The New York Times announced this morning that Jill Abramson will be replacing Bill Keller as the paper's executive editor as he takes a full-time writing position. Abramson, a former investigative reporter, will be the first female executive editor in The Times 160-year history. Here's what we know about her.
Since 2003, she has been managing editor at The Times and one of two deputies under Keller. Outwardly, she appears to have the full support of Keller who said "Jill’s been my partner in keeping The Times strong through years of tumult." Last year, Abramson took six months off to study the paper's digital side, "perhaps to prepare her for this more universal role," writes Gabriel Sherman in a 2010 New York profile. During that time she studied The Times's digital strategy in the run-up to the paper's launch of its pay wall—a launch which received mixed opinions due to its porous design, myriad pricing tiers and expensive $15 to $35 monthly cost. Detailing her web ambitions, Abramson told New York magazine in September of last year that “When you have a front-page story everyone is like, ‘Wow, great story!’ I’d like to get to a place where the celebration when something goes on the home page is as pronounced.”
Abramson is a native New Yorker, who said being named executive editor was like "ascending to Valhalla." She earned her bachelors at Harvard University, where she worked as a stringer for Time magazine. She proceeded to gigs at NBC News, the American Lawyer and Legal Times, where she became editor-in-chief. She later spent almost ten years at the Wall Street Journal's Washington bureau. In 1997, she became the Times Washington bureau chief where she oversaw coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the 2000 presidential election, 9/11 and the run-up and invasion of Iraq.
In 1999, the Times ran a front-page story about China's nuclear gains stemming from stolen secrets from a Los Alamos lab in New Mexico. The story fingered Dr. Wen Ho Lee, an employee at the laboratory who was indicted by a federal grand jury in 1999. Ultimately the government was unable to prove its accusations and only charged Lee with improper handling of restricted data. The Times (as well as other media organizations) ended up writing a correction to its story and paying a $1.6 million settlement with the federal government and Lee for his name being publishing in the press. Abramson, then Times Washington editor reportedly edited some of those reports.
Abramson famously clashed with Howell Raines during his tenure as the top editor. Abramson was Washington bureau chief at the time, and as The New Yorker's Ken Auletta wrote, she protested Raines and the New York editors' "dictatorial style" and would refer to the masthead as the Taliban and to Raines as "Mullah Omar." The tone in news meetings "wasn't 'Jill, what do you have in the Washington report?' it was 'Jill, this is what we think should be in the Washington report.'" Raines was eventually ousted in 2003 in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal.
Abramson also fielded criticism in the aftermath of the scandal involving Judith Miller, in which the Times reporter wrote a series of exclusive scoops about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that turned out to be false, inflated by the now-notorious Ahmad Chalabi. In 2004, former executive editor Howell Raines told the Los Angeles Times that Abramson, then-Washington bureau chief, personally edited Miller's false reports on WMD.
In his New York magazine profile, Sherman wrote "She can be an imperious boss, critical when she thinks the Times is falling behind competitors." In terms of her popularity "among rank-and-file reporters and editors," he said "she is both respected and feared." A longtime favorite of Times publisher Aurthur Sulzberger Jr., Abramson has been expected to ascend to the position of executive editor for years. The expectation she'd eventually be promoted to the top spot lead to some ribbing for writing a recurring column called "The Puppy Diaries" in 2009 which she chronicled the "ups and downs of a puppy's first year." At the time, Gawker's Hamilton Noltan said she'd been "transferred to the 'puppies are cute' beat full time." When Sherman raised the subject of her executive-editor-in-waiting status last year she said, "I don't dwell on it." But added, “I think it would be a healthy, nice thing for the country. It is meaningful to have women in positions of leadership at important institutions in society. But, you know, there are wonderful male editors in this place who are just as capable as I am, and they could run this place exquisitely well. If it happens, it happens, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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