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JILL ABRAMSON’S TIMELY DISMISSAL: The New York Times’ sudden dismissal of executive editor Jill Abramson on Wednesday hurt the controlling Sulzberger family where it counts — the pocket book. Shares of the Times fell 4.5 percent after the news to close at $15.06, further proving Wall Street doesn’t like either surprises or instability.
Abramson was the first female to hold the title in the paper’s 160-year history and was out of the job after less than three years. She was swiftly replaced by her number two, Dean Baquet, the managing editor. Baquet is the first black editor to lead The Times.
This story first appeared in the May 15, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Staff gathered in a conference room at 2:30 p.m. to hear the news delivered not by Abramson — who had already departed the building — but by publisher and chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Baquet.
While sources described the announcement as “surprising” and “shocking,” Abramson wasn’t always the most likable editor. Some said she was difficult to work with and frequently got into arguments with editors, including Baquet, while others pointed to broader changes at the paper, signaling a sort of changing of the guard.
Then there was Times president and chief executive officer Mark Thompson, who has outlined his own vision for the paper that sees a closer melding of business and journalism and who once, according to a profile in New York magazine, told a Times executive, “I could be the editor of The New York Times. I have that background.”
The 60-year-old Abramson, who joined the Times 17 years ago, routinely acted as a cheerleader for the paper’s journalism, even flaunting her “T” tattoo, which was inked in the Times’ font on her back, in Out magazine last month. But the editor had also become vocal with the Times’ top brass over several of its recent business initiatives, among other things. Abramson did not return calls and e-mails requesting comment.
The paper has undergone a series of big changes recently, sources noted. In recent months, high-ranking editors have been shuffled or added to the Times’ roster, allowing younger talent to make their mark. For example, Bruce Headlam was promoted to managing editor of video, which left open the plum gig of media editor for relative Times newcomer Peter Lattman. On the Styles desk, Vanessa Friedman nabbed an expanded role of chief fashion critic and fashion director, a sort of hybrid job encompassing the duties of Cathy Horyn and Suzy Menkes, both of whom left the paper this year.
Making the Times a younger place may just be a nice way to spin it, though. When Thompson was appointed ceo two years ago, he authored a memo with Sulzberger that articulated a new direction for the paper, namely one in which the business side would work more closely with the editorial side — a scary proposition for an institution that at one time frowned on business executives even setting foot on the newsroom floor.
For Thompson, the line between edit and business wasn’t as sacred. The ceo ruffled feathers with both his plans to introduce robust native advertising and digital platforms and his brash words. So when Sulzberger alluded to “management disagreements” Wednesday as a reason for Abramson’s departure, it didn’t come as a complete shock to those who read between the lines.
Following the meeting, Sulzberger sent out an internal memo, adding the shake-up “comes at a time when the newsroom is about to embark on a significant effort to transition more fully to a digital-first reality and where, across the organization, we are all learning to adapt to the rapid pace of change in our business.”