AP’S ‘NEW DISTINCTIVENESS’
From: Oreskes, Michael
Sent: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 11:57 AM
To: Oreskes, Michael
Subject: New Distinctiveness
Coming out of our strategic process this year, we are committing ourselves to focus on something I want to share with you today – something that has, with changing user behavior online, become crucial to the way we do news and do business.
Let’s start with something that’s obvious but worth laying out plainly: That “next cycle” we speak of so often in The Associated Press is now. Not 12 hours from the first breaking news, not even six hours, but one, maybe two hours from it — and maybe even faster than that.
This is hardly something that we’re just waking up to. But it is accelerating by the week. As we look around the media landscape in recent months, over and over we’re seeing the same thing. AP wins when news breaks, but after an hour or two we’re often replaced by a piece of content from someone else who has executed something more thoughtful or more innovative. Often it’s someone who has taken what we do (sometimes our reporting itself) and pushed it to the next level of content: journalism that’s more analytical, maybe a fresh and immediate entry point, a move away from text, a multimedia mashup or a different story form that speaks more directly to users.
More than ever, we need to infuse that sensibility into our daily process of news and planning. We need to institutionalize it. And we need to do it everywhere in the AP — across geographies, across formats, across subject matter. We can’t let other people win by cannibalizing our content. We need to do it ourselves each day, to parlay our reporting into work with a longer shelf life.
We’re calling this The New Distinctiveness. Here’s an initial and by-no-means complete glimpse into what it means:
Fast Response. The moment news breaks, we’re going to be talking not only about coverage in the moment, but the longer arc. We’re going to be thinking about two hours on, about what we do 12 hours ahead, and even, sometimes, about what we do weeks or months ahead.
Thematic Thinking. We’re going to be much more aggressive in identifying themes off the news —angles the world is thinking about — and digging deeper. Unique and compelling entry points to stories are key here, and those can’t be done on breaking-news autopilot. Many of these new approaches will be infused into the main story on a news event across platforms; that’s as important as creating new stories to stand alone.
Multiple Story Forms. We’re going to be finding unusual ways of telling stories and alternative story forms. We’ve already done this in many ways — photoblogging, data visualization, video (even data visualization in video), text on major events — but it needs to be mainstream and part of our fundamental foundations.
Journalism With Voice. We’re going to be pushing hard on journalism with voice, with context, with more interpretation. This does not mean that we’re sacrificing any of our deep commitment to unbiased, fair journalism. It does not mean that we’re venturing into opinion, either. It does mean that we need to be looking for ways to be more distinctive and stand out in the field — something our customers need and want. The why and the how of the news are as crucial as the who, what, when and where.
Recurring containers. We are going to establish a running “container” that can be used anywhere, tentatively called “Why it Matters.” It will focus our daily journalism on relevance without sacrificing depth. Other containers will follow. These will be done based on the news and what it needs – they’ll come into existence when they’re useful and not be forced when they’re not.
Rethinking the Planning Process. We are beginning a fundamental rethink of our daily news meetings and planning procedures, one that will increase the substantive discussion and reduce the recitation of story lists. More to come on this soon.
In coming weeks, you’ll see the beginnings of various projects to support this way of thinking. We’re establishing several “test kitchens” in different parts of the News Department to work on this and figure things out. And we’re going to push conversations that focus not only on what the news is and how to get it, but what it MEANS as well. The four test kitchens are Health and Science (led by Kit Frieden and Kevin Roach), Economics and Politics (Hal Ritter and Sally Buzbee), Tourism (Beth Harpaz) and how we work around the clock around the world on big stories (John Mancini and Brian Carovillano).
The test kitchens are a place to try things out and report back to the rest of us. But they aren’t meant to be the only place we are pushing forward. Many of you are already doing this kind of journalism and doing it well across the AP. More than ever before, our journalists are branching out into new ways of thinking and trying new things with customers and audiences in mind. This initiative will be an opportunity to amplify that best work, make it more mainstream and, most importantly, institutionalize it.
Resources, of course, are an issue. And as we lay out our plans to do this, we are mindful of all of the responsibilities that people have. We do not intend this to be yet another thing to add to your already formidable list of things to do. A great deal of this is not mainly about filing more content; it’s about refining our thinking and slightly resequencing our journalistic DNA to understand that sometimes, with good journalism behind it, sharp thinking can differentiate the AP in a very competitive field. (And to reiterate, nothing about this should take our eye off the ball of dominating breaking news. The goal here is to extend our dominance of breaking news by outreporting and outhinking the competition.)
An important note: This isn’t a product. It’s an ever-growing toolbox of approaches to harness our thinking — to make our core news report stronger, more insightful, more appealing and more relevant to the people who buy it and the people who see it. And it’s something you’ll help shape.
