Jill Abramson At South By Southwest: New York Times Editor Talks About The Future Of The Paper

The media world has been going through a period of intense change for over a decade, but, as New York Times editor Jill Abramson noted on Monday, not everyone loves that.

"One thing I've learned from being at the Times is no one likes change of any kind," she said, eliciting a hearty laugh from a crowd of hundreds who attended Monday's "The Future of The New York Times" panel at the annual South By Southwest conference in Austin.

But change is what Abramson came to talk about. Seated on stage with Evan Smith, editor of the Texas Tribune, she began by discussing a very noticeable change at the Times — her ascent to the top job last year.

Abramson also talked about her six-month effort to examine the Times' digital output, which she temporarily left her former post as the paper's managing editor to do. She described the sojourn as both "scary" and "hopeful."

"The scary part was how much I had to learn," she said, "and the hopeful part was realizing that even in my old trade, which is investigative journalism, that these new tools, whether its computer assisted reporting or video or interactive graphics, deepened the story."

Though Abramson admitted that just four years ago the paper was "old media," she said she believes that the Times has now been placed firmly on a digital footing, and has the journalism to keep it afloat.

"The Times — I don't mean to sound arrogant or self-satisfied in any way — our news report is like none anywhere in the world," she said, later adding, "What I'm optimistic about is our quality journalism is gonna live on forever, regardless of platform."

When asked about the success of the digital paywall the Times implemented last year, Abramson said that, although the "news wants to be free," she thought that it made sense to ask extremely devoted consumers to pay a little extra.

"We always felt that the quality of our news report stood apart, and that the people that who are most addicted it are real loyalists," she said. "It was really logical to ask them to pay for it."

However, an audience member expressed dismay over the paywall to Abramson, complaining that as a cash-strapped college student, she no longer reads the Times.

"I'm sorry about that reality, the last thing we want to do is [alienate] college students." said Abramson.

"Why not drop the price?" asked Smith.

"Stay tuned," Abramson replied.

Abramson also talked about what she saw as the differences between herself and her predecessor, Bill Keller. She described him as more interested in foreign news than in Washington.

"He reads poetry on the subway," she added, according to Poynter. "I'm reading my horoscope in the New York Post on the subway."

Amid all the talk of change, however, Abramson made a firm pledge never to alter one thing: the paper's beloved crossword puzzle.

"The puzzle is a great money-maker," she said.



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