Jill Abramson has a tattoo of a “T” on her back inspired by her years at the New York Times, where she rose to the very top of the newsroom hierarchy. In the coming days she might find herself thinking about getting it removed.
The newspaper company on Wednesday afternoon announced the abrupt and unexpected departure of its executive editor. Abramson has served in the position since 2011 and had been the first woman to serve as the top editor of the Times. Dean Baquet, the managing editor, will replace her and become the first African American in the job.
The news that Abramson had been let go apparently took many of the newsroom’s staff by surprise. “Everyone gob-smacked in NYT newsroom over Jill Abramson leaving and Dean Baquet taking over,” culture reporter Patricia Cohen wrote on Twitter. “Also really well-kept secret even in a newsroom full of reporters and gossips.”
Photograph by Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times via Redux
In a memo to the staff, New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was vague about his impetus for making the change. “The reasons for the switch were not immediately clear,” wrote Ravi Somaiya, a reporter at the Times, in the newspaper’s own account of the shakeup.
There have been signs of trouble. Last year, Politico published an article—under the headline “Turbulence at The Times”—chronicling internal tensions at the paper, including a heated exchange between Abramson and Baquet that ended with the latter punching a wall.
Mark Thompson, a veteran of the BBC, joined the newspaper company as the new chief executive officer in 2012, and last summer New York magazine published an in-depth feature exposing the growing uneasiness between Thompson and Abramson. In part, the magazine reported, the two clashed over the business executive’s growing power in the newsroom:
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.
Just recently, Abramson wrote a memorable first-person piece for the Times about how she had survived being run over by a truck in Times Square. In the end, though less physically painful, internal newsroom politics can be almost as treacherous.