The Corner

Ken Auletta: Abramson Done In by the Gender Pay Gap

New Yorker media reporter Ken Auletta has a thesis on the surprise departure of Jill Abramson as executive editor of the New York Times:

Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. Sulzberger is known to believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, has had to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson had also been at the Times for far fewer years than Keller, having spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, accounting for some of the pension disparity. (I was also told by another friend of hers that the pay gap with Keller has since been closed.) But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy.

Sulzberger’s frustration with Abramson was growing. She had already clashed with the company’s C.E.O., Mark Thompson, over native advertising and the perceived intrusion of the business side into the newsroom. Publicly, Thompson and Abramson denied that there was any tension between them, as Sulzberger today declared that there was no church-state—that is, business-editorial—conflict at the Times. A politician who made such implausible claims might merit a front-page story in the Times.

A third issue surfaced, too: Abramson was pushing to hire a deputy managing editor to oversee the digital side of the Times. She believed that she had the support of Sulzberger and Thompson to recruit this deputy, and her supporters say that the plan was for the person in this position to report to Baquet. Baquet is a popular and respected figure in the newsroom, and he had appeared to get along with Abramson.

Los Tiempos de Nueva York, in both its news and opinion coverage, has been a leading light on the gender pay gap, having called the issue not “just a women’s issue, but a societal and moral one,” a problem that “comes from differences within occupations, not between them,” and an outrage that “persists even in workplaces committed to gender equality.”

It’s fully plausible that Abramson just had bad luck in ascending at the very moment the Grey Lady realized how dire its financial troubles were. The paper took a bath in building its ridiculous Renzo Piano–designed headquarters just as the real-estate bubble burst; the industry is in secular decline; and it’s telling that one of the tropes going around today is that America’s Newspaper of Record needs to take a “digital-first” focus — a reform that will bring the paper fully up to 1995. To be fair, the Times’ site is way ahead of most newspapers’ online offerings. But I believe they still have a paywall — I don’t look at it enough to know — and online paywalls are an offense against both journalism’s future and its past. (Subscriptions and newsstand sales were always nominal revenue sources that at best covered part of the cost of delivery. Anything that stands between you and your readers is bad mojo.)

Dean Baquet was fired by the Los Angeles Times on the very day that I started my own short career at that paper, so it’s interesting to see the wheel of fortune take another turn. I wish him the best, though I don’t see much in his CV that suggests he’s going to be the digital visionary the paper needs. It’s also pretty strange that “an issue with management in the newsroom” so widespread it led to the firing of the paper’s editor is a secret the paper’s own coverage of the firing can’t seem to crack.

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