A just-published feature in New York magazine suggests that New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson and CEO Mark Thompson are often at loggerheads about the direction of the paper.
Earlier this week, The New Republic presented a generally optimistic picture of The New York Times, suggesting that executive editor Jill Abramson had solid control of her newsroom. But a New York magazine feature published late today (and running in print next week) suggests that Abramson has clashed repeatedly with new Times CEO Mark Thompson.
Here are the most compelling details, as reported by Joe Hagan.
Mark Thompson's Involvement in a BBC Scandal Led to an Inauspicious Times Start
Thompson was formerly the director general of the BBC, and many back in his native United Kingdom questioned his handling of the scandal over TV host Jimmy Savile's alleged abuse of young girls. Those same questions followed him to Midtown Manhattan. Hagan reports there was some initial "uneasiness" over Thompson's arrival and that, on one occasion, "Abramson was obliged to defend him, despite having assigned an aggressive investigative reporter to cover his travails at the BBC."
Thompson Has Exerted an Unusual Amount of Control Over the Newsroom
In most newspapers, business and editorial are like oil and water — and that was certainly the case at the paper of record. Then Thompson arrived.
Thompson began to appear frequently in the newsroom, and he made it clear he felt very comfortable there...The Times’ reporters and editors, eager to hold on to the protocols of a legacy media world, hold quasi-religious views about the sanctity of the newsroom against the influence of business concerns. The mere presence of a corporate suit among the journalists was like a belch in a cathedral nave.
Thompson, Not Abramson, Is Now Steering The Times
Thompson's predecessor, Janet Robinson (whose exit Hagan also reported on for New York) was not generally seen as wielding nearly as much influence in the newsroom. Thompson has his own vision for the paper, and he's not shy about letting it be known:
The role of “visionary” at the paper, traditionally held by the news chief, was now being ceded to Thompson. And in recent months, say several Times sources, Abramson has chafed at some of Thompson’s moves as he redirects company resources to projects of ambiguous design, including an aggressive video unit run by a former AOL/Huffington Post executive who sits among news editors but reports to the corporate side of the Times.
For example, Hagan says that Thompson envisions "a Times-sponsored cruise with editors and reporters to Europe," as well as branded conferences. To journalistic purists, this will surely seem like a dilution of standards. Some will even recall The Washington Post's disastrous venture into similar terrain, which might serve as a cautionary tale.
However, no such qualms appear to have deterred either the paper's owner or chief executive, who according to Hagan wrote in a joint memo that "that the newsroom would be working more closely with the business side."
Money Has Been Directed Away from Traditional Journalism
With all the new projects Thompson has been concocting, he appears to have left Abramson with less cash to spend on writers and editors, as well as the expenses they accrue. Hagan paints a bleak picture of spendthrift Gray Lady:
Tales of austerity are rampant at the Times nowadays. The deputy editor of the op-ed page, Sewell Chan, recently posted on Facebook that he needed a place to stay while on business in Europe. A Portuguese online edition of the Times, which Sulzberger publicized with great fanfare on a trip to Brazil last fall, was considered too expensive and never launched.
Not Everyone Likes Abramson
This has been a running topic of conversation ever since Dylan Byers published a Politico piece that openly suggested that Abramson was disliked by many journalists. Hagan reprises many of these critiques, while also reporting that "she has become more sensitive to the jitters of the newsroom."
Videos Will Rule the Day
Thompson is heavily investing in video. Among the most popular thus far, according to Hagan, has been an instructional bit on roasting turkey for Thanksgiving.
All the news that fit to print, eh?
Photos: Abramson: REUTERS/Kena Betancur; REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly