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Several readers have asked what I make of the dismissal of Jill Abramson as executive editor of the Times.
It seems to me that there are several takeaway points or explanatory frameworks. Among them:
*In a family business, the executives, no matter how high they rank, need to remember that they work for the family. People are comparing Jill Abramson to her predecessor as ousted Times editor, Howell Raines. The comparison that resonated more for me, though, is that of Lance Primis, the business-side Times guy who resigned in 1996 after making a pass at the CEO job, which Arthur Ochs Sulzberger wanted to go to his son, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.
* Liberals are a bunch of hypocrites. Thus while the Times has been crusading editorially for legislation to assure that women get equal pay for equal work, its own female executive editor, Jill Abramson, was paid less than her male predecessor, and when she, as the New Yorker reported, "had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities," the paper fired her, possibly running afoul, at least in spirit, of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
•The internal politics of the Times are poisonous. The Times has a newsroom of more than 1,000 people, nearly all of whom think they are brilliant enough to edit the newspaper and many of whom are willing to stab each other in the back to advance their chances.
•Abramson made some personnel moves that didn't work out. She hired a national editor, Sam Sifton, who then moved aside. She hired a Washington bureau chief, David Leonhardt, who then moved aside. And Washington and national were supposed to be her core expertise, substance-wise.
•She got tagged "abrasive." This happens to a lot of smart New York Jews. It happened to Larry Summers at Harvard. It happened to Susan Glasser at the Washington Post. They used to say it about me. I am sympathetic to her on this front, but if she is smart, which she is, she'll learn from the experience and move on.
•The Times is in trouble. If the business were a booming success, this would not have happened. But the paper is struggling to adapt to a changing media environment. Money for things other than severance packages for high-ranking women executives who can't get along with Arthur Sulzberger Jr. (see the case of Janet Robinson) is tight. So perceived management faults are magnified more than they would be in a growing business with plenty of money to paper over minor grievances.
•Never mistake your job for your religion. Jill Abramson told the Times for the article announcing her promotion: "In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion." She reportedly got a tattoo of the stylized "T" in the Times newspaper banner. Enthusiasm and loyalty for the company you work for is great, but unless you or your family own it and aren't going to sell it, you probably want to think very carefully before you worship it or make it a core part of your identity.
•There's a competitive market for editorial talent. Ms. Abramson's successor, Dean Baquet, reportedly was recently approached by Bloomberg, which also recently reportedly hired political reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann at salaries of $1 million a year. News of that overture may have hastened the editorial change at the Times.
•You don't need a college degree to succeed professionally. The Times profile of its new executive editor, Mr. Baquet, reports that he never finished college. He's in the fine company of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg on that front.
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