Jill Abramson has had a relatively quiet start in her new role as the top editor at the New York Times. However, with the release of her new book (about her puppy), Abramson is suddenly getting a whole lot of attention.
Sunday and Monday saw the heaviest Abramson publicity blitz thus far, with a lengthy profile and interview on CBS News' "Sunday Morning," as well as a mammoth piece by Ken Auletta in the latest issue of the New Yorker. Both touch on similar themes and reveal some intriguing nuggets about Abramson's life and career at the Times.
The CBS profile followed Abramson throughout a typical day at the helm of the Times, from her initial perusal of the paper at home (the cameras dutifully captured her looking at the Times' iPad app) to her mostly silent leading of the Page One meeting. The New Yorker profile followed a typically Auletta-ish formula: an exhaustive look at Abramson's entire career, complete with scores of on-the-record testimonials and a hint of behind the scenes sniping.
Both pieces emphasize the historic aspect of Abramson's career, and her consciousness about being the first woman ever to run the Times. "It would be nice to think we would get to the point where it wasn't so remarkable when a woman rose to the top job at an important institution," Abramson told CBS. "But we aren't there yet."
As HuffPost's Michael Calderone reported in June, when Abramson was announced as the successor to Bill Keller, she made a point of saying she was standing on "different shoulders" than her predecessors, and paid tribute to many of her closest female friends at the paper.
Abramson recounted to CBS' Rita Braver that she came to the Times after columnist Maureen Dowd asked her if she knew of any women who would be good for the paper. "And I kind of gave her a what am I, chopped liver? look," she said. "And she looked at me and she said, 'You would never leave where you are and come to the Times.' And I said, 'Just try me.'"
The Auletta profile uncovered some interesting morsels about Abramson's life and her internal battles at the Times. Among them:
- Her very unique voice — which swoops and slides, every sentence ending on a long, drawn-out word — is "a subject of endless conversation and expert mimicry" within the paper's newsroom. (Speaking to CBS, Abramson said, "I have an older sister who sounds, unfortunately, exactly like me, and we sound like our mother did. So all I can say is, it's in our genes.")
- Abramson acted during her college years at Harvard (getting at least one nasty review from the school paper) and went on to write advertisements for Southern Democrats including Bill Clinton before settling in full-time as a reporter.
- Abramson's titanic power struggle with Howell Raines, the infamous Times editor who was eventually ousted over the Jayson Blair scandal, is by now the stuff of legend and forms a large chunk of the Auletta piece. One new detail: Raines claims that, when he was trying to force Abramson out of her post as the Washington bureau chief, he offered to make her the paper's investigations editor. Abramson denies this, and says that, in fact, Raines offered to make her editor of the Book Review.
- Abramson and Keller grew to work so closely together during their time as the paper's top two editors that she would read the drafts of the often-combative emails he would send to critics and reporters.
- There are persistent questions about Abramson's newsroom manner, with many fearing she is too brusque and negative, and with some calling her "egotistical." Many told Auletta that she went too far in one 2010 meeting, with current managing editor Dean Baquet saying he would not have handled the meeting the way she did, and Abramson herself saying she made a mistake.
- Besides Abramson and Baquet, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger considered choosing Boston Globe editor Marty Baron as the paper's next leader, but quickly dismissed him from the running.
Both the CBS profile and Auletta's piece touch on Abramson's relationship with her husband, Henry Griggs, and their dog, Scout. Abramson got the puppy as a way to ease her out of a period of depression following a serious injury after she was hit by a car. CBS' Braver asked Abramson if she ever heard "whispering" that she should not be focusing so publicly on such a frivolous-seeming thing as a puppy. (One whisperer: an anonymous and very senior editor, who told Auletta, "being executive editor is a full time job. You shouldn't be writing a book.")
"Of course!" Abramson said. and you know that my colleagues at the times have learned that you know, I'm a kind of multi-dimensional person...and they accept that."
Watch the CBS profile above, and read the full Auletta piece here.