Why Jill Abramson Left The New York Times Isn't As Important As The Legacy She Leaves Behind

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On Wednesday, the New York Times announced that after a three-year run, Jill Abramson will be replaced by Dean Baquet as the editor-in-chief of the world-famous publication. The New York Times has openly pointed to "clashes" and "tension" as reasons behind her dismissal, and The New Yorker reported that Abramson had been paid significantly less than her male predecessor, Bill Keller. Regardless, no speculation over Abramson's firing should detract from the incredible achievements of the Times' first female editor-in-chief. 

For 163 years, the New York Times reported stories from across the country and around the world, quickly establishing a reputation of excellence that remains intact. The Times has won more Pulitzer Prizes than any other publication, and is the largest printed metropolitan newspaper in the United States. And while the Times paved the way and broke first ground on many issues, it trailed behind in gender equality for years. 

That is, until the appointment of Jill Abramson in 2011. Abramson took over the editorial side of the Times to become one of the few women in power in the media industry. Newsrooms have been dominated by men for years, and while women have managed to break through the proverbial glass ceilings in other businesses, the same has not been true for those struggling to make it big in news. 

In fact, the Women’s Media Center released its third annual report on the status of women in the U.S. media in February, and it showed that little progress has been made in terms of closing the gender gap in journalism. In fact, between 1999 and 2012, there was no change in the gender composition of newsrooms, with a 63.1 percent male and 36.9 percent female breakdown. In 2013, things actually got worse, with 63.7 percent of bylines and onscreen appearances made by men, and only 36.3 percent made by women.

But despite this environment, Jill Abramson managed to paint a different picture in the Times under her leadership. In an interview with Women's Media Center, Abramson noted, "During my tenure, half of the news masthead of the Times — traditionally the highest ranking editors — are women. That's a significant milestone."

A milestone, to be sure, but also one that Abramson rightfully questioned, pointing out that women have long been underrepresented across the workplace. After Katie Couric's appointment as the first solo-female anchor of a network news show, Abramson wrote an article entitled: "When will we stop saying 'First woman to . . .'?"

This frankness not only won her the respect of her peers, but also high positions at a number of news sources, including the Legal Times, Wall Street Journal and later becoming the Washington bureau chief of the Times. And when Abramson assumed her position at the New York Times as editor-in-chief, she did not solely seek to address gender inequities, but also helped bring the Times into the digital age. 

During her tenure as editor-in-chief, Abramson saw a period of continued and robust growth, despite dismal performances of other similar publications. In the first quarter of 2014, the Times boasted a $22 million profit and $390 million in revenue, a 2.6 percent growth from last year. Much of this progress was likely due to the Times' growth in the digital market. In 2013, Abramson announced the launch of a digital magazine, and noted that "half of all traffic [came] from mobile devices.

Her ability to adapt to a dynamic technological and journalistic landscape served both her and the paper well, as the New York Times was often the first to break major news. During the last three years, Abramson has overseen reporting of a major presidential election, wars, a series of international crises, hurricanes, and high-profile trials. And since 2011, the New York Times has won 10 Pulitzer Prizes. 

Upon her departure, publisher Arthur Sulzberger applauded Abramson "for not just preserving and extending the excellence of our news report during her time as executive editor, but also for inspiring her colleagues to adjust their approach to how we deliver the news." Sulzberger also noted that the reason for the change in leadership was not due to the paper's quality or business issues, but rather a result of "an issue with management in the newsroom." 

Abramson herself, classy as ever, released a statement separately, saying, "I’ve loved my run at The Times. I got to work with the best journalists in the world doing so much stand-up journalism." And while Abramson may no longer be the leading lady at the New York Times, she's sure to remain the leading lady of journalism for years to come. 


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