Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sexism at The New York Times

Yesterday Politico ran a hit piece on New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson. It felt like a band of Times staffers had conspired to have her replaced by their preferred candidate, Times managing editor Dean Baquet.

While many Timespersons believe that their paper is still putting out a good news product, they are in despair at what they see as Abramson’s poor leadership and inept management skills.

Dylan Byers wrote in Politico:

In recent months, Abramson has become a source of widespread frustration and anxiety within the Times newsroom. More than a dozen current and former members of the editorial staff, all of whom spoke to POLITICO on the condition of anonymity, described her as stubborn and condescending, saying they found her difficult to work with. If Baquet had burst out of the office in a huff, many said, it was likely because Abramson had been unreasonable.

“Every editor has a story about how she’s blown up in a meeting,” one reporter said. “Jill can be impossible,” said another staffer.

Just a year and a half into her tenure as executive editor, Abramson is already on the verge of losing the support of the newsroom. Staffers commend her skills and her experience but question whether she has the temperament to lead the paper. At times, they say, her attitude toward editors and reporters leaves everyone feeling demoralized; on other occasions, she can seem disengaged or uncaring.

Of course, the news business is in serious trouble. Many who work for the Times worry about their future. The company does make money, but more and more journalists and editors are leaving the paper. Staffers naturally fear that their ship is sinking. Naturally, they blame the captain, in this case the leader of the news division.

Politico described the situation:

Caricature or portrait, such feelings are starting to drain morale in a newsroom that is already anxious about the changing nature of the media industry and scarred by the recent round of buyouts, which saw the departure or reassignment of many high-level editors. To add insult to injury, Abramson has been notably absent — or “AWOL,” as several staffers put it — at key periods when the Times required leadership.

“The Times is leaderless right now,” one staffer said. “Jill is very, very unpopular.”

I am hardly in a position to tell you whether this portrait of Abramson is fair. If it is, it shows an executive who does not know how to lead or to manage.  It suggests that Abramson is so insecure in her position that she feels that she can only maintain her authority by putting down everyone else.

If Politico is right, Abramson is going through the motions, pretending to be in charge, without knowing how to lead.

Staff members feel like passengers on a ship that is listing or even sinking. Under the circumstances they need a captain who is in control of his or her emotions. They want a steady hand at the wheel, not someone who is working through her difficulties assuming her position.

I do not know if the description is accurate, but I have not seen any reports suggesting that it misrepresents the Abramson temperament or attitude.

If the staff is demoralized and if no one wants to deal with a mercurial executive editor, the fault lies with Abramson.

On the other hand, it be the case that the Times, as a business has been floundering for reasons that have more to do with the leadership exercised by Chairman Arthur Sulzberger. If he hired the wrong executive editor, the responsibility lies with him.

No one is surprised to read that the feministocracy has rushed to defend Abramson. As is its wont, it has denounced Politico for sexism. For the record, Politico is anything but a right wing site.

Jessica Bennett at Jezebel asks a question she thinks is profound: if Jill had been named Joe would anyone be saying all of those nasty things about her. It’s what passes for thought among feminists.

Next thing you know, she will report Dylan Byers to the thought police.

It is worth noting Politico compared the Abramson leadership style to that of former Times Executive Editor, Howell Raines. It pointed out that Abramson was as bad a leader as Raines.

It seems superfluous to mention it, but the argument—if Jill were Joe—is empty. Since it’s a counterfactual, you cannot refute it with objective evidence. Besides, if Jill had been Joe she would not be Jill.

As long as men and women are different they will have different leadership styles. They will have different strengths and weaknesses. Some women leaders make their womanhood an advantage. Some act as though they were imitation men. What matters is how well the company runs. Nothing about a leader's personality should detract from the task at hand.

Bennett does not seem to understand that the issue is not what people are saying about Abramson, but how well she is doing her job.

Worse yet, we are talking about the New York Times. Unless you believe that Politico made it all up, more than a few Times staff members are so disappointed about Abramson that they bad mouthed her to another news organization.

Clearly, their behavior entailed risk. Do you honestly believe that they took the risk because they were sexists?

Are the people who work at the Times are Tea Party conservatives or even Republicans? Is the New York Times a bastion of patriarchal privilege? If the liberal progressives who work at the Times are as sexist as Bennett thinks they are, what does that tell us about the Times?

[Addendum: Reuters just reported on the Times' quarterly revenue:

New York Times Co reported a decline in quarterly revenue as the newspaper publisher continues to struggle with weak advertising sales.

