Invitation to a beheading: How Times editors learned of Abramson’s ouster
"Please come to a masthead/dept head meeting at 2:00 p.m. today in the page one conference room/3rd floor."
That was the note top editors at The New York Times received this afternoon summoning them to an abrupt gathering in which publisher and Times Company chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. would inform them that executive editor Jill Abramson was being replaced in the No. 1 masthead spot by one of her deputies, managing editor Dean Baquet.
The shakeup came amid tensions between Sulzberger and Abramson that have been percolating for at least the past few months, according to multiple Times insiders familiar with the matter.
But the news nonetheless came as a shock to most of the assembled editors. There had been none of the drama or widespread discontent that led up to the famous firing of Howell Raines in 2003. In fact when they arrived in the room, their first inkling of what was about to transpire was the fact that Abramson was not present.
Sulzberger gave the same vague reasoning for the change that would be relayed in a company memo and at a full newsroom meeting shortly thereafter—that the decision had to do with Abramson's newsroom management.
Not everyone was buying it. When Sulzberger said he was sure it doesn't "come as a surprise to you," video editor Bruce Headlam spoke up in Abramson's defense, according to a person who was present. "It does come as a surprise to me," the source recalls him saying.
Two other editors also voiced their concerns, sources with knowledge of the meeting told Capital. National editor Alison Mitchell suggested that Abramson's firing wouldn't sit well with a broad swath of female Times journalists who saw her as a role model. (Abramson became the Times' first female executive editor in 2011, after Bill Keller stepped down.) Assistant managing editor Susan Chira seconded that notion.
Our source who was in the room characterzed Sulzberger's response thusly: When women get to top management positions, they are sometimes fired, just as men are.
Baquet also said a few words, telling his colleagues it would be weeks before he came to any decisions about reshuffling the rest of the masthead. The most pressing appointment will be his own successor, for which Chira and two other masthead figures, deputy managing editor Janet Elder and assistant managing editor Ian Fisher, are seen as likely contenders. (Disclosure: Chira's daughter, Eliza Shapiro, is a reporter at Capital.)
A bit later, at Baquet's first page one meeting in his new role, it was revealed there would be a profile of him in the following day's paper.
Just last week, The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone reported that Baquet had recently been approached to work for Bloomberg News.
Baquet and Abramson did not return emails.
A Times spokesperson did not have a comment.