How Jill Abramson Learned to Train Her Newsroom

The new New York Times executive editor is profiled by The New Yorker's Ken Auletta

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Jill Abramson is a serious woman, and Ken Auletta's profile of her in this week's New Yorker doesn't do much to sugarcoat her demeanor. Charting her rise to the executive editorship at The New York Times, Auletta calls Abramson "brusque" (twice), details her tendency to interrupt people and goes into detail about her strained relationship with Howell Raines, the man who held her position nearly a decade ago. That said, this latest and very lengthy survey of Abramson's career seems to suggest that she is out to change tacks in her new position. Auletta strongest swing in this direction comes as he describes Abramson's first day doing the paper's top job:

Abramson, who is fifty-seven, wore a white dress and a black cardigan with white flowers and red trim. Her usually pale complexion glowed from summer sun, but there were deep, dark lines under her eyes. As she entered the Times Building, she waved to the security officers and greeted colleagues in the elevator, something that she had usually been too preoccupied to do. The vast newsroom was quiet--the place does not really come alive until about ten-thirty--but there was a hint of apprehension. The few reporters at their pods silently watched their new boss as she walked by.

The profile scans through Abramson's life as if it were all a prelude to this moment and isn't shy about expressing the extent to which her task as the first female editor of The New York Times is a difficult one. In going over the gnarly internal drama that eventually led to the ouster of Raines, we learn that climbing the ladder at The Times is as much a political challenge as it is a professional one. And based on Auletta's description of her career, Abramson didn't get the job by being nice to everyone.

However, to the public Abramson must seem softer and more approachable. She's just published a book about her puppy, Raising a Dog Named Scout, and Auletta takes time to detail the process of her writing it. The Times's review of the book makes for an interesting epilogue to The New Yorker profile. Written by John Grogan, author of Marley and Me, it's a generally positive review, and Grogan can't help but notice Abramson's demeanor. He writes about her attempts to lighten up:

All good fodder for comic relief, yet Ms. Abramson plays it straight, without a glint of humor. Part of me wished she had forgotten about her serious-journalist credentials and had a little more fun with these parts of the storytelling.

Auletta says Abramson will try hard to borrow lessons from training Scout in order to change The Times. She'll brush off her tough veneer and try what she calls "positive training." "In one's relationship with dogs and with a newsroom," Abramson says, "a generous amount of praise and encouragement goes much better than criticism."
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