May 14 (Bloomberg) -- New York Times Co. unexpectedly ousted Jill Abramson as executive editor after less than three years on the job, naming Dean Baquet as her replacement.
Baquet, 57, previously the newspaper’s managing editor, takes over immediately, the Times said today in a statement. Baquet becomes the first African-American executive editor in the newspaper’s 162-year history.
Her short tenure as the newspaper’s first female editor was marked by controversy over her management style and clashes with senior executives over initiatives such as native advertising, which are online ads designed to resemble news articles.
Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher and chairman of the company, said in a staff meeting that he chose to make the change because he thought new leadership would improve some aspects of the management of the newsroom, according to a person who attended the meeting.
Abramson’s ouster was a shock to many at the Times, according to four people who were present. Many applauded the appointment of Baquet, who is seen as a dogged defender of newsroom policies and is well liked by reporters who have worked directly with him.
Baquet had taken over as managing editor for Abramson when she was elevated in September 2011. He was also formerly the editor of the Los Angeles Times.
Sulzberger pressured Abramson, 60, to resign, according to two staff members familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the discussions were confidential. Sulzberger and Abramson hadn’t been getting along for at least the past few months, according to the people, who cited a fundamental conflict of personalities.
Sulzberger had never felt fully comfortable with Abramson, despite appointing her the top editor three years ago, the people said. He had reservations about her loyalty, as he had seen her as part of the earlier editorial regime headed by Bill Keller, who left the paper this year.
Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, declined to comment. Sulzberger, Abramson and Keller didn’t immediately respond to calls to their mobile phones.
Times Co. shares extended earlier losses today, falling 4.5 percent at the close. The stock, which more than doubled during Abramson’s tenure, is still down 71 percent from a 2002 peak.
Abramson had succeeded Keller, who had been executive editor for eight years and then stayed on to write columns for the newspaper and articles for the magazine. Abramson joined the paper in 1997 and worked at the Wall Street Journal before that.
When Abramson was appointed executive editor, she called the role “a dream job for any journalist.”
“I’ve loved my run at The Times,” Abramson said in the statement. “We successfully blazed trails on the digital frontier and we have come so far in inventing new forms of story-telling.”
Abramson said the masthead became half female for the first time. She called Baquet her partner in these efforts and said he will make a great executive editor.
Before becoming managing editor, Baquet had served as assistant managing editor and Washington bureau chief for the Times since March 2007. He won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 1988 when he worked at the Chicago Tribune.
Baquet is “a consummate journalist whose reputation as a fierce advocate for his reporters and editors is well-deserved,” Sulzberger said in a memo today. “And importantly, he is an enthusiastic supporter of our push toward further creativity in how we approach the digital expression of our journalism.”
The Times continues to grapple with how to adapt to the digital age. A newsroom task force commissioned by Abramson and Baquet released a report this month calling for the creation of a team of editors to shape long-term strategy for online and mobile readers. The bottom line: the Times has made great strides in becoming a more digital newsroom, but times are changing quickly and the newspaper needs to keep up.
“Because this is a newsroom, the short-term demands of news often steal precious time from long-term planning to ensure that we are tracking and adjusting to the continuous changes in technology, reader behavior and the competitive environment,” according to the report.
During Abramson’s tenure, the Times started a digital-subscription model and began introducing new online products, such as the premium service Times Insider.
Mark Thompson took over as chief executive officer of the company in 2012.
In the first quarter, the company lifted its advertising sales for the first time in more than three years, yet Thompson warned that those increases may not continue. The company had posted ad sales declines for the prior 13 quarters as it struggled to replace print ads with digital sales, exacerbated by executive turnover amid budget cuts.
Overall, the company’s financial health has improved since 2009, when Carlos Slim loaned the publisher money in the midst of the global financial crisis. The swift migration of readers and advertisers to the Internet blindsided the entire newspaper industry. The company reinstated its dividend last year and now has almost $1 billion in cash and equivalents.
Earlier this month, the Times published a first-person account of Abramson’s struggle to recover physically and mentally after being hit by a car in 2007.
“For the first time in my life, I became seriously depressed,” she said. A post-traumatic stress disorder therapist helped her improve, and most people now can’t tell she was in an accident, despite an occasional limp, she wrote.
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