Gender And Money At The Helm Of 'The New York Times'

Rumors are flying over the firing of The New York Time's first female editor, Jill Abramson. Scott Simon talks with NPR's David Folkenflik about how gender and compensation may have played a roll.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The appointment of Jill Abramson as the first woman executive editor of The New York Times was a huge story in 2011. So was her firing this week as commentators speculated about whether she was treated differently because of her gender. NPR's David Folkenflik has been covering this story all week and joins us now. David, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Of course.

SIMON: An awful lot of talk, immediate speculation. Is there evidence that Jill Abramson was fired because expectations for female bosses are different than they are for male executives?

FOLKENFLIK: Jill Abramson, about three or four weeks ago, concluded that she had been paid considerably less than her male predecessor and sometime-mentor, Bill Keller; and that also, that when she had been the No. 2 news editor at the paper, that one of her colleagues who was something of a lesser role than she played, but still also very senior executive, was paid considerably more than she had as well. And she reacted very angrily about that, confronted corporate executives, and even consulted a lawyer to figure out the meanings of that.

In addition, she was routinely criticized for the way she handled and dealt with colleagues. She was seen at times as imperious, very brusque. And yet these are qualities that, you know, when male editors have had them over the years - think, particularly memorably, of Abe Rosenthal, perhaps the most important New York Times executive editor of the past half-century - people look at guys who have held those qualities, and they haven't come in for widespread condemnation for it.

So you know, there seems to be these elements in which gender plays a role and were involved, in part, in the fraying of her relations with some of her top news editors and also, particularly, her boss, Arthur Sulzberger - and yet don't seem to have been explicitly determinative in her firing itself.

SIMON: Was she paid less than her male colleagues?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the Times has fought back very hard against this contention. They've released figures suggesting that she, in 2013, her final year, full year as executive editor, was paid more than Bill Keller was paid in 2010, which was his last full year. You know, there are questions of whether her pension was quite as big as Keller's.

He had been at the paper longer and of course, you know, during the global financial crisis, the Times had frozen the pensions of all executives and managers. So you know, the Times is arguing, well, that's apples and oranges. And her camp says, look, this is what she took home. This is a question of how much compensation she was ultimately getting full stop.

SIMON: Everybody's been leaking on this story.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah.

SIMON: And there were reports this week that Dean Baquet, who has now succeeded her - very well thought of at the paper, and in journalism - had been upset at the idea that Jill Abramson was going to bring in somebody alongside of him to run the digital media side. And he felt discounted and the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, felt that he had to choose between them.

FOLKENFLIK: I think that that's a pretty fair characterization. I think that Baquet was clearly going to be Abramson's successor, ultimately and eventually. It was not really Abramson's choice to name him so much as Sulzberger's. And her bosses concluded that her failure to inform, and keep involved in a collegial way, Baquet in her thinking about structuring the newsroom was just the ultimate indicator to them that her ability to communicate with the newsroom leadership, and her ability to bring them along with her, had fallen apart.

SIMON: Someday, will we see this as a story in which The New York Times has appointed its first African-American executive editor?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it certainly should be looked in that light. I think it's a terrible shame that Dean Baquet, a guy of such distinction as an investigative reporter and editor; as a political reporter and editor; as a guy who is a champion of reporters and kind of one of their great encouragers - you know, he breathes life into a room, and he breathes life into a newsroom, in a very refreshing way - it's such a shame that this is the way in which he ascends to this job.

And I think we're going to look at this as internal politics that have meaning because it's The New York Times, but also implications in terms of, you know, this pioneering woman journalist, the first female, who gets such an abrupt and unseemly departure, instead of celebrating what should be the ascent of the first African-American editor of the Times itself.

SIMON: NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

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