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A Q&A With Jill Abramson The Times’ top editor on mean bosses, liberal biases, and the demise of the Washington Post

August 20, 2013

BY MICHAEL KINSLEY

article_inset_kinsley_1For generations, the publishers of the great American newspapers were accidents of birth—sons and daughters (and assorted other relatives) who inherited their positions atop the masthead. They may have been born into their roles, but that doesn’t mean they were born for them. These latter-day Sulzbergers, Bancrofts, and Grahams looked (and acted) misplaced in their corner offices, tentative and self-conscious. Their own palpable sense of unworthiness for their jobs, however, made them honorable stewards: They tried exceedingly hard not to screw up their inheritances, sometimes at the expense of necessary innovation.

With the recent sale of The Washington PostThe New York Times remains the only major paper in the hands of a storied publishing family. Or put differently, no other American daily has an owner with a proven record of challenging power, both political and corporate, on a daily basis. And the Sulzbergers have done even better than that. It is somewhat shocking to hear the family praised for business acumen, but it has played the vaunted long game, largely resisting the impulse to cull the newsroom and actually improving the paper in the midst of the industry’s austerity.

That’s not to say the institution is safe; far from it. The Times is obviously susceptible to the same implacable technological trends that ended the reign of the Grahams and obliterated the basis for the entire business. So, on the following pages, we’ve collected what the Times’ own reporters and editors privately propose to reform the paper. Then there’s the woman guiding the Times through this tenuous stretch, executive editor Jill Abramson. Michael Kinsley visited her office to ask about her own vision for the paper after one year on the job. The proposals contained in this package aren’t meant to nitpick; they are made in a spirit of solidarity, because, at this moment of looming danger, it has become something close to a patriotic obligation to subscribe to the paper. God save the Gray Lady.

Michael Kinsley: So I understand Newsweek scooped me. They had you on the cover, with an article by Lloyd Grove. I didn’t even know there was a Newsweek.1

Jill Abramson: Me neither. Or a cover.

MK: Or a Lloyd Grove for that matter.

JA: Well, I knew there was a Lloyd Grove.

MK: So, you know the cliché rap on you is that you’re mean?2

JA: Well my answer is, I’m not. And most of the people who know me well are somewhat surprised by that stereotype, just because I’m not someone who frequently expresses anger or acts in a high-handed way. I’m trying to think of the other stereotypical behaviors.

MK: You said once that you hope to improve. Do you feel you have improved?

JA: [Laughs] Well, I guess I don’t have much evidence to show that I have, but I actually feel that I have.

MK: So it’s been on your mind?

JA: It’s been on my mind. It’s been on my mind to very fulsomely express myself when I am pleased with something. When a story turns out better than I had ever dreamed, or many colleagues here just go beyond the call of duty to finish a great piece of work, or they show immense bravery in how they go about reporting something. I definitely have increased the volume and frequency with which I express directly that they have both pleased me and made big sacrifices to make theTimes as great as it is. Read more at The New Republic.

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