Almost a week after The New York Times announced that executive editor Bill Keller was stepping down and Jill Abramson was stepping up, the inevitable profiles are beginning to trickle through. (She really likes dogs.) Today, The Guardian, The New York Observer, and WWD each offer their takes on the Times’s new head honcho. Which True Manhattan Story you should read really depends on what you want to know about Ms. Abramson.
If you care about Twitter, authority, and all things digital
Ed Pilkington at The Guardian does a good job explaining the significance of Abramson’s new post to UK readers: “as close as it gets to royalty in America, discounting the president and Lady GaGa.” And for my money, if you want a neat summary of the challenges Abramson faces stepping into the job after Keller, Pilkington’s the man to read. He homes in on the Times’s mixed digital record and gets Abramson’s take.
On the one hand, on 6 September Abramson will inherit a paper that is second to none in terms of its global internet reach. Its readership, measured as monthly unique users, now stands at 46 million worldwide, which is testament to its winning combination of superb traditional reporting and an impressive modern array of multi- media offerings and blogs.
But the Times has also been criticised for being sluggish when it comes to developing its internet community of readers by embracing the openness and interactivity of the web.
“I would say that’s fair,” Abramson concurs. “We are now on that case heavily in terms of using social media for reporting and to make the Times a platform for people to gather. In some ways, on breaking news our greatest competitor can be Twitter.”
Pilkington plugs away at the Twitter issue, a topic that became somewhat hotter this year after Keller began what seemed like a mini-crusade against the technology. Abramson, for the record, only recently set up a Twitter account for herself.
Isn’t it a bit weird, I suggest, that the next editor of America’s most important paper, the person vested with the crucial task of steering it through a period of unparalleled digital change, hasn’t even yet sent her first tweet?
“It may be weird,” she says. “But I haven’t felt the need until now. I’m an interior kind of person.”
She seeks to dig herself out of this hole by promising to step up the pace of digital innovation. She’s got herself an iPad, she says, and says she loves the Huffington Post’s iPad app. “It’s really jazzy.” She also name-checks Arianna Huffington, the website’s charismatic founder. “I’ve known her since the early 90s in Washington and she has invented a site that is interesting a lot of the time. I went and spent a day at the HuffPo and had a lovely lunch with Arianna.”
Pilkington also draws some interesting thoughts from Abramson on the notion of the Times as an all-knowing Sauron’s eye of news. She tells him: “Nobody wants a unitary voice of authority any more. Readers are sceptical about our authority, I’m very aware of that. It’s a question of engaging more than we might have years ago. Our readers are an unbelievable resource to us and yes we have to be more energetic and creative about leveraging the beauty of our online audience.” Changing times, folks.
Other highlights from Pilkington’s piece center around Abramson’s now famed “New Yorker-ness.” Completists will be excited to know that Abramson has a tattoo of a New York subway token on her right shoulder, complete with the phrase “Good for one fare only,” one of the new editor’s life philosophies. And Pilkington manages one of the most vivid descriptions of a New York accent I’ve read for some time: “a nasal drawl in which the vowels are stretched to breaking point like an elastic band. So ‘out’ becomes ‘iouuut’, and ‘now’ ‘niouuuw’, a bit-with all due respect to her beloved dogs-like the mewing of a cat.”
If you care about career trajectories, families, and Norse gods
Playing on Abramson’s line last Thursday that her new posting feels like “ascending to Valhalla,” The New York Observer’s Kat Stoeffel colorfully traces Abramson’s rise from Steve Brill’s legal publications to the top of the town. Stoeffel manages to get an incredible amount of detail, speaking to members of Abramson’s family about her career and home life, and outlining her friendships with Maureen Dowd and Jane Mayer. “She had great skirts,” Mayer says at one point, recalling her schooldays with Abramson.