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Business

Abrupt New York Times ouster sparks confusion

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-15

The New York Times abruptly replaced executive editor Jill Abramson on Wednesday, announcing that Dean Baquet would immediately take her place, but gave little explanation for the sudden switch as she was "all but hustled out of the building".

Abramson (pictured left) was the paper’s first female chief and Baquet (right) becomes the first African American to hold the post.

The sudden departure, announced by the daily's publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, left many questions unanswered both inside and outside one of the US's most prestigious news organisations.

The Times website initially reported that the “reasons for the switch were not immediately clear" but later updated its story to say that Abramson's ouster was due to "growing tension between Ms. Abramson and Mr. Sulzberger, and a decision by Ms. Abramson to try to hire a senior editor from outside the newspaper to share a co-managing editor title with Mr. Baquet".

The report acknowledged "a swirl of rumours" sparked by the initial lack of information.

Shares of The New York Times Co. dropped 4.5 percent to $15.06 following the announcement.

Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy said the departure appeared irregular. "This was definitely not a normal change," Kennedy told AFP.

"Abramson did not address the staff and was all but hustled out of the building."

Dan Gillmor, a journalism faculty member at Arizona State University, also expressed scepticism.

"If top exec in any other important industry left under mysterious circumstances, @NYTimes would launch a team of reporters to find out why," he tweeted.

“We don't know if she jumped or was pushed but the meagre information available suggests the latter,” Alan Mutter, a former newspaper editor who is now a consultant, told AFP.

Ken Auletta of the New Yorker magazine wrote that one of the reasons Abramson had clashed with Sulzberger was over pay.

"Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs," he said.

Times tattoo

Abramson was appointed to head the 160-year-old paper in 2011, and led it in a period during which it was seen as having weathered the transition to digital better than many competitors.

"We successfully blazed trails on the digital frontier and we have come so far in inventing new forms of storytelling," she said in a statement from the paper confirming her replacement.

"Our masthead became half female for the first time and so many great women hold important newsroom positions."

Before taking the top job, the now 60-year-old journalist had been an investigative reporter for the rival Wall Street Journal and then the head of the Times' Washington bureau from 1997.

She acknowledged in an interview last month that she had four tattoos, including a "T" representing the Times.

Her replacement, Baquet, is a 57-year-old newspaper veteran and former editor of the Los Angeles Times.

‘Significant effort to digital transition’

Last year, The New York Times boasted the largest daily and Sunday circulation of any seven-day newspaper in the United States, with a weekday circulation of 1,926,800 print and online versions.

According to the company's 2013 annual statement, the firm had an annual turnover of $1.57 billion.

But like many dailies, the "grey lady" of US journalism has struggled with the move away from print.

The Times has been hit by declining print sales and advertising. In a major shift last year it took in more revenue from readers than from advertising, although that trend seemed to have revered this year – in April the paper reported an almost 3 percent rise in first quarter total revenue on increases in advertising sales.

The company sold off The Boston Globe and other regional newspapers in 2013 to focus on its core operations, and also divested other assets, including its stake in an online employment website.

The company brought in former BBC chief Mark Thompson, who became president and chief executive at the Times in 2012, as part of its effort to manage a digital transition.

In a memo to staff, Sulzberger said the change comes "at a time when the newsroom is about to embark on a significant effort to transition more fully to a digital-first reality".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-05-15

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