The 11.2 percent drop in advertising revenue in the first quarter underscores the pressure that the New York Times faces to increase its subscription revenue, especially for its digital products.]


Anonymous said...

Maybe it's age (66), but I doubt it. Over the last 20 or so years, I've had a growing sense that US Leadership in most fields is changing for the worse.

Not to be hyperbolic, but I see Coarsening, Corruption, Incompetence, Careerism, Orwellian Rhetoric & Jargon, loss of Patriotism, Nepotism, Multiculturalism, Historical Ignorance (viz. Afghan & Iraq; Islam & ME), disdain for ordinary citizens, and other cankers.

Compare GHW Bush w/Clinton. The former was youngest Navy WW2 fighter pilot. The latter "despised the military" but wanted to "keep my political viability" also.

As a military speechwriter, I knew my days were numbered when Honchos complained my Memorial Day speeches were "too depressing". They had books by, and about, Tycoons in their offices.

I'm Mexican-American. VN vet. I note to fend off charges of xenophobia. Because I fear the flood of illegal aliens is ONE part of losing our culture. If we lose that, we're Lost.

Paraphrase: "Without Leaders of Vision, the People are Lost." But I digress. -- Rich Lara

Bobbye said...

In the 1990's I worked for a company with a very strong sense of Mission. Our mission statement was 'lived' in that company. Employees had very high morale and turnover was lower than any competitors. Then Black Tuesday came and about fifty managers were fired and publicly escorted out at 10 AM. After that, Mission was ignored; working was just a job. The point is that without a corporate mission, "made flesh' by all, the only way to maintain high morale is through the personal strengh of a dymamic leader. And very few people can pull that off.

Dennis said...

As I was leaving a gig I had just finished as a soloist and musical director, a couple of good friends of mine stopped me to impart how much they enjoyed it. They further expounded upon the fact that I was the reason that this went so well. I responded that I am lucky to have so many talented people that make me look good and I appreciate their hard work and ability.
I an generally embarrassed about taking credit where I believe that I am just doing the job they asked me to do. I did finally make the point that leadership is everything no matter what field of endeavor one is in.
One can have a group of mediocre to good individuals and have great leadership which will almost always lead to great results. One can have a poor leader and very good people and almost always one will have poor results.
I cannot help but think as I read the comments by Stuart that they reminded me of someone else who seems to be an incompetent leader as well. It does not surprise me that the NYTimes would be poorly lead because that does seem to be its history. From "Pinch" to Rains we see little in real leadership and more in decisions made from a political agenda.
I doubt that gender has any role except for feminists to cover the incompetence of a fellow traveler. One of the hardest jobs in the world is to be an effective leader. That is why there are so very few. To effectively use the skills and abilities where it becomes a "Win/Win situation takes real talent.

Dennis said...

Leadership is a skill unto itself. No matter how adept one is at doing their job in any field that does not ensure the ability to lead. In fact in many cases that will militates against allowing others to do the job for which they were hired.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sam L. said...

I'm going with Pinch as the one at fault--for picking Howell, for picking Jill, for the loss of circulation and ad revenue, for the whole ball of wax.

Remember, everyone, the beatings will continue until morale improves!

n.n said...

Sexism is a reactive doctrine with selective merit.

If women ruled the world, it would still be necessary to judge them by the content of their actions and character.

We would also probably be required to hide the babies. Women are notoriously tribal in character, which is probably a trait acquired from their unique responsibility associated with procreation.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in America's Golden Age. Our Leaders were chastened by WWs, Depressions, & Revolutions. It was an era of comity & "prudence", partly due to Conscription that mixed Bush I and Bowery Boys.

CEOs weren't Tycoons who "earned" 500X their workers, as in the Gilded Age (Rove's Paradise). But at least earlier Tycoons employed Millions of Americans.

Generals & Admirals didn't retire to fat positions in Corporations. Neither did top Bureaucrats (I think).

When I started hearing the corporate Mantra, "Our People are our most valuable assets" - it creeped me out. Preaching it proved it was a Lie. Plus, human beings are not "assets".

I think we're in the 3d Industrial / Financial/ Technology Revolution. The 2nd took over a century and several wars to sort out.

Good Leaders come from Healthy Confident Cultures. We don't have either, in my opinion. I'm neither Left nor Right. I'm American. -- Rich Lara

Sam L. said...

The NYTers may think they have a great product, but I disagree. Diminishing circulation and revenues would seem to disagree, too.