Jill Abramson's Day-One Challenges

The new executive editor of The New York Times has a lot on her plate

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Today, Jill Abramson takes over as executive editor of The New York Times. As head honcho of the nation's most prestigious newspaper, all eyes will be on her, especially considering her status as the paper's first female executive editor in its 160-year history. So what are her most conspicuous day-one tasks? Here's a quick rundown:

Outline a hierarchy  In her day-one memo to the staff, Abramson made it a priority to provide precise job functions to the senior editors, possibly a reaction to her days as Washington bureau chief—a time in which she protested the "dictatorial style" of then-executive editor Howell Raines who reportedly stepped all over her feet. "It is important to me that the leadership team I’ve begun to assemble have clear roles which all of you can understand," she writes today. She proceeds to give a detailed rundown of the tasks of Dean Baquet, managing editor for news, Bill Schmidt, deputy managing editor, Jim Roberts, assistant managing editor and other senior editors John Geddes and Susan Chira.

Diversify the staff Given that she's the Times' first female executive editor, she's already facing pressure to continue diversifying the staff of the newspaper. "You are a living symbol of the NYT's diversification. Don't be the last!" writes Gawker's Hamilton Nolan:

The NYT has "come a long way" from its all-white-dude past, clearly. More women, more black people, more Latinos; the paper's been working to make that happen, and all of that should continue. That's great. But the truth is that the NYT is still a very insular place, full of upper-middle-class graduates of private schools and fancy colleges. That is not, in fact, diversity, no matter how many colors it comes in. Make a real effort to hire some people who grew up poor. Hire some people who went to shitty state schools. Hire some people who dropped out of college. Hire people whose social groups don't coincide with the dominant ones at the New York Times. This will take effort. It is a purposeful move make your workplace less comfortable, in fact! But you can do it. You can hire anyone. It will be worth it.

Bulk up your staff Done and done. As Dylan Byers at Ad Week reports, she's already made some fast moves at her old place of work, The Wall Street Journal.

Just hours into Jill Abramson’s first day as executive editor, The New York Times is already poaching from the competition. On Tuesday, two longtime reporters from The Wall Street Journal announced that they would be moving to the Times. Amy Chozick, a television and culture reporter who joined the Journal eight years ago, will become a corporate media reporter.... Tech reporter Nick Wingfield, a 14-year Journal veteran, will join the Times’ Seattle bureau, where he will continue to cover technology.

Draft a plan for long-term survival Abramson took six months off last years to concentrate on the Times' digital strategy so she's had plenty of time to think about how the paper will become a digital-first, profitable publication. Will she be a dynamic leader in this respect? Abramson, a Harvard alumnus, had her duties spelled out for her by the Harvard Crimson today.

Now, Abramson faces the challenge of fully implementing the paper’s digital strategy. The Times recently put in place a metered pay wall that gives readers access to 20 articles per month before requiring purchase of a paid subscription. The system has been criticized for being easy to bypass, but early reports suggest that the Times may have found a model to generate significant revenue from its digital operations. Since launching in March, the paper has garnered 224,000 digital subscribers while at the same time maintaining a healthy 33 million unique visitors per month, which was in line with its pre-paywall volume.

In the second quarter of this year, the Times logged an operating loss of $114.1 million, but excluding the write down of a significant chunk of debt, the paper made a profit of about 14 cents per share, according to Forbes. These results are encouraging for a paper that has gone through newsroom buyouts and layoffs but by no means implies that the paper has reached sound financial footing.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.