Friday, May 16, 2014

1331 Jill and Dean

The rumors had been flying all over the place since last weekend, so it was no huge surprise when the New York Times fired executive editor Jill Abramson and replaced her by elevating managing editor Dean Baquet.

Who cares, right?  What does it mean to those of you in Pocatello or Parson’s Grove or Pensacola?

It means.

The Times is the Titanic of news, and someone has to make sure it doesn’t hit the same iceberg that has gouged the hulls of many a lesser  ship.

Jill wasn’t the captain they needed, evidently.

Jill was the Great Experiment,  a woman in charge.

Her replacement, Dean, is the Great Experiment - II. The first African American in charge.

Actually, neither is all that experimental.  Both are respectable first tier journalists and first tier editors with excellent credentials.

But again… who cares who has the job?

Well you should. Why?

Because the Times sets the tone and agenda of news in America.  You can be the TV network down the avenue.  You can be the Great Upstart Website of the moment. You can be the Grand Poobah of magazines.  You can be the wire service of record.  You can be the Pennysaver or weekly newspaper of Sunapee, New Hampshire.  But you rely on the Times to some extent.

The executive editor of the New York Times is the single most important newsman or woman in the country, directing everyone else’s coverage, even the National Review and Mother Jones.

So here’s the haggard and -- according to her -- underpaid Abramson tougher than Mike Tyson in his prime out on the street. She won’t be living in a washing machine box.

And here’s the slightly younger and ink-in-his veins Baquet, now with one hand on the wheel and reading the charts in hopes of avoiding the iceberg.

You won’t notice any difference in the paper. At least not a sudden difference.

Maybe Baquet can scale back a bit on his boat’s self involvement.  But he can’t unbuild the huge overpriced and ridiculous headquarters building on 8th Avenue.  

He can’t buy back the Boston Globe or the Chattanooga Times or WQXR Radio.  He can’t undo the owner’s choice of a CEO in Mark Thompson.

But at least he has the support of his navel-gazing staff, his clueless Publisher and maybe even his paper’s readers.

And you’d best hope that he can keep this thing afloat, else you will be relying on lesser lights to keep you informed.  And eventually, the lights will go out.


--Abramson’s ouster was handled in what has become a typically ham-handed way.  Especially at a place like the Times, which thinks of itself as the picture of dignity.  This isn’t the first evidence that the Sulzberger lights are on and nobody’s home.

--And Sulzberger is far from one of those room temperature inheritors of an empire.  But he is a man of the Times and the times.  Is this what they teach at Harvard Business School?

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

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