We have a group of people from around the AP who will be the steering committee on this, led by myself and Assistant Managing Editor Ted Anthony. And we’ll be elaborating on this in an AP Knows at the beginning of next year. If you have questions, or just want to kick around something you would like to try, get in touch with me or Ted.
This is a key way we can thrive in today’s landscape by using our own news and thinking chops — the smarts we already have — to take things forward. And, not incidentally, it’s going to be a lot of fun,too.
Happy Holidays, W=dsa
Big Three Newscasts Are Changing the State of Play
By BRIAN STELTER
There was a time when each of the Big Three nightly newscasts on American television tended to open with the same story — the latest campaign speech, a new government study or perhaps a big snowstorm. That time is gone.
Influenced by cable and the Internet, the nightly newscasts are shaking up conventions that stretch back 50 years, seeking to distinguish themselves by picking different stories and placing them in different orders.
On any given night, one might lead with the Republican campaign, another with extreme weather and the third with an exclusive interview.
“The three evening newscasts have become more different from one another than at any time I can remember,” said Bill Wheatley, who worked at NBC News for 30 years and now teaches at Columbia.
The differences provide a stark illustration of the state of the news media — much more fragmented than ever, but also arguably more creative.
Viewers these days “make their own choices,” said Ben Sherwood, the president of ABC News. “They pick what matters most to them, and we are trying to be adaptive and responsive to those sweeping changes.”
In the mornings, too, the networks are highlighting their differences. On Monday, CBS, which has been stuck in last place for decades, will introduce a new morning show featuring Charlie Rose that promises more hard news than NBC and ABC and no cooking segments or couch chitchat.
Steve Capus of NBC, the longest-serving of the three current network news chiefs, called the “different tacks” taken by the networks in the last year a positive development. “What is going to rule the day, in this age, is unique content,” he said.
On some days, the differences at 6:30 p.m. are substantive; on a Thursday in December, CBS led with Iran’s capture of a United States drone surveillance aircraft, NBC opened with an investigation into the mishandling of soldiers’ remains, and ABC with the mysterious shooting of a police officer at Virginia Tech.
On other days, they are stylistic; on Tuesday, as the Iowa caucus commenced, ABC led with a piece on Rick Santorum’s surge, CBS led with a news-making interview of Newt Gingrich, and NBC with a recap of the day’s campaigning.
There are differences in tone, as well. Scott Pelley of CBS evokes anchors of yesteryear while ABC’s Diane Sawyer radiates empathy for her subjects. These are “eye of the beholder” factors, as Brian Williams of NBC put it. “We are different people,” he said, “so naturally we all bring a different ‘voice’ to our on-air writing and our delivery style.”
The main public TV nightly newscast, “PBS NewsHour,” also differs from the three commercial newscasts; it tends to have more coverage about government and international events and much less about crime and disasters, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an arm of the Pew Research Center that studies the nation’s news output.
For decades, there were only “marginal differences” among NBC, ABC and CBS, said Tom Rosenstiel, who directs the project. “When one tried something new that viewers apparently liked, the others would assimilate it.”
Now, instead, they are counterprogramming. The biggest changes are apparent on CBS and ABC, which have long trailed NBC in the news ratings.
ABC’s new push to humanize the news and CBS’s heavily promoted emphasis on hard news may make NBC News the Goldilocks news division — not too hot, not too cold, just right.
Then again, some people have different tastes.
“I think it’s a great sign of the times that everybody’s not in lockstep on the first story every night,” Ms. Sawyer said. Her staff members, she said, start each day by discussing “the questions that we think people at home are going to be asking.”
Some staff members at ABC’s competitors privately criticize “World News” for bending too far toward human interest stories; on Wednesday, for instance, the broadcast talked about the tax code by highlighting a California union’s ad that compares the millionaire Kim Kardashian’s tax bill to that of a middle-class Californian.
Is that hard news or soft? ABC would say that question is outdated.
“We don’t believe in black and white distinctions; we believe in relevance as a unifying idea in the choices we make,” said Mr. Sherwood, who soon after taking charge of ABC News about a year ago read “Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd,” a book by Prof. Youngme Moon of Harvard Business School.
Although ABC’s morning and evening shows tend to spend less time covering international news than NBC or CBS, Mr. Sherwood can point to any number of examples of ABC’s excelling overseas; Ms. Sawyer was the only one of the three anchors to travel to Japan after the earthquake and tsunami there last year.
“The strategy of doing the same thing with subtle differences — that’s how you end up in the commodity world,” he said.
As at ABC, the bosses at CBS are new. Last winter, when Jeff Fager, the producer of “60 Minutes,” was made chairman of CBS News, he told staff members that he wanted the division to be known for hard news and original reporting. Although mired in third place in the mornings and evenings, the network attracts a huge audience each week for “60 Minutes,” and it is trying to replicate that success across the workweek.
