The day I found out Jillian Abramson had been fired from her position as executive editor of The New York Times, I’d spent the whole day offline. I get a lot of my news from social media, but for some reason, that day I’d disconnected. I only found out when, after my young daughter had gone to sleep, I logged onto Twitter to see what the hot topics of the day had been.
To be honest, I hadn’t paid much attention to Jillian Abramson before news of her firing hit the presses. Abramson was managing editor of The New York Times until almost three years ago, when she became the first female executive editor of the major national publication.
In May she was suddenly released from The New York Times. Even though writers such as Ken Auletta in The New Yorker pointed out that peers worried about her alleged brusque manner, there was little more readers could do but speculate. Neither The New York Times nor Abramson will reveal the details of the firing.
Why did I care? I didn’t follow her trajectory. I wasn’t familiar with her body of work. I was angry for her, especially when many speculated that her firing may have to do with the fact that she drew attention to the pay difference between her and her male predecessors. But I couldn’t call myself a fan of Jill Abramson.
I cared because, somehow, I felt she could be me. It felt personal.
Welcome to the club
Sure, there are the obvious differences: we’re a differentage, we live in different cities, we work at different publications (one day I could try to get to The New York Times, but for now my family and I will be staying in Houston until The New York Times decides it’s ready for a woman editor who can talk about gender outside of the Style section).
Abramson was born in New York, as was I. She grew up in the city while my parents whisked me away to an island in the Caribbean. Abramson studied history and literature at Harvard University MA. I became an English major at the University of Puerto Rico. Abramson went off to become a journalist. I had tenure-track dreams. I was different back then.
My path to editing has been a curvy one, and if you read Mary Dee Wenniger’s last Last Laugh column you’ll remember that hers was too. In fact, I know a handful of women editors who are in charge of publications outside of academia, and it seems you fall into place as an editor.
There aren’t a lot of us out there on the top mastheads, but we’re out there. I’ve had the fortune of working almost exclusively with women editors: at Sounding Out!, at University of Venus, training with Mary Dee, and at Wiley.
You might also remember Arianna Huffington, Ann Friedman, Tina Brown (who left The Daily Beast around the time Abramson was fired). But it’s not easy for women to climb all the way up to the top. We’re still talking about “firsts” at The New York Times and in other outlets.
Reading the coverage of Abramson and noticing how much of the speculation revolved around “her managerial style” made me wonder how many times other women in positions of power are being monitored while men get free reign.
Men are often allowed to be different, to be demanding, to screw up and start over. Women don’t get the benefit of the doubt.
Although Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the paper and the chairman of The New York Times Company, cited “an issue with management in the newsroom” as the reason for firing her, Auletta mentions in “Jill Abramson and The Times: What Went Wrong?” how personality clashes had not been a big problem at The New York Times until now: “Abrasiveness has never been a firing offense at the Times.”
As news trickled and journalists speculated, I ate all of the coverage up. What does this say about my job prospects? I wondered. Will it always be this way, that women will have to watch out for themselves every step of the way instead of just being able to do their job well? More importantly, what does this mean for women in higher ed?
Some of the things I gathered from the situation were here:
- Gender gaps are not made up. They exist. You’re not imagining things.
- Remember that you’re capable of doing your job. You got to where you are for a reason.
- Look for other women who have been in your position at your school or in others. They may have important information to share with you.
- Be aware of your hiring practices. Hire women. Hire people of color. Hire people who openly identify as LGBT. Hire people with disabilities. Don’t be afraid to look around and see who is not represented in your office.
- Don’t forget gender. You don’t have to make it all about gender, but unfortunately we don’t have the privilege of acting like gender doesn’t matter.
- Keep an ear out for language like “bossy,” “pushy,” “cold”: understand what they mean in a broader context and what they mean for you.
I hope one day I can meet Jill Abramson and tell her that women are paying attention, and that her work was not in vain.
Till next time,
The Editor’s End Notes is a column where you’ll get a glimpse
of what the editor’s thinking. Even though The Last Laugh has
come to an end, I hope to continue founding editor Mary Dee
Wenniger’s tradition to share with you the editor’s comings,
goings and thoughts at the end of the issue.
Silva-Ford, Liana. (2014, July). THE EDITOR’S END NOTES: Editors Are Women Too. Women in Higher Education, 23(7), 20.