May 15, 2014

The New York Times | Slate | New Republic | Salon | All Digitocracy

After her firing from The New York Times on Wednesday, the media reported and repeated anonymous descriptions about Jill Abramson that made many of us cringe. She was pushy. Mercurial. Stubborn and condescending.

But on Thursday, several stories used different words to describe Abramson.

From Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ public editor:

But let’s take a moment to celebrate the short but meaningful reign of Ms. Abramson. A brilliant journalist, she “kept the paper straight,” which was one of her stated aims; there was no scandal on her watch. She moved the journalism forward into the digital realm – let’s allow the word “Snowfall,” like “Rosebud” to say it all. She defended press rights and stood up for her reporters, most notably with China coverage, staying the course when the going got tough. And her staff won eight Pulitzers during her short tenure (it should have been nine, in my view). And she wore her feminism on her sleeve in just the right way – not with overplaying stories about women’s issues, but with the determined promotion of qualified women into top roles. Her masthead was 50 percent women in recent months, a major change.

From Amanda Hess at Slate:

“Among the women here, there was a deep appreciation that another woman was high up at the Times. It symbolically had an impact,” one young female staffer told me. “We felt possessive and proud of Jill, and [appreciated] her stories about [New Yorker reporter] Jane Mayer and her other female friends in journalism,” said another. “We loved that she had all those tattoos,” she continued, referring to the Times’ T on Abramson’s back. “We were curious about her and how she got to where she was in a way that [we weren’t] about senior male editors. This might have been just my imagination, but I felt like I related to and empathized with her in a way I hadn’t with male editors.” A third put it this way: “Jill leaned in before everyone else, ever. Before Lean In. She’s pre-Sheryl Sheryl, but with more style and more class.”

From Rebecca Traister at New Republic:

If newspapers and media outlets were run and staffed by as many women as men, Abramson’s dismissal would simply be media gossip: there would be argument about whether she was effective or ineffective; we could debate her own role in the paper’s pre-Iraq coverage, the quality of the paper under her tenure; the value of the multi-part series about a homeless adolescent published by the Times in December. The horrifying questions about whether her reported pursuit of equal pay played a role in her demise likely wouldn’t apply; if there were gender parity in workplaces, pay inequity would be much less of a reality.

As it is, the departure of Jill Abramson is a bigger and far grimmer story about a uniquely powerful woman, whose rise and whose firing will now become another depressingly representative chapter in the story of women’s terribly slow march toward social, professional and economic parity.

From Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon:

It’s entirely possible Abramson was just a bad boss. Women can be bad bosses too. The most horrendous person I ever worked for, in fact, was a woman – an incompetent, paranoid, sabotaging woman. If you’ve ever worked, there’s no way you haven’t had awful supervisors and it’s likely some of those supervisors were female. That’s not a sexist observation; that’s the reality of work experience. And men can be on the receiving end of unflattering assessments too – imagine if instead of “pushy” Abramson had been described as “silly” and “bland” – words that have been applied to former Times editor Bill Keller.

And from Tracie Powell at All Digitocracy, who wrote about the tangle of gender issues involved as well as the racial ones:

And there’s the rub. The success of people of color in the workplace should not come at the expense of women’s success, or vice versa, but it often does as sexism and racism go hand-in-hand. From now on, despite all of Baquet’s credentials including his Pulitzer Prize, people will quietly wonder whether a still sexist New York Times elevated an African American, at least in part, to give itself cover for firing an uppity woman.

As a black, female journalist who has also been called uppity, I know both Abramson’s and Baquet’s stories all too well because I’ve lived it, and am living it. And no, that complicated interplay of race and gender inside white, male dominated cultures doesn’t get any easier to write or talk about.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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