In 2011, Mr. Rosenstiel’s researchers found that the “CBS Evening News” gave more time to two top stories, the economy and the Middle East, than “NBC Nightly News” or ABC’s “World News,” and a bit less time on what the researchers called lifestyle stories and disaster stories.
Mr. Fager said: “I think way too much of the time, news had become, ‘Boy, they had that, why didn’t we have that?’ And then, at the end of the day, the three evening newscasts looked exactly the same. We’re not doing that.”
To that point, the television sets labeled “NBC,” “ABC” and “CNN” in the “CBS Evening News” studio were turned off when Mr. Pelley succeeded Katie Couric on the newscast in June.
“They haven’t been turned on in six months,” Mr. Pelley said in his office overlooking the studio. “In fact, we should probably find a better use for them.”
Some of CBS’s competitors call that attitude willful blindness; CBS calls it a clear strategy to differentiate itself. The network had little success when Ms. Couric tinkered with the “CBS Evening News” format five years ago. But this time “they seem to be making some progress,” Mr. Wheatley, the former NBC executive, said of CBS, while noting that viewing habits are slow to change.
They are indeed. But in the TV season that ended in September, after nine consecutive years of slow declines, the three networks’ evening newscasts all posted ratings gains for the first time since 2002, giving each reason to believe in its strategies.
Mr. Capus of NBC said, “We’re defying the trends of network television.”
CNN iReport Gets Major Relaunch As a ‘Social Network for News’
By Alex Weprin on November 14, 2011 10:00 AM
Since launching five years ago, CNN’s iReport has become the gold standard when it comes to traditional media companies utilizing user-generated content. Thousands of videos, photos and stories that began as posts on the site have been featured on CNN’s networks. Today, iReport is making its largest evolution yet with a major relaunch, all in an effort to become a “social network for news.”
“Our hunch is that we could pull in more participation in stories if we create a more personalized experience of iReport,” Lila King, CNN’s participation director, tells TVNewser. “The guiding principle we have been operating by is that we make iReport a bat-signal for participation.”
iReport will still be seeking content from users, and select submissions will still be featured on-air, but at the core of the new site are features that have more in common with social networking sites than news sites:
Users will be prompted to create profile pages (pictured below) that feature a photo, bio, groups and interests. Visitors who create a profile can “follow” other users, as well as CNN personalities, and can earn awards and “badges” for accomplishments. Depending on the interests and location of users, they may be prompted to participate in a story. For example, if a user is interested in politics, they may be asked to watch an upcoming debate and comment on it.
The site will also be getting a new homepage and a video player that brings it up to par with the new player recently launched on CNN.com.
iReport will also be getting a wider presence across the web on CNN.com, CNN sister sites and elsewhere. As an example, King cited a recent effort with Facebook that let users tag photos associated with Veteran’s Day, automatically linking them up with iReport.
To promote the new site, CNN will be lining up guest editors who will edit the new iReport homepage, curating submissions that interest them. The guest editors will be a “mix of CNNers and people who are outside of CNN who have different kinds of expertise and a point of view towards the news,” King says.
Ultimately, the goal is to drive participation and interaction among users. As King notes, just about everyone has a camera in their pocket via their mobile phones, and many have a desire to let their voices be heard.
“As journalists and storytellers I think we are heading to a place where storytelling is a much more collaborative enterprise,” King says. “It is much more than a conversation, it is the actual soup-to-nuts of a story. We are all carrying cameras, we all have something to say, and I think we all increasingly have an expectation to hear our own voices and see our work reflected in the media we watch.”
Of course, as technology makes it easier and easier for ordinary people to contribute video and photos, it puts pressure on some departments within major media companies. On Friday CNN laid off dozens of staffers, including many photojournalists, editors and tape library staffers.
“We looked at the impact of user-generated content and social media, CNN iReporters and of course our affiliate contributions in breaking news,” wrote CNN senior VP Jack Womack in a memo to staff. “Consumer and pro-sumer technologies are simpler and more accessible. Small cameras are now high broadcast quality. More of this technology is in the hands of more people. After completing this analysis, CNN determined that some photojournalists will be departing the company.”
The new iReport “profile page”:
CNN, REVOLVING DOOR
Dozens of Jobs Cut at CNN; New York, Atlanta, Washington, DC, Miami, LA Staffers Pink-Slipped
By Chris Ariens on November 11, 2011 4:54 PM
Breaking: Layoff notices are being handed out across CNN/U.S. today. Photographers, editors and other staffers in Atlanta, New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Miami are being let go. In all, at least 50 positions are being eliminated. As many as 12 staffers in the Washington, DC bureau alone, four of whom are longtime photojournalists.
CNN Senior VP Jack Womