Ken Auletta – New Yorker – Friday, 16 May 2014 (originally published 14 May)
At the annual City University Journalism School dinner, on Monday, Dean Baquet, the managing editor of the New York Times, was seated with Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the paper’s publisher. At the time, I did not give a moment’s thought to why Jill Abramson, the paper’s executive editor, was not at their table. Then, at 2:36 P.M. on Wednesday, an announcement from the Times hit my e-mail, saying that Baquet would replace Abramson, less than three years after she was appointed the first woman in the top job. Baquet will be the first African-American to lead the Times.
As with any such upheaval, there’s a history behind it. 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, needed to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson, who spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, had been at the Times for far fewer years than Keller, which accounted for some of the pension disparity. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said that Jill Abramson’s total compensation as executive editor “was directly comparable to Bill Keller’s”—though it was not actually the same. I was also told by another friend of Abramson’s that the pay gap with Keller was only closed after she complained. But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. [Update: On Thursday, Sulzberger gave his staff a memo on what he said was “misinformation” on the pay question. “It is simply not true that Jill’s compensation was significantly less than her predecessors,” he wrote. “Her pay is comparable to that of earlier executive editors.”] Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy. A third associate told me, “She found out that a former deputy managing editor”—a man—“made more money than she did” while she was managing editor. [Update: The man in question, John Geddes, was in fact the managing editor of news operations.] “She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off.”
In a reflection of the fractious relationship that Baquet and others had with Abramson, the Times reported that Baquet, speaking to the newsroom after his appointment, “praised Ms. Abramson for teaching him ‘the value of great ambition’ and then added that John Carroll, whom he worked for at The Los Angeles Times, ‘told me that great editors can also be humane editors’” . . .