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Jill Abramson: The NYT's New Executive Editor

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Does this mean that the liberal bias that we have come to love from this newspaper will come to a end...I think not.

She deflects criticism that the Times newsroom is liberal, saying whatever the paper’s editorial philosophy, “journalists in the newsroom play it straight.” But she acknowledges that “there’s a lot of cynicism toward the media. It does worry me.”

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Today’s shake-up makes the blunt-spoken Jill Abramson the Gray Lady’s first female top editor. Howard Kurtz talks to her about the paper’s liberal reputation and how to stop the brain drain.

A year ago, as Jill Abramson recalls it, Bill Keller took her to dinner and told her he was thinking of stepping down as executive editor of The New York Times.

That, of course, would mean that Abramson, Keller’s deputy for eight years, would have a shot at his coveted job. But her reaction was instinctive.

Michael Loccisano / Getty Images; Scott Gries / Getty Images

“I said, ‘That is ridiculous.’ He seemed completely passionate about his job and still getting a kick out of it. I talked him out of having those thoughts, and his wife did, too.”

Keller recalls his managing editor and his wife, Emma Gilbey Keller, putting it this way: “They said you can’t leave until the digital stuff is finished.” By that he meant the integration of the paper’s print and digital newsrooms and the creation of a gradual paywall for online content. He told publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. of his decision a month ago, saying it was best to leave when things were going smoothly. But he acknowledges a twinge of regret during the newsroom announcement Thursday.

“You’re surrounded by all these people. Your life has been entangled with theirs in 100 different ways. You’ve collaborated on stories with them. You’ve been with them when their kids were sick. You’ve tried in some cases to get them out of dangerous situations. You’ve argued with them. You’ve cut their budgets. Realizing how much they mean to me gave me a lump in my throat.”

Still, he says, “you can overstay your welcome at the pinnacle.” Keller will return to fulltime writing and launch a column for the new Sunday opinion section.

Abramson will become the first female executive editor in the 160-year history of the Times, but she downplays the importance of that milestone.

“I’m hard-charging and a competitive news person, but this is a big place,” she says. “Most of the great things we publish don’t pop out of editors’ heads, they bubble up from the reporters.”

When prodded, she adds: “I certainly feel a sense of history and I’m acutely conscious that I stand on the shoulders of a lot of other women.” In fact, Abramson was thinking of leaving the paper a decade ago—she was Washington bureau chief and felt she was being mistreated by Executive Editor Howell Raines—until she got a call from company executive Janet Robinson, now the company’s president.

Abramson deflects criticism that the Times newsroom is liberal: “Journalists in the newsroom play it straight.”

“You will quit over my dead body,” she recalls Robinson saying.

The sisterhood was also at work in 1997 when Abramson was deputy Washington bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal and met Maureen Dowd at a party. The Times columnist asked if she knew any good women that her paper could hire.

“I kind of said, ‘What am I, chopped liver?’” Dowd got the ball rolling.

Some Times insiders say the blunt-spoken Abramson was getting impatient with the long apprenticeship. Indeed, the Harvard graduate was recruited as a candidate to run the Nieman Foundation. But rather than using the approach as leverage, she told no one at the paper except Keller before declining to be considered.

Abramson, 57, has long been viewed as Keller’s heir apparent, but there was a plausible rival in the person of Dean Baquet, the Washington bureau chief, who moves up to managing editor. Baquet was a dynamic editor of The Los Angeles Times before resigning amid the wreckage of Tribune Co. budget cuts. He may still become the first African-American editor of The New York Times.

Some staffers wonder about Abramson’s forthcoming partnership with Baquet, given that the two sometimes clashed as part of the usual friction between the New York and Washington offices.

Keller, 62, had been expected to stay in the job for another couple of years, so the timing came as a surprise.

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Deny their liberal leaning ways all you want but the issue will not go away.

I know FNC doesn't distinguish all that much between an editorial and a piece of journalism, so its not surprising that slant on reporting should overshadow other outlets in the eyes of those already numbed into seeing the world from one side of the 'divide' they so urgently need to feel ideologically validated.

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What's your point? I think polls show that women actually tend to me more conservative than men, don't they?

I dont find that most woman are conservative. I like the fact that she isn't making a big deal about her being the first woman and want to address what she had done to get the job. Its nothing against woman but I just hate it when the woman factor is brought into it.

What polls? I always thought it was the other way around.

I know FNC doesn't distinguish all that much between an editorial and a piece of journalism, so its not surprising that slant on reporting should overshadow other outlets in the eyes of those already numbed into seeing the world from one side of the 'divide' they so urgently need to feel ideologically validated.

The proofs in the pudding buddy. I fear you have become so open minded that your brain fell out.

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I dont find that most woman are conservative. I like the fact that she isn't making a big deal about her being the first woman and want to address what she had done to get the job. Its nothing against woman but I just hate it when the woman factor is brought into it.

What polls? I always thought it was the other way around.

Maybe so. I do think that in the last election they at least showed that the democrat to repoublican conversion was most heavily influenced by women. Anyway, I don't think I understand your comment about her promotion affecting the NYT's so-called liberal bias.

And regarding the "woman factor"...if you want to believe that it is no more difficult for a woman to rise through the ranks than a man, then I guess it's not surprising that you wouldn't want to hear it mentioned.

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Maybe so. I do think that in the last election they at least showed that the democrat to repoublican conversion was most heavily influenced by women. Anyway, I don't think I understand your comment about her promotion affecting the NYT's so-called liberal bias.

And regarding the "woman factor"...if you want to believe that it is no more difficult for a woman to rise through the ranks than a man, then I guess it's not surprising that you wouldn't want to hear it mentioned.

I was disappointed that she blew off the whole liberal angle. I dont see things changing now that she has been promoted to head honcho.

Fair enough, climbing the corporate ladder can be very difficult for woman. Although often the issue is exaggerated.

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I dont find that most woman are conservative. I like the fact that she isn't making a big deal about her being the first woman and want to address what she had done to get the job. Its nothing against woman but I just hate it when the woman factor is brought into it.

What polls? I always thought it was the other way around.

The proofs in the pudding buddy. I fear you have become so open minded that your brain fell out.

Better to have a brain to begin with. ;)

I was disappointed that she blew off the whole liberal angle. I dont see things changing now that she has been promoted to head honcho.

Fair enough, climbing the corporate ladder can be very difficult for woman. Although often the issue is exaggerated.

Why were you disappointed? Looking for conflict where perhaps there is none?

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