There are few female editors atop the world’s major newspapers, and as of this morning, there are two fewer. Overnight Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor of The New York Times, was replaced by management, and the first female editor-in-chief of famed French paper Le Monde also announced her departure.
Both were sacked after power struggles with management or staff, after leading their papers through periods of significant change.
Abramson’s sacking was unexpectedly announced by the paper’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Her departure from the top job at the world’s best-known newspaper was a shock to some at the paper and outside, according to subsequent media reports, including in The New York Times, which described the paper’s newsroom as being “stunned” by the changes.
She is being succeeded by managing editor Dean Baquet, who will be the paper’s first African-American executive editor. Sulzberger Jr. says Abramson’s departure is related to “an issue with management in the newsroom”, without much elaboration. But according to the NYT story, Sulzberger Jr. “said it was not about the journalism, the direction of the newsroom or the relationship between the newsroom and business sides of the paper”.
The New Yorker elaborated, saying the rift was about Abramson’s pay. Turns out she took home less dough than former executive editor Bill Keller, and when she was managing editor, her male predecessor was also paid more than she (the first claim is disputed by Times management, who say it’s not fair to compare her pay with Keller’s). After raising the issue, her pay was bumped up, but “both sides were left unhappy” with the confrontation. It leaves a sour taste, the New Yorker notes — in 1972 the Times was sued by its female employees for unequal pay practices. Full gender parity is still not achieved: as The New York Times‘ public editor wrote four days ago, 69% of the paper’s bylines are still male.
Another aspect of Abramson’s departure, reportedly, was her increasingly tense relationship with New York Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson. Hired in 2012 to lead the Times, Thompson came from the BBC, then embroiled in a child abuse cover-up scandal. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik wrote on Twitter this morning that Thompson was incensed when Abramson sent a reporter to London to see if he had any involvement in the scandal. Thompson reportedly also wanted a greater focus on video content.
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Additionally, Abramson, in the job since 2011, has also long been dogged by accusations of being “pushy” and difficult to work with. In April last year, Politico ran a story on the topic that resulted in it being accused of sexist reporting, on the basis that a “pushy” or “bossy” male editor is unlikely to bat eyelids in the news business. Intriguingly, it was a criticism Baquet himself made of Politico‘s argument — he’s quoted in the piece saying:
“I think there’s a really easy caricature that some people have bought into, of the bitchy woman character and the guy who is sort of calmer … That, I think, is a little bit of an unfair caricature.”
Abramson has overseen considerable change at the newspaper, including the start of the paper’s metered paywall and surge in digital subscriptions, the sacking of hundreds of staff and other cost-cutting measures (she also has a tattoo of the distinctive “T” in the Times‘ masthead). Baquet is a former editor of the Los Angeles Times and has been with the paper since 2007. He had worked at the Times in the 1990s. When news hit the sharemarket, shares in the paper’s owner, New York Times Co., dropped 4.5%.
Meanwhile, the first female editor-in-chief of France’s Le Monde, Natalie Nougayrede has quit after a power struggle with senior staff. In a letter, published on Le Monde‘s website this morning, Nougayrede wrote of “personal attacks” that impeded her plan to turn around the newspaper. She was the troubled paper’s fifth editor in seven years and had only been in the job 14 months. Editors at Le Monde are elected by the journalists — a year ago, Nougayrede won 80% support from the newsroom to ascend to the position after her predecessor died from an abrupt heart attack at the office.
Like all papers around the world, the internet and companies like Google have drained Le Monde‘s revenues and sales. Media reports say Nougayrede has been overseeing a slimming of the paper and trying to boost its digital response. The paper came close to collapse in 2010 when it was saved from bankruptcy by three French businessmen. Nougayrede has been trying to shift recalcitrant staff to the digital version of the paper, and cut overall staff numbers and costs, as well as revamping the left-leaning paper. Part of that has included a more centerist editorial line.
Last week seven editors resigned en masse, complaining about the way the changes were being carried out, The Economist reported this morning.
The pushing out of Abramson and Nougayrede leaves precious few women atop the world’s leading newspapers. In Australia, the picture is no better. Last year, New Matilda analysed the editors of Australia’s 418 newspapers, and found 33.5% were women. But the figure is far worse if the analysis is confined to Australia’s leading metropolitan and national papers. Of 16 national or metropolitan Australian newspapers, only one, The Weekend Australian, had a female editor. Michelle Gunn remains the editor of The Weekend Oz, but a quick look around this morning reveals only one new female editor appointed at a metropolitan daily since 2013 – Rachel Hancock took over the NT News in June.
For all the rise of new media, newspapers still set the national agenda, in Australia and across much of the Western world. There are few women in charge. Two fewer this morning.