Update, 5/15: The most intriguing accounts to emerge since yesterday afternoon have focused on a reported conflict between Abramson and the NYT over her compensation, relative to other top editors at the paper (see Ken Auletta and David Folkenflik), and on Abramson’s efforts to hire Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief of Guardian US, as a co-managing editor (see The Guardian and the NYT). Other stuff worth reading from Bloomberg, Vox, Vox again, New York, Capital, and The New Republic, plus a word of caution on interpreting the news. Also, Buzzfeed now has the internal report.
If you’re a journalist, your Twitter feed exploded shortly after 2:30pm today, when word came out that Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times since 2011, had been abruptly, and unexpectedly, replaced. Dean Baquet, a former Los Angeles Times editor who’s been rising up the NYT masthead in recent years, is taking over the top spot, effective immediately. (He becomes the first African-American top editor at the Times, replacing Abramson, the first female top editor.) The news seems to have been as much of a shock in the Times newsroom as outside it. The NYT’s initial story on the move, by Ravi Somaiya, ended: “The reasons for the switch were not immediately clear.”
Cue the speculation! An obvious place to look is tension between the editorial and business side. Joe Hagan, in a long New York magazine profile of newish Times CEO Mark Thompson last summer, noted that Thompson is a frequent newsroom presence, and that “Abramson has chafed at some of Thompson’s moves as he redirects company resources to projects of ambiguous design.”
But Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who made the decision to change editors, made a point of telling the newsroom a news/business divide had nothing to do with the move:
Sulzberger: "This is also NOT about any sort of disagreement between the newsroom and the business side…"— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) May 14, 2014
Which, of course, only convinced some observers that it has everything to do with it:
Sulzberger says "This is not about any disagreement between the newsroom & the business side,” which means that’s probably what it’s about.— Molly Ball (@mollyesque) May 14, 2014
But the alternative explanation Sulzberger did provide, vague as it was, didn’t exactly come out of the blue. As Brian Stelter writes at CNN, the publisher told staff he made the change “because I believe that new leadership will improve some aspects of the management of the newsroom.”
Abramson’s management approach has been a subject of discussion at least since a famous—or in some circles, infamous—article by Politico’s Dylan Byers, just over a year ago, which declared: “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.” That story, which portrayed Baquet as a more popular, reassuring figure in the newsroom than the demanding Abramson, took some grief for, in some readers’ views, playing into sexist stereotypes, as Byers acknowledged at the time. Still, plenty of people were turning back to it today—especially in light of Sulzberger’s emphasis on the “confidence and support” Baquet enjoys from colleagues. (Here’s Byers’ developing story on today’s news.)
Meanwhile, over at BuzzFeed, Jessica Testa focused on a different angle—a recent “critical report on the paper’s adjustment to the new media ecosystem”:
In July, Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, a metro reporter and the son of Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., started work as the head of a “new ideas task force” made up of other Times reporters to focus on digital innovation and figuring out how to better engage the paper’s online audience. The resulting report was published last week and found that the Times still has a lot of ground to make up. “The pace of change in our industry demands that we move faster,” the report’s authors wrote.
And if anything, the report understated the alarm among its authors: A source said that members of the committee were more rattled by what they found even than the report suggests.
At the same time, Testa notes, Baquet “is more beloved manager than digital visionary.”
With Stelter, Byers, Testa, The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, and you can bet every other scoop-chasing media reporter trying to find out what happened here—not to mention every Times reporter trying to figure out what the heck just happened—it probably won’t be long before we have more than speculation. For the time being, a poignant note:
Seems as good a time as any for the occasional reminder that Abramson has the New York Times "T" tattooed on her back http://t.co/PIkxxhTZvv— Megan Garber (@megangarber) May 14, 2014
Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.