Boy, that Jill Abramson sounds like a real piece of work, huh?

Shock news: female boss of the New York Times is bossy.

 

There's an incredible story on Politico today about "turbulence" over the New York Times's executive editor, Jill Abramson. It's fascinating because it sets out to prove that Abramson's juniors have a problem with her, that's she cold and condescending, but all the evidence it brings to attempt to convict her just seems . . . well . . . meh.

Behold:

In one meeting, Abramson was upset with a photograph that was on the homepage. Rather than asking for a change to be made after the meeting, she turned to the relevant editor and, according to sources with knowledge of the meeting, said bluntly, “I don’t know why you’re still here. If I were you, I would leave now and change the photo.”

Heady stuff. I've literally never worked in a newsroom where an editor has been unhappy with something and has said so in front of everyone. 

In another meeting, an editor asked about The Times Company’s recent decision to rename the International Herald Tribune as “The International New York Times.” Abramson reportedly snapped: That issue has been settled, she said. Why would we even bother getting into that?

Ouch. What kind of monster doesn't just let employees rehash old discussions?

There's an intriguing comparison throughout with Abramson's managing editor, Dean Baquet. In the opening of the piece, he steams out of her office in an episode he himself calls a "tantrum". And yet:

Where Abramson’s approach has caused anxiety, Baquet’s ability to march forward has provided reassurance.

Reading the piece, you can't help but feel that what might get read as "strength" or "not suffering fools gladly" in a male boss, becomes "cold" and "brusque" in a woman.

As Poynter notes, even the NYT's own staff are aware of this angle:

A darker undercurrent runs through the piece, though, one that Managing Editor Dean Baquet attempts to pierce at the beginning. (He and Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy are the only Times sources who spoke on the record.)

“I think there’s a really easy caricature that some people have bought into, of the bitchy woman character and the guy who is sort of calmer,” Baquet told [Politico writer] Dylan Byers. “That, I think, is a little bit of an unfair caricature.”

Update: As Tom Phillips points out, Apple's Tim Cook has a similarly "no nonsense" reputation, except he gets praised for being terse

"[Cook] convened a meeting with his team, and the discussion turned to a particular problem in Asia. 'This is really bad,' Cook told the group. 'Someone should be in China driving this.' Thirty minutes into that meeting Cook looked at Sabih Khan, a key operations executive, and abruptly asked, with a trace of emotion, 'Why are you still here?'"

Yeah. He didn't just send someone out to change the homepage photo. He sent them to China

Politico's story.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.