Politico just published a rather startling exposée on the state of affairs at The New York Times, notably the collective bad attitude towards executive editor Jill Abramson. The story starts with a meeting between Abramson and managing editor Dean Baquet that ended in shouting, wall-slapping and a generally unpleasant scene in the newsroom. Baquet's not the only one who's been having trouble with his new boss who, a year and a half in, is still relatively new to the top job at The Times. If you believe Politico's version of the story, the Times newsroom is a mess, and it's all Abramson's fault.
But is this really a mutiny? Or just a bunch of whiny staffers who are used to having an editor who's a little gentler. Politico's Dylan Byers reports:
“Every editor has a story about how she’s blown up in a meeting,” one reporter said. “Jill can be impossible,” said another staffer.
Just a year and a half into her tenure as executive editor, Abramson is already on the verge of losing the support of the newsroom. Staffers commend her skills and her experience but question whether she has the temperament to lead the paper. At times, they say, her attitude toward editors and reporters leaves everyone feeling demoralized; on other occasions, she can seem disengaged or uncaring.
This is surprising. After all, Jill Abramson was supposed to be a savior of sorts for the editorial side of things at the Times. She's got some digital savvy, a fierce ambition to chase tough stories and get them right and a generally alluring demeanor. (Did you know she has a tattoo, loves dogs and is basically a hipster?) However, positive profiles in The New Yorker and New York Magazine don't necessarily translate into strong managerial skills.
This could also just be a bunch of gossip. It's not easy being in the newspaper business. In fact, a recent survey of the world's best jobs listed newspaper reporter as the worst job to have in 2010. Plenty of companies in the newspaper industry continue to hemorrhage money, a fact that's led to layoffs and buyouts at places like The Times. And it's not like journalists aren't stressed out enough already. It's entirely possible that Byers got ahold of a few disgruntled Timesmen and Timeswomen, who are still uneasy with the changing of the guard and might be looking for a place to vent. That seems less likely, however, when you take into account that Byers says he talked with over "a dozen current and former members of the editorial staff."
The only person willing to go on record and include his name — besides the Times spokesperson, who said glowing things about Abramson's tenure so far — was none other than Dean Baquet himself. And he had nothing but good things to say about his boss as well as some apologies for that wall-slapping incident. Baquet pushes back at the notion that there's some sort of mutiny brewing at the Times. Instead, he says, we're letting ourselves get carried away by stereotypes. "I think there's a really easy caricature that some people have bought into, of the bitchy woman character and the guy who is sort of calmer," Baquet said. "That, I think, is a little bit of an unfair caricature."
Meanwhile, The New York Times just won four Pulitzers, so there's that.