A Few Thoughts on the Abramson Affair


Over the weekend, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. published a statement denying that unequal pay or gender played a role in Jill Abramson’s firing and providing more details on what happened. Here’s the Times write-up of the statement. And here’s the statement itself. But weirdly, as far as I can tell, the Times does not itself link to the statement or, again as far as I can tell, have the statement on its own website. (I wrote most of this post on Saturday. It’s possible it’s since appeared somewhere on nytimes.com.)

That is weird.

And it seems to capture a basic ingredient of the brouhaha. I don’t think there can be any question that while Abramson lost her job, the Times as an institution and particularly publisher Arthur Sulzberger, is seriously on the ropes in the PR war that has broken out in the wake of Abramson’s ouster. Just no question. It’s almost brutal how one-sided the fight is. And I have to imagine that some of that is tied to the fact that Times has this weird combination of being vastly large, weirdly hidebound in navigating this thing we call the interwebs (don’t post your own statement or link to it?) and not particularly nimble and yet also being driven by the decision-making and perhaps the whims of a single man, Arthur Sulzberger. That must be a difficult combination.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as they say. He – or rather the Sulzberger family, through a preferred stock arrangement – owns and controls the paper. He can do what he wants and should do what he thinks is in the best interests of the paper.

I have no knowledge of the internal workings of the Times or ability to evaluate the various claims or counterclaims. Abramson is an acquaintance I admire. Sulzberger I’ve only met a single time and then briefly – ironically, having lunch at the same table with him and Abramson before one of the Times in-house panel discussion/conference things. They/we were gossiping about something. I can’t remember what.

So I come away with this not really being able to know what role personality, management styles, gender, digital or whatever else had to do with this. But I think I’m learning plenty about management and decision-making at the apex of the Times organization being a precarious and wobbly thing.