The NYT, Game of Thrones, and Spock

by Greg Pollowitz

What was it like in the newsroom when the New York Times fired its editor Jill Abramson? Thankfully we have David Carr of the New York Times to shed some light on the palace intrigue. An excerpt from his piece yesterday:

I have witnessed some fraught moments at The New York Times. Jayson Blair was a friend of mine. I watched Howell Raines fly into a mountain from a very close distance. I saw the newspaper almost tip over when the print business plunged and the company had to borrow money at exorbitant rates from a Mexican billionaire.

But none of that was as surreal as what happened last week. When The Times’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., stood up at a hastily called meeting in the soaring open newsroom where we usually gather to celebrate the Pulitzers and said that Jill was out, we all just looked at one another. How did our workplace suddenly become a particularly bloody episode of “Game of Thrones”?

To expand on Carr’s Game of Thrones reference, this would make Sulzberger Jr. the cruel and dim-witted King Joffrey who only attained his title because of his name. 

Carr continues:

The current mayhem aside, Mr. Sulzberger’s real failing has been picking two editors who ended up not being right for the job.

I was standing there when Howell Raines, taken down by the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal, handed over control of the newspaper. There was sadness and anger, but also a measure of dignity. Instead, this has become a grinding spectacle.

This is part of the Abramson story that’s not really getting any attention. The way the Times is set up as a corporation protects Sulzberger as a publisher-king. . .

The Times Company has a dual share structure: Class A stock, which is publicly traded, and a special class of stock, Class B, that allows the Sulzbergers to elect about 70 percent of the company’s board.

At some point, employees and stockholders of the Times need to question if a change in executive leadership is needed, and not just an editorial switch. And those are questions not being asked. For example, Carr wrote that “increases in digital circulation have bought the company some breathing room.” Maybe Carr can ask Sulzberger why anyone subscribes to the Times digitally at all as the paywall to protect digital subscribers can be bypassed simply by using the private or incognito setting on your browser. 

Carr ends with this anecdote regarding his interview with the paper. Think like Spock if you want to work  in King’s Landing at the Times:

Before I came to work here, Gerald Boyd, the crusty — or should I say “pushy”? — managing editor who would eventually be swept up in the Jayson Blair affair, was interviewing me. I could tell it was not going well. He was skeptical of my lack of daily experience and my more noisy tendencies. I finally realized what he was waiting to hear.

“I understand that if I come to work at The New York Times, the needs of the many will frequently supersede the needs of the one,” I said.

I meant it when I said it and I learn the truth of it with each passing day.

Well, since Carr does bring it up, when do the needs of the many at the NYT outweigh the needs of the Sulzberger family?


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