November 6th, 2011 | Magazine

Abramson brings Times to the future

Jill Abramson appears on PBS NewsHour after her appointment to the Times' top editorial job.
Jill Abramson appears on PBS NewsHour after her appointment to the Times' top editorial job. Photo by Cynthia Hua.

Jill Abramson, the first woman to lead the Gray Lady, is a veteran journalist: prior to assuming her current position as executive editor of the New York Times in September, Abramson worked for Time, The Wall Street Journal and as the managing editor of the Times, focusing on the paper’s development online. She responded to the issues of print media’s future, the government’s role in journalism and the ethics of reporting in a Berkeley College Master’s Tea on Friday afternoon in Sterling Memorial Library. A few gems:

“Something that the New York Times and Yale are bound by is the worship of words and of words that matter and quality writing… things that are thoroughly reported, well analyzed and then gracefully told.”

“The New York Times is a business, not a foundation.”

“It was not an infrequent thing for members of the Bush administration to ask us to hold back on a story… because our national security would be damaged. We’re willing to hit the pause button and hear out the arguments.”

“If there is a bias in the paper, it’s a cosmopolitan bias. Because we are the “New York” Times, we might assume something is normal whereas someone else in the country might be like ‘Huh?’”

“Anonymity is never granted casually. The information has to be important enough to the public to sacrifice putting a name to the words.”

“One of our photographers had his legs blown off… those times are wrenching and you ask yourself, ‘Are the stories worth it?’ However, I feel that with the New York Times, the stories are worth the blood, sweat and tears.”

“Murdoch said he wants to make the Wall Street Journal more general interest and to compete with the New York Times. If he wants to drive the New York Times out of town, that ain’t happening.”

Despite the rapid changes in journalism, the New York Times has maintained the same high standards its readers have come to expect, Abramson said, noting that the Times approaches every aspect of their publication with an “attitude of perfectionism.” The Times’ quality justifies the Times’ new subscription-based website, Abramson argued, which has earned a following of over 800,000. On a day-to-day basis, an editor is not thinking about the future of print media, Abramson said, because their top priority, regardless of medium, is ensuring excellence in reporting.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I have read the Times daily for 30 years. One thing which has definitely slipped is the obituaries which used to be little cameos of human-interest perfection which spanned the gamut from “The Mittens Man” to the last surviving Thane of Scotland and regularly included up to ten or eleven quality diamond-like biographies of the deceased daily. Now you’re lucky if there are two or three, even though there are just as many people dying every day, and they rarely include obscurities and oddities. The Times used to be known for preparing its obituaries years in advance. One doubts that’s the case any more.