New York Times

All's not well in the New York Times newsroom

abramson-nyt.jpgIn a long story by Politico standards, writer Dylan Byers rolls out a series of anonymous criticisms inside the New York Times of the tenure of Jill Abramson as executive editor. She is described as distant, unnecessarily insulting to underlings and at risk of losing control of the newsroom. "In recent months, Abramson has become a source of widespread frustration and anxiety within the Times newsroom," the story says. "More than a dozen current and former members of the editorial staff, all of whom spoke to Politico on the condition of anonymity, described her as stubborn and condescending, saying they found her difficult to work with....'Every editor has a story about how she’s blown up in a meeting,' one reporter said. 'Jill can be impossible,' said another staffer."

Did I mention she is the first woman to run the New York Times? There might be some of that at work, but from here the Politico chatter seems to go beyond reactions to a tough woman running the show — and beyond the ruffled feelings common among former equals who have to learn to accept that a colleague is now their boss.

Just a year and a half into her tenure as executive editor, Abramson is already on the verge of losing the support of the newsroom. Staffers commend her skills and her experience but question whether she has the temperament to lead the paper. At times, they say, her attitude toward editors and reporters leaves everyone feeling demoralized; on other occasions, she can seem disengaged or uncaring...

Caricature or portrait, such feelings are starting to drain morale in a newsroom that is already anxious about the changing nature of the media industry and scarred by the recent round of buyouts, which saw the departure or reassignment of many high-level editors. To add insult to injury, Abramson has been notably absent — or “AWOL,” as several staffers
put it — at key periods when the Times required leadership.

“The Times is leaderless right now,” one staffer said. “Jill is very, very unpopular.”

Abramson declined to talk to POLITICO for this article.

BaquetAt the center of the story is a familiar name to Southern California media hounds. The story opens with Dean Baquet, the former Los Angeles Times editor who is now the NYT's managing editor, stomping out of a meeting with Abramson this month, slamming his hand against a wall, and leaving the building for the day. News of the altercation, as staffers call it, spread across the NYT empire. “I feel bad about that,” Baquet told Politico. “The newsroom doesn’t need to see one of its leaders have a tantrum.”

Baquet went on to praise Abramson and say she's been misunderstood by her critics. But the story's description of staffers taking Baquet's side in "the altercation" reminds me of when LAT staffers rallied around him in the weeks before he was let go in November 2006 for resisting Tribune's newsroom cuts. From Politico:

Increasingly, it is Baquet, not Abramson, that staffers turn to when they’re looking for a litmus test of the Times’ future. Where Abramson’s approach has caused anxiety, Baquet’s ability to march forward has provided reassurance.

“The whole point of leadership is to make people feel good about going the extra mile for the reader,” one staff member said. “Dean makes people feel good — which, under the circumstances, is something.”

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