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Home >Industry >NYT’s Jill Abramson says she feels ‘sting of losing’
Jill Abramson, 60, was abruptly fired on 14 May following a fraught relationship with Arthur Sulzberger, the newspaper’s publisher and chairman as well as leader of the Ochs-Sulzberger family that controls NYT. Photo: Reuters
Jill Abramson, 60, was abruptly fired on 14 May following a fraught relationship with Arthur Sulzberger, the newspaper’s publisher and chairman as well as leader of the Ochs-Sulzberger family that controls NYT. Photo: Reuters

NYT’s Jill Abramson says she feels ‘sting of losing’

Jill was delivering the commencement speech for graduates at Wake Forest University

Jill Abramson, the ousted executive editor of the New York Times, said on Monday she knows “the sting of losing" as she delivered the commencement speech for graduates at Wake Forest University.

While Abramson didn’t directly address the controversy surrounding her unceremonious exit, she turned the speech, titled “The Importance of a Truly Free Press," into a discussion about resiliency.

“And some of you— and I’m talking to any of you who have been dumped, not gotten the job you really wanted, or received the horrible rejection letter from graduate school—I know the sting of losing," she said today in her first public comments since exiting the Times last week.

Abramson, 60, was abruptly fired on 14 May following a fraught relationship with Arthur Sulzberger, the newspaper’s publisher and chairman as well as leader of the Ochs-Sulzberger family that controls the Times. The two had clashed from the beginning of her tenure as executive editor, people familiar with the matter have said. Sulzberger dismissed Abramson after concluding that “she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back," he said in a statement released on 17 May.

Abramson, a graduate of Harvard College, joked that she was now in the same situation as many of the graduates.

‘Media circus’

“What’s next for me? I don’t know," she said. “So I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you. Like you, I’m a little scared, but also excited."

An unusually large media presence had gathered for the commencement exercises of the private university that has about 5,000 undergraduates. They were there to witness Abramson’s first public comments following her firing, and the media scrum rivaled the presidential debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore that took place on the bucolic, Winston-Salem, North Carolina campus in 2000.

Abramson, wearing jeans and sneakers under her gown, took note of the significant news presence, saying “my only reluctance in showing up today is that the small media circus following me would detract attention away from you—what total knockouts you are!"

Abramson, in response to a question after the event, said she shook each graduate’s hand after they received diplomas because she wanted to and because “it’s an honour." She declined to answer any other questions.

Twitter uproar

Before her speech, the uproar over the brusque ouster of the first woman to run the Times in its 162-year history had already become a spectacle of warring memos and Twitter hashtags, with dual narratives playing out. In one, Abramson supporters—rallying under #TeamJill—focus on disparities in the way female managers are treated and paid. In the other, Sulzberger says Abramson had conflicts with too many people in the newsroom, and he disputes she was paid less than her predecessor.

“The story isn’t over, not even close," Abramson’s doctor daughter, Cornelia Little Griggs, posted on Instagram on 16 May.

Rachel Berry, who received a master of arts in counseling, said she was impressed by how gracious Abramson was in her speech on Monday.

“I liked the message of showing your character when things aren’t going well," Berry said. “Everyone here is very optimistic and wide-eyed. But life is really more about being resilient in the face of difficult times."

Some parents said her speech was an important message to the graduates who are likely to face a challenging work environment.

Management style

“It was a really incredible statement to the students to say it can happen to anyone," said Dave Hall, whose son Brooks is graduating with a degree in art history and business.

Added his wife Becky Hall, “She’s saying it hurt. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do but I’ll be OK.’ What better message for the kids than to say no matter what happens you’ll make it."

The talk of management style has been unnerving to supporters who rejoiced in 2011 at Abramson’s elevation to the top journalism job at the world’s most influential English-language newspaper. Kathleen Gerson, a sociology professor at New York University, said the firing sends a mixed message at a time when women are being encouraged to promote themselves in the workplace, as described in the book “Lean In" by Facebook Inc. chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

“She was a beacon of hope for women in all kinds of other pursuits," Gerson said. “All the advice that young women have been getting is being contradicted." Sandberg declined to comment. Bloomberg

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