Sulzberger: Abramson’s departure had ‘nothing to do with pay or gender’

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Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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New York Times Co. president and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. issued a statement on Saturday afternoon pushing back against stories that the paper fired former executive editor Jill Abramson in part because she inquired into salary inequities between herself and her male colleagues.

"Perhaps the saddest outcome of my decision to replace Jill Abramson as executive editor of The New York Times is that it has been cast by many as an example of the unequal treatment of women in the workplace," Sulzberger said in the statement. "Rather than accepting that this was a situation involving a specific individual who, as we all do, has strengths and weaknesses, a shallow and factually incorrect storyline has emerged."

Following Abramson's firing this week, The New Yorker's Ken Auletta reported that Abramson had hired a lawyer after learning that her salary was less than that of predecessor Bill Keller.

"As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000," Auletta reported on Thursday. "Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000."

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Sulzberger has pushed back against reports, telling staffers in a memo this week that Abramson's pay package was comparable with Keller's and that in her last year of employment, it was 10 percent higher than his. Instead, Sulzberger cast the decision as purely based on Abramson's managerial style. 

"During her tenure, I heard repeatedly from her newsroom colleagues, women and men, about a series of issues, including arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues," Sulzberger said. "I discussed these issues with Jill herself several times and warned her that, unless they were addressed, she risked losing the trust of both masthead and newsroom. She acknowledged that there were issues and agreed to try to overcome them. We all wanted her to succeed."

Read the full statement below.

Perhaps the saddest outcome of my decision to replace Jill Abramson as executive editor of The New York Times is that it has been cast by many as an example of the unequal treatment of women in the workplace. Rather than accepting that this was a situation involving a specific individual who, as we all do, has strengths and weaknesses, a shallow and factually incorrect storyline has emerged.

Fueling this have been persistent but incorrect reports that Jill’s compensation package was not comparable with her predecessor’s. This is untrue. Jill’s pay package was comparable with Bill Keller’s; in fact, by her last full year as executive editor, it was more than 10% higher than his.

Equal pay for women is an important issue in our country – one that The New York Times often covers. But it doesn’t help to advance the goal of pay equality to cite the case of a female executive whose compensation was not in fact unequal.

I decided that Jill could no longer remain as executive editor for reasons having nothing to do with pay or gender. As publisher, my paramount duty is to ensure the continued quality and success of The New York Times. Jill is an outstanding journalist and editor, but with great regret, I concluded that her management of the newsroom was simply not working out.

During her tenure, I heard repeatedly from her newsroom colleagues, women and men, about a series of issues, including arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues. I discussed these issues with Jill herself several times and warned her that, unless they were addressed, she risked losing the trust of both masthead and newsroom. She acknowledged that there were issues and agreed to try to overcome them. We all wanted her to succeed. It became clear, however, that the gap was too big to bridge and ultimately I concluded that she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back.

Since my announcement on Wednesday I have had many opportunities to talk to and hear reactions from my colleagues in the newsroom. While surprised by the timing, they understood the decision and the reasons I had to make it.

We are very proud of our record of gender equality at The New York Times. Many of our key leaders – both in the newsroom and on the business side – are women. So too are many of our rising stars. They do not look for special treatment, but expect to be treated with the same respect as their male colleagues. For that reason they want to be judged fairly and objectively on their performance. That is what happened in the case of Jill.

Equality is at the core of our beliefs at The Times. It will always be.