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.
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.