Sunday, September 25, 2016


Jill Abramson never wants to run a newsroom again.

And with a new five-year agreement to continue teaching journalism at Harvard University, the former executive editor of The New York Times won’t have to for a while. 

“I never want to run anything again in any sphere, whether it’s media or any place else. I don’t want to manage people ever again,” Abramson, 62, said in a recent interview. “Because, A, I don’t think it plays to my strengths, what I love most is writing and reading and interviewing people. That is why I got into journalism in the first place.

“The other side of it, the running people and being a manager, I’ve done it in three different venues ... I’m done with it,” she added.

It’s been two years since Abramson left the Times after a rocky tenure that lasted less than three years and included some internal battles over news approaches and reportedly her complaints that her pension and pay were less than her male predecessors.

Her firing also raised concerns that she was being unfairly criticized as “pushy” and “brusque” because she is a woman and that no male editor would be so vilified.

Despite that she said she still “roots for the Times” every day in its news mission, although she admits still having some mixed memories.

“It’s like the rest of life, the honest answer to the question, do I have bad memories? Sure,” Abramson said. “That tends to be true for much of life, the bad memories are completely outweighed by the good … working with reporters on fantastic enterprise and investigative stories that did help change the world or change important institutions in key ways.

“The fun of helping oversee journalism projects and to be in the hunt with reporters is what I loved about being editor,” she said.

And she is not completely out of the news game, writing a regular column on the political world for The Guardian, and writing a book on the transition of news to digital.

“The freedom of being able to sort of control my own workload and not be running from meeting to meeting, which was basically my life certainly as executive editor,” Abramson recalls. “I was scheduled in half-hour segments, it’s much better for me to be the master of my own time and to be free to really dig in to subjects.”

And another new venture is being a grandmother for the first time to 11-month-old Eloise, her daughter’s first-born. Abramson said she lives with her daughter and son-in-law, both surgeons, and takes the youngster to and from day care each day.

“From what I can tell from many of my contemporaries who have senior editing jobs at important publications, so much of the work is related to the business model and coming up with new ideas for ‘innovation’ that isn’t my cup of tea,” she added. “I find the innovations themselves interesting to watch and observe, but working on business models myself is not playing to my strengths.”

She calls the Times an “irreplaceable institution and it still has, thank God, the resources to provide a banquet of fabulous news stories every day.”

And Abramson still has high praise for much of the news world.

“The best work I’ve ever seen is being done now, whether it's at Bill Keller’s Marshall Project or the Times, or The Washington Post is so great these days. The New Yorker, The Atlantic. At the top end, the work has never been better,” she adds. “I’m troubled by a number of developments in the news business generally. I think that the focus, that the line between advertising and content has gotten a little blurrier than I’m comfortable with. The need for massive audiences to attract advertising.”

Asked about the rise of conservative media, she said much of it is still within a small audience, but says the “echo chamber” can promote it further, which is a concern.

“There is an echo chamber where stories that start, let’s say on Breitbart, ricochet through that pipeline of different like-minded news organizations,” she said. “It ricochets in a more disciplined and powerful way on the right than on the left.”

Still, her main focus is teaching her students, who comprise two classes this semester in introduction to journalism and political journalism.

“I love it, the students are so interesting and full of enthusiasm and that’s why,” she said. “Harvard is a great institution. I went to Harvard as an undergraduate, I love the place.”

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