It turns out Jill Abramson made the right decision when she decided to drop that job lead a few months ago and stay at The New York Times.

Earlier this year, Abramson was briefly mulling a move to become head of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. According to a source familiar with the job process, Harvard officials were intent on hiring a woman and they were particularly interested in Abramson. A headhunter reached out to her to talk about the job, Abramson thought about it a bit and then fired off a memo outlining what she could do for Nieman.

This story first appeared in the June 3, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I always in my career have gone back and forth between writing and editing jobs,” Abramson told WWD on Thursday. “Maybe I was feeling a little like eight years” — the amount of time that she has been managing editor of the Times — “is a long time and longer than I had ever done any other single job. I was thinking a little bit of ‘What next?’”

Abramson said the day after she sent the memo, she reconsidered it and withdrew her name from consideration (the job eventually went to former Chicago Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski in April).

“I was not seriously in the running for that. I swear,” said Abramson.

If she was getting a bit restless about sitting in the Times’ managing editor job at the age of 57, it turns out she didn’t have to wait much longer. It was only a few weeks later that Bill Keller decided — on his own accord — that he would step aside from the executive editor’s job, a departure plan that he began discussing with Abramson as early as last summer. On Thursday, the Times appointed Abramson its first-ever woman executive editor. Her first day is Sept. 6. The news of her appointment was first reported by Thursday morning.

“Why now?” Keller, 62, told WWD. “Because eight years is about three years longer than I’ve held any job in my life. Because the paper’s in good shape and I’m not handing off a mess. Because I wanted to go before it stopped being fun (which it mostly was.) Because there’s a great bench of editors ready to step up and lead this place.

“The Nieman was not a factor, even in a minor way, in my timing,” he added. “By the time they sounded Jill out, I’d already told her my likely timetable for departure, and that’s the way it panned out.”

Abramson said she spoke to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger about the job about a month ago, and then on May 23 he called her up and said, “Would you want to be the next executive editor?”

“It would be the honor of my life,” she said back to him.

Abramson’s number two will be Washington bureau chief and former Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet (who she aggressively recruited back to The Times after he stepped down from the top job at the L.A. Times).

One of her first assignments will be to find Baquet’s successor. Times staffers said that the favorite for now appears to be national editor and ex-political reporter Rick Berke.

Abramson said a decision for a new D.C. bureau chief would come “soonish.”

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