Tuesday, May 20, 2014


I've been trying very hard to just keep my mouth shut regarding the New York Times' firing of Executive Editor Jill Abramson, the first woman to hold that post at the paper, and the swirl of hubbub that has grown in wake of it. After all, I have never met her or her bosses or ever even been in the New York Times building, much less its news department. What's more, I am writing from the border in deep South Texas, some 2,000+ miles from the granite canyons of Manhattan.

However, two factors do come into play that led me to finally say something here. First, after 45 years in the business at eight different newspapers, I do know something about the nature of the beast. And, second, as anyone who knows me can readily attest, after more than 69 years of living I still lack the willpower to keep my mouth shut even about things that may not directly involve me.

The impetus for me to finally unshackle my tongue (or, perhaps, more accurately my fingers) with regard to the firing was this Facebook post this morning my by friend Jimmie D. Davis of Fort Worth, Texas, another former, longtime newsman:

"Oh, the ignominy. Getting unfriended by Amy Siskind. I had the audacity to disagree with her about the NYT mess.

She took out after Rachel Maddow for lack of coverage of the mess. If anyone out there has definitive knowledge of who is right and who is wrong in this, please share with the rest of us.

From the facts I so far have been able to gather I tend to lean with the NYT. But that may be totally wrong, so I am hesitant to go deeper than that. Rachel Maddow may just have the same problem.
But, apparently Amy Siskind thinks that any woman journalist worth her salt must take the default position in favor of the female in any dispute of this sort. That's thinking like a Fox."

Clearly, Abramson's seemingly abrupt firing on May 14 has sent the national journalism community into a tizzy.

Her supporters, in general, contend she is a victim of sexism and speculate that she might have been fired because she "may" have been being paid less than her predecessor and wanted a salary boost that cost her her job.

Her detractors, in general, contend she was let go because of her "management" style, alleging that she played favorites and sometimes publicly vilified those who weren't and, therefore, got just what she deserved.

Since I have no knowledge of what she or her predecessor were being paid, the only thing I have to say about that is that gender rightfully should have absolutely nothing to do with pay. If she had the same skills -- which I think you must assume or she would not have or should not have gotten the position in the first place -- and the same experience level, she should have been paid the same, or even more if she could have negotiated it at the time of her promotion. The only justification for having paid her less should have been, in my opinion, based solely on her skill and/or experience level compared to her predecessor. Gender should never play a role in a pay decision.

As for her "management style," I  have to suspect that considering the era in which she got into the business, she may have been a bit old school -- a style that sends today's newspaper H-R people into fits of apoplexy, but from which many of us learned one hell of a lot and became far better newspaper people than we might have been otherwise. However, being a tough, unyielding and possibly even harsh editor is one thing and playing favorites to the detriment of the others is quite something else. But I don't know anything about her personal management style.

What I DO know is that Abramson had established a reputation within the industry as a good and qualified editor and I, for one, was pleasantly surprised when she was named the NYT's first female executive editor in September 2011.

This all brings me back to my response to Jimmie Davis' Facebook post which was based on what all of us who have ever been the top news executive at any newspaper in the United States regardless of size or location knows all too well. My comment was:

"JIMMIE: There is one immutable fact here and that is that regardless of race, gender, ethnic origin, religion or sexual preference, if you are the editor of a newspaper, you serve at the pleasure of the owner and/or publisher. The question here is not one of whether or not the publisher had a right to fire her or whether or not it was the right thing or wrong thing to do, but rather how the dismissal was handled and from what I can see, it was not handled well nor with anything bordering on class from either side."

Whatever the "real" reason for Jill Abramson's firing -- fair or unfair, just or unjust -- it would appear, in the final analysis, that she displeased Publisher Arthur Sulzberger and he decided to show her the door. It has always been thus for chief news executives at newspapers and very few have ever survived getting irrevocably crosswise with their publisher.


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