Abramson Out At 'NYT,' Baquet Named Executive Editor

Wednesday brought a surprising top-level editorial shakeup at The New York Times, with publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.’s announcement that assistant managing editor Dean Baquet is replacing Jill Abramson as executive editor, effective immediately.

Abramson is stepping down after less than three years in the top editorial spot at the NYT. She assumed the role of executive editor in September 2011 -- becoming the first woman to hold the prestigious position in the newspaper’s history -- after serving as managing editor from 2003-2011. She first joined the paper in 1997.

No explanation was given for Abramson’s abrupt departure, and there were few hints aside from Sulzberger’s cryptic statement to the NYT newsroom. “We had an issue with management in the newsroom,” as recounted by one NYT staffer.
 
Baquet is another trailblazer for the NYT, becoming the first African-American executive editor in the newspaper’s history. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Baquet, 57, had been an assistant managing editor and Washington bureau chief for NYT since March 2007. Before joining the NYT, he served as editor of the Los Angeles Times, having previously served as managing editor.
 
Sulzberger stated: “Our business continues its digital transformation and in our newsroom, we are moving fast to a digital first reality. With Jill, Dean was closely involved in the work of our newsroom innovation team over the past six months, which helped to outline how we can best organize to extend our tradition of innovation and excellence into the future. I’m very pleased that he will now lead that work as executive editor.”

The mysterious circumstances are stirring all manner of speculation in the media world, including scuttlebutt that she was viewed as difficult to work with by key members of the newsroom. That, in turn, triggered allegations of a sexist double-standard, with critics arguing that men in high-powered jobs are less likely to be criticized for the same type of combative or abrasive traits.
 
Media gossips also wondered whether a fresh editorial scandal was brewing; perhaps coincidentally, the NYT was in the spotlight again this week, thanks to a "Frontline" documentary recounting its role in covering up NSA spying in 2004. Abramson wasn’t mentioned in the documentary, and there is no other indication of damage-control efforts by the newspaper related to the "Frontline" reporting.
 
Finally, some observers wondered whether Abramson was forced out for disagreeing with the NYT’s implementation of native advertising, a key part of its business strategy as it seeks to replace declining print ad revenues.

In May 2013, Abramson told the Wired Business Conference: “What I worry about is… leaving confusion in readers' minds about where the content comes from, and purposefully making advertising look like a news story. I think that some of what is being done with native advertising does confuse a little too much.” However, in his remarks to the newsroom Sulzberger was quoted as saying the rupture was “not about any sort of disagreement between the newsroom and the business side.”
 
Abramson’s tenure is relatively short,  compared to her immediate predecessor, Bill Keller, who served as executive editor from 2003-2011 -- but longer than that of Keller’s predecessor, Howell Raines, who served for just two years before resigning in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal. Keller, who worked as an op-ed columnist for the NYT after stepping down as executive editor, left the publication in February to head up a journalism nonprofit, The Marshall Project.

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