Jill Abramson was suddenly pushed out of the top editorial role of the New York Times on Wednesday. Dean Baquet, who was managing editor, immediately took over the job, becoming the first African-American to lead the publication.
Abramson was named executive editor in September 2011 and was the first woman to have run the paper’s editorial side.
A Times spokesperson said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the Times and chairman of The New York Times Company, was spurred by a desire to change how the newsroom was managed. “Arthur made the decision because he believed that new leadership would improve some aspects of the management of the newsroom,” the spokesperson said.
Abramson will not stay with the paper in any capacity , the spokesperson added.
The vagueness of the announcement quickly fueled speculation over Abramson’s firing. Citing anonymous sources, the New Yorker reported that tensions between Sulzberger and Abramson rose when she discovered that she was being paid less than her male predecessor, Bill Keller. But the Times pushed back on that storyline, telling Politico that her total compensation was “not less than” Keller’s. Meanwhile, the Times itself reported that Abramson had been trying to hire an outsider to be Baquet’s co-managing editor.
Abramson previously served as the Times Washington bureau chief and managing editor before taking the executive editor role. People with knowledge of the Times newsroom said some staffers questioned how much Abramson enjoyed running the paper. She was sometimes conspicuously absent from the newsroom; one notable occasion was the day after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New York region.
Sulzberger announced the move to the paper’s newsroom on Wednesday afternoon. Staff members said the announcement came on short notice, and the atmosphere in the room was “weird.” Abramson was not present.
Everyone gob-smacked in NYT newsroom over Jill Abramson leaving and Dean Baquet taking over
— Patricia Cohen (@PatcohenNYT) May 14, 2014
By the standards of the modern leadership of the New York Times , Abramson’s tenure in the top position was relatively brief. Only Howell Raines, who served as executive editor for less than two years before being forced out in the Jayson Blair scandal in 2003, had a shorter time in the top job. And Abramson, 60, was five years shy of the mandatory retirement age for her position.
Abramson’s last byline for the paper discussed the lives of people who have been struck by vehicles, including her own account of being hit by a delivery truck.
"I've loved my run at The Times," Abramson said in a statement. "I got to work with the best journalists in the world doing so much stand-up journalism," she said, noting her appointment of many senior female editors as one of her achievements.
Sulzberger expressed support for Baquet, who immediately filled the role.
"There is no journalist in our newsroom or elsewhere better qualified to take on the responsibilities of executive editor at this time than Dean Baquet,” Sulzberger said in the Times statement.
Baquet won a Pulitzer Price in 1988 during his time at the Chicago Tribune for his investigative reporting into corruption on the Chicago city council. He previously served as the editor of the Los Angeles Times but was removed after refusing to accept budget cuts .
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
Baquet presided over his first “page one” meeting only hours after the announcement of Abramson’s departure.
An email from Sulzberger to Times staffers acquired by Mashable detailed upcoming plans for the paper to further embrace digital publishing.
“This appointment 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,” Sulzberger wrote.
People familiar with his role said Baquet’s direct involvement with the paper’s digital efforts have been minimal so far. His unofficial Twitter feed is dormant.
The Times made an early push into digital publishing with the launch of NYTimes.com in 1996 and added significant investments in digital journalism over the subsequent decade, but the news organization was still dominated by journalists with print backgrounds.
In 2010, Abramson stepped down from her day-to-day duties as managing editor to focus on the company’s digital efforts. And a year later when she became executive editor, she said she would focus first on more fully integrating the digital and print operations .
But in subsequent months, many of the digital journalists at the Times felt the news organization was not keeping up with journalistic innovation, preferring instead to stick to the rhythms of a traditional print news operation.
High-profile digital journalists who have recently left the Times include Jon Landman, who had been deputy managing editor; Jim Roberts, assistant managing editor; Lisa Tozzi, assistant news editor; Fiona Spruill, head of emerging platforms; Alice DuBois, a digital editor; Liz Heron, social media editor; Andrew DeVigal, multimedia editor; Gabriel Dance, multimedia journalist; Jonathan Ellis, senior editor for digital platforms; Brian Stelter, TV reporter; David Pogue, tech columnist; and Nate Silver, who took the popular FiveThirtyEight property with him. (Roberts and Ellis now work at Mashable .)
An internal report from the Times leaked to Capital New York discussed the challenges the paper has faced, particularly in light numerous employees that recently left the company:
Recent departures from The Times of some digital veterans underscore the need to improve how we recruit digital talent — both for purely digital roles and for more traditional reporting and editing roles — and how we empower them to elevate our report.
We must continue to evolve in the digital world to maintain that status over the coming decades.
Despite those challenges, the Times has found some success with its digital paywall, which has generated much-needed revenue. The company beat expectations in its most recent earnings .
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