How the U.S. Media Would Cover Jill Abramson’s Firing if It Happened in Another Country

How It Works
May 15 2014 2:32 PM

If It Happened There: At an American Media Institution, Uncertain Times

Jill Abramson

Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for the New York Times

The latest installment of a continuing series in which American events are described using the tropes and tone normally employed by the American media to describe events in other countries.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

NEW YORK, United States—Outsiders often find it strange that an institution with no official legal standing is frequently referred to as the “paper of record.” Once considered a regional media outlet for the city whose name it still anachronistically bears, the New York Times has long been a national force, though it is primarily consumed by the economic elites who cluster in the coastal metropolitan areas of this economically stratified country. The newspaper enjoys a position of influence in the media and political life of America unmatched by its foreign equivalents. 


To describe the New York Times as an American version of papers like Le Monde or the People’s Daily does not do it justice. Its well-off readership relies on the paper for everything from learning about important foreign and domestic political events to announcing the lavish weddings of their children.

The Times is not without its critics. Opposition groups claim it is far too sympathetic to President Barack Obama and his ruling center-left Democratic Party. Attacking its most influential writers is something of a cottage industry for the nation’s satirists and critics. But for both opponents and devoted followers, the paper is an object of fascination, the subject of ethnographic studies and even popular films.

So observers were shocked on Wednesday when Executive Editor Jill Abramson was ousted from her position by the paper’s owner Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Abramson had reportedly long clashed with the secretive and eccentric Sulzberger family, which have owned the paper since the late 19th century.

Reports have since emerged that Abramson may have been paid less than her male predecessor, and that some in the paper’s leadership may have resented her aggressive style. While the laws of this rapidly modernizing country outlaw gender discrimination in compliance with international norms, inequalities rooted in centuries-old patriarchal practices still persist, even in elite institutions, and those who challenge these unwritten rules can face severe backlash.

Abramson’s successor Dean Baquet, the first editor of the paper who is not a member of the country’s economically dominant ethnic group, could face daunting challenges in the years ahead. Though more successful than most of its competitors, the New York Times has struggled to adapt to the new ways that Americans are consuming news.

The United States is catching up with countries like South Korea and Finland in Internet use. With more readers moving online, the growing popularity of microblogging sites and the easy availability of online news resources—including previously unavailable foreign media and outlets controlled by the opposition—have undermined the paper’s ironclad control of the media landscape. The Sulzbergers themselves have seen their control over the prized family property chipped away by a Mexican tycoon.

The Times future may be uncertain, but at least for now, Americans will still be reading about it in the New York Times.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Natasha Lyonne Is Coming to the Live Culture Gabfest. Are You?

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Honcho Says Celebs Who Keep Nude Photos in the Cloud Are “Stupid”
  News & Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
Business Insider
Oct. 2 2014 11:16 AM Some McDonald's Monopoly Properties Matter More
The Vault
Oct. 2 2014 11:07 AM Mapping 1890 Manhattan's Crazy-Quilt of Immigrant Neighborhoods
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 10:36 AM How Bad Will Adam Sandler’s Netflix Movies Be?
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM Surge Pricing Is Not Price Gouging
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 2 2014 9:49 AM In Medicine We Trust Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?