 2012, has unveiled two digital subscription products -- one aimed at younger readers with a lower-priced news app called NYTNow and a higher-end plan called Times Premier.
Abramson’s ouster was a shock to many in the newsroom, according to people who were present. Before joining the Times, Abramson had distinguished herself as an investigative reporter at the Wall Street Journal and had championed hard-hitting journalism as executive editor. Even so, many applauded the appointment of Baquet, who is seen as a dogged defender of newsroom policies and is well liked by reporters who have worked directly with him.
While the publisher and editor of a newspaper have inherent conflicts -- with the publisher working to attract advertisers and with the editor dedicated to publishing stories without fear or favor -- the friction between Sulzberger and Abramson had personal overtones, according to two people.
She had told several colleagues that Sulzberger thought negatively of her, said the people, who declined to be identified because the matter was considered confidential. Sulzberger saw Abramson as overly enamored of all the public attention afforded the executive editor of what is widely considered the world’s most powerful newspaper, the people said.
Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Co.
As the first female to run the Times in its 162-year history, Abramson was one of the most powerful women in media. She had taken to giving interviews and appearing on panels without consulting the company, a move that rankled Sulzberger, according to two people. He saw her as someone who liked having the title more than doing the job, three people said.
As publisher, Sulzberger can hire and fire executive editors and doesn’t require board approval. Yesterday, when he announced the change, Sulzberger said he was doing so because he thought new leadership would improve some aspects of the management of the newsroom.
Sulzberger has presided over a revolving door of editors and executives. He passed over Bill Keller in 2001 to name Howell Raines as the top editor. Raines was forced out two years later after it emerged that reporter Jayson Blair had fabricated stories.
Sulzberger went back to Keller, who led the newsroom for eight years, a long tenure by Times standards. In looking for Keller’s replacement, Sulzberger whittled down the candidates to Abramson and Baquet. The same year he named Abramson editor, Sulzberger pushed out Janet Robinson as CEO. The recent shakeup appears to mirror his earlier editor appointments.
Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, declined to comment. Sulzberger, Abramson and Keller didn’t immediately respond to calls to their mobile phones.
Times Co. shares extended earlier losses after the announcement, falling 4.5 percent at the close. The stock, which more than doubled during Abramson’s tenure, is still down 71 percent from a 2002 peak.
Baquet, 57, had taken over as managing editor for Abramson when she was elevated in September 2011. Before that he served as assistant managing editor and Washington bureau chief for the Times since March 2007. He was also formerly the editor of the Los Angeles Times and won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 1988 at the Chicago Tribune.
Baquet is “a consummate journalist whose reputation as a fierce advocate for his reporters and editors is well-deserved,” Sulzberger said in a memo. “And importantly, he is an enthusiastic supporter of our push toward further creativity in how we approach the digital expression of our journalism.”
Dean Baquet in this Jan. 30, 2007 file photo.
Both of the Pulitzer Prizes the Times won this year were for photography.
In a bid to boost sales, Thompson has championed so-called native advertising -- online ads designed to resemble news articles. In the first quarter, the company lifted its advertising sales for the first time in more than three years, yet Thompson warned that those increases may not continue. The company had posted ad sales declines for the prior 13 quarters as it struggled to replace print ads with digital sales, exacerbated by executive turnover amid budget cuts.
When Abramson was appointed executive editor, she called the role “a dream job for any journalist.”
“I’ve loved my run at The Times,” Abramson said in the company’s statement. “We successfully blazed trails on the digital frontier and we have come so far in inventing new forms of story-telling.”
Abramson had grappled with the newsroom’s transition to digital media. A task force that included Sulzberger’s son, A. G. Sulzberger, released a report this month calling for the creation of a team of editors to shape long-term strategy for online and mobile readers. The bottom line: the Times has made great strides in becoming a more digital newsroom, but times are changing quickly and the newspaper needs to keep up.
“Because this is a newsroom, the short-term demands of news often steal precious time from long-term planning to ensure that we are tracking and adjusting to the continuous changes in technology, reader behavior and the competitive environment,” according to the report.
Abramson had already left the Times headquarters before the announcement yesterday, according to several staff members. She will have no future role at the newspaper.