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Making Sense of The New York Times' Editor Firing

May 23, 2014

In the newspaper business, editors are not particularly loved.

Credit A.P.

In fact, they have long had a reputation for being tough, hard-headed and difficult to work with.

Yet, that's exactly the reputation Jill Abramson had as the first female editor of The New York Times.

And, being tough to work with was reportedly one of the reasons she was fired.

Was Abramson's firing an example of a double standard in the newsroom - with crusty male editors just being crusty male editors but crusty female editors labeled as difficult to work with?

"There have been notoriously difficult editors of The New York Times," said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-Making Project. "In journalism, the editor of any newspaper is not always the most polite, civil - the nicest person around. So the fact that an editor being fired for being difficult to work with seemed crazy. But then you layer on the fact that it's the first female editor of The New York Times and suddenly it's really easy to identify a double standard."

Later reports about the Abramson firing indicated it was not just a personality conflict in the newsroom, but also a reluctance on Abramson's part to embrace new ways for the Times to make money in the digital age, that led to her dismissal.

"Under Jill Abramson's leadership, The New York Times made great advances in the digital product, so it was not like she was some kind of luddite when it comes to the digital side," McBride explained. "However, there was a report that leaked in the middle of all this about how The New York Times was doing. And that report pointed out that the Times has a pretty long distance to travel until they can start making the kind of money they need to make from their digital products, and that the editor had been resistant to some of the suggestions of the leadership of The New York Times."

When Abramson was fired, some parts of social media went crazy on the story. Other parts, not so much.

"Much of it was inside baseball," McBride said. "I thought my Twitter feed was going to explode with people talking about it. My Twitter feed is mostly journalists. When I went over to Facebook, where I communicate with lots and lots of people who aren't journalists, nobody was talking about this. You know, if you're not in journalism, I think you probably care if The New York Times is a good product. But the personality behind the editing of that product is not something you need to know."