Last Tuesday morning, two brilliant female journalists commanded two of the world’s greatest newspapers. By Wednesday evening, they were both history. Natalie Nougayrède, overthrown by a senior staff revolt, left the editor’s chair at Le Monde. And Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times, was out in a trice, too – sacked, brushed away, her name erased from the paper’s masthead with a ruthlessness Kim Jong-Il might have envied.
What on earth went wrong so brutally swiftly? French anarchy as usual did for Nougayrède after a mere 14 months at the top. Le Monde, although the journalists don’t control its ownership any longer, still basically allows the editorial team to select (and thus, in logic, effectively deselect) an editor. Nougayrède wanted to change a lot of things on the design and digital front. But no dice, and no agreement. Staff moaned about her “Putinesque tendencies”. She went. Think self-indulgence and a management structure that makes the Co-op look fit for purpose.
Jill Abramson is a still more jolting case. The New York Times, in the words of her successor, Dean Baquet, likes to see itself as “the greatest news operation in history”. (Eat your heart out, BBC!) Automatically, therefore, this ought to be the greatest editorial upheaval in history as the first black editor supplants the first female one amid furious tales of sexual discrimination and pay inequality.
Well, perhaps… Abramson can be brusque and a bit chilly, apparently, while Baquet is warm and encouraging. There are strands of stereotyping here – though, blessedly, Putin doesn’t rate a mention.
What’s much more relevant is a big issue with swilling bad feelings attached. Arthur Sulzberger Jr is the dynasty man who runs the whole show, and has done since 1992. His son, another Arthur, is a journalist on the Times as well as successor-in-waiting. Last summer, Arthur Junior-Junior was asked to look at how the NYT was doing digitally. With $150m a year in digital subscriptions, you’d say not badly: the paywall Abramson has helped cement over her years (with eight Pulitzers along the way) is a bit of triumph.
Good, but not good enough, though, was the verdict delivered this month. The old grey lady needed to move further and faster. And Abramson agreed. She moved to hire Janine Gibson, launch editor of Guardian US quoted approvingly in Junior-Junior’s report as Baquet’s co-equal (though Janine said no). At which point, in a melée of conflicting chat about who knew what and who hit the roof-cum-fan, Sulzberger and his right-hand manager (Mark Thompson from the BBC) had to choose. They chose the emollient Baquet and shovelled Abramson into the street.
Three things matter for now. One is the hapless panic in the Sulzberger management suite. A liberal, caring-sharing paper? George Entwistle at the Beeb was treated better than Jill (after 17 years of high service). Another is the weakening of Sulzberger’s own position. He chose Abramson, just as he chose a whole load of other leading lights who have had to be dumped. He looks fallible and vulnerable.
But – number three – back to that incendiary report. You can easily say the New York Times is doing OK, making money, seeing ad revenue recover a little, thinking of milking that newfound subscription base to keep shareholders happy. But Junior-Junior was right to be anxious, too. Look (via Enders Analysis) at the paper’s autonomous opinion section: 18 people employed to write editorials which make a tiny impact on the social media scene. Five regular op-ed columnists who don’t use Twitter. And now a new executive editor whose tweet rating is precisely nil.
Back to the future? No one, from Paris to Manhattan, can stop powerful people from falling out. But it helps a great deal if you can be right about what comes next.
And the award for highest number of awards
One a point of wholly interminable information: there are 24 Oscars up for grabs at the Academy Awards, not just best film but things like best hair and make-up, too. Even tonight’s Baftas get by on 26. And last week’s Radio Academy awards, here in little Britain? No fewer than 34 prizes: for breakfast show of the year under and over 10 million among them. And so to the academy’s gold award to Tony Blackburn … I’m sorry, that’s all we’ve got time for.
Crozier’s millions v Hall’s haul
Suppose the currency of ITV value (a Crozier) was set at the £8.4m its boss took home last year, with a BBC equivalent (the Hall) pegged to Lord Tony’s £450,000. So one Crozier equals 18.6 Halls (and 76.36 Pattens, if you want to include a little trust stuff). Discuss: or at least spare a penny for thought.
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