All The News That’s Fit To Print

Jill Abramson, the top editor at the New York Times, was dismissed this week and replaced by Dean Baquet, her top assistant. This business announcement, however, read more like “New York Times fires their first ever female editor in chief with their first ever African-American editor in chief”. Is that the news?

Abramson had been editor for over two years and the newspaper was functioning well (it appeared). Baquet was her assistant for that time and by most accounts also had performed well. So why the change?

Abramson’s supporters which may include Jill herself, released the message that Jill had complained about pay inequality. The NYT company management denied this and decided the disgruntled Abramson was no longer needed. Rumors followed saying Abramson had an abrasive manner and often was contentious with subordinates. Exit Abramson, enter Baquet.

One of the murkiest areas in corporate life is renumeration. Most corporations have pay grades and guidelines but specific pay amounts can vary. For example, if a company recruits someone, they may decide to pay that person at a higher level just to attract that person away from the previous employer. The company will rationalize that over time, the new hire’s pay will be “feathered” in to the new companies pay policies.

While it is certainly possible both sets of claims are true, that is Abramson was paid less than her predecessor, and Abramson was “bossy” and difficult to work with, her dismissal may have been rooted more in a quite different subject. The silent enemy, the digital world.

The newspaper industry is trying to come to grips with the digital world. More and more people are finding the NYT on-line fits their needs best. While “more and more” are a lot of people, there is as large a readership which wants the paper version and does not want an on-line version only.

Even more important, the NYT has not figured out how to make money digitally. Making money with the traditional paper version is no walk in the park either. Ad revenues are less reflecting other options for the Macy’s of the advertising world.

Consequently the top NYT brass have two worrisome opportunities. Ride a dying hard paper model or jump to a money losing digitally version. Hmmm.

Time will probably reveal that ultimately Abramson lost out because she resisted the move to an increased digital business model. In the eyes of the publisher, the digital threat is a do or die event. Her resistance most likely arose from the “business side” of the NYT placing subordinates into Abramson’s “news side”. Any editor in chief, worth their salt, would rise up against any owner who undermined the integrity of their news division. My guess is Abramson was no different.

The selective releases of each side of this story probably reflects each side’s view of “All The News That’s Fit To Print”.

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