MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Jill Abramson served as executive editor of The New York Times at a tumultuous time for the journalism industry. The rollout of her new book about the industry has also been tumultuous. The book is called "Merchants Of Truth: The Business Of News And The Fight For Facts." In it, Abramson tracks the rise of two significant upstart outlets, BuzzFeed and Vice, as well as the struggles of the two most prominent national papers, The New York Times and The Washington Post, to stay afloat in the digital age.
But even before the book went on sale this week, Abramson has been facing charges of inaccuracy and plagiarism. Her publisher, Simon and Schuster, issued a statement calling the book, quote, "exhaustively researched and meticulously sourced" - unquote - but added that, quote, "If upon further examination, changes or attributions are deemed necessary, we stand ready to work with the author in making those revisions." And Jill Abramson is with us now to talk about the issues raised by her and about her. She's with us from our bureau in New York.
Jill Abramson, thanks so much for joining us.
JILL ABRAMSON: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: So let's start with disclosures, which, as you point out, is something highly prized in the legacy media - that we worked in the same newsroom at The Wall Street Journal, and we did parallel reporting around the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. And you appeared in a documentary I reported on that subject for ABC News, drawing from your book on the same subject. So, with that being said, we know each other.
ABRAMSON: We do.
MARTIN: That being said, we want to get to the substance of the book, but we want to speak to the controversy swirling around its release - allegations of inaccuracy by people that you write about. After reading the galley proof, a Vice journalist said you were wrong about her gender identity and her journalism background. Now, some of those errors were corrected in the final printed work. But she says that other errors remain.
A PBS reporter said you misrepresented his decision not to wear protective clothing while covering the Ebola epidemic. The person who reviewed the book for NPR says you made a, quote, "surprising number of errors in your own work." And she said that many of these are quiet but revealing omissions of context. So what do you have to say about that?
ABRAMSON: Well, accuracy and devotion to the truth, you know, are so important to me. And I take all of these, you know, allegations of inaccuracy and plagiarism very seriously. When I found the allegations have merit, I have moved very quickly to correct everything.
MARTIN: As an editor, how would you handle allegations like the ones you're facing if a reporter under your supervision was facing them? Michael Moynihan has pointed out - he's tweeted several passages, numerous passages that he says were just too close to things that were written elsewhere, like in Columbia Journalism Review, for example. What do you say about that?
ABRAMSON: Well, the way I responded is the way I would expect anyone, you know, at The New York Times or any good journalist. I am scrutinizing everything and being open and transparent when I have been wrong and corrected anything that I found to be an inaccuracy. In terms of the six passages that Michael Moynihan highlighted on Twitter, you know, I've looked at each and every one. And, you know, my book has 70 pages of footnotes. The citations for Vice, the three Vice chapters are - you know, there are nearly a hundred source citations.
MARTIN: There's a freelance journalist who wrote a profile about Vice's Thomas Morton. He says also that he feels that there were passages that were uncomfortably close to those that he had written before. And your response to that is...
ABRAMSON: You know, I've looked at them, and in several of these cases, the language is too close for comfort and should have been specifically cited in the footnotes correctly or put in quotations. I fell short, and I'm going to fix those pronto.
MARTIN: So let's talk more about the substance of the book. I mean, you wrote that the news pages of The New York Times are unmistakably anti-Trump. And the president, who regularly calls the press the enemy of the people, applauded you...
MARTIN: ...For calling the Times' coverage unmistakably anti-Trump. So, you know, there are two questions here. Do you think that the coverage is financially motivated or motivated by business considerations?
ABRAMSON: I don't think it's motivated by, and I did not write in the book that it's motivated by. But I have talked to journalists there and elsewhere who have told me when their stories aren't about Trump, the readership goes way down. Reporters and, you know, editors and the business side, who's still trying like crazy to get advertising even though Facebook and Google are eating up most of that - you know, they want a big audience for their news.
MARTIN: You unpack what's behind the upstart business models, what's behind the disruption to the - kind of the legacy media institutions. And so, you know, that's the core of your book. But now, you know, after a decade of all of this, buyouts and layoffs, it's the upstarts - you know BuzzFeed...
ABRAMSON: I know.
MARTIN: ...And Vice...
ABRAMSON: Who are having...
MARTIN: ...That are laying off staff.
ABRAMSON: ...A very bad winter for sure.
MARTIN: And the Post seems to have found stability in the hands of publisher Jeff Bezos, who's, of course, you know, the founder of Amazon. The New York Times seems to have...
ABRAMSON: Yeah, but he bought it with...
MARTIN: ...Business model.
MARTIN: But those legacy institutions seem to be doing well. And those upstarts who were so, you know, critical to the disruption of the traditional business model are the ones that are having difficulties. And I just wondered - and obviously, this is all happening in real time - is there some bigger story here or a bigger lesson that you draw from these developments about the industry?
ABRAMSON: Yeah. That, you know, there isn't a certain survival formula or business model that will ensure every news organization's future. And, you know, right now, yes. The Post and The Times are getting more subscribers. And, you know, it's like having a thrilling, old-fashioned newspaper war all over again. I think it's a hazard to be certain of the future of any type of news organization. But the one thing I'm totally optimistic about is the eternal need for great storytelling and quality journalism.
MARTIN: That is former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson. She now teaches at Harvard. Her new book is called "Merchants Of Truth: The Business Of News And The Fight For Facts."
Jill Abramson, thanks so much for talking to us.
ABRAMSON: Thanks, Michel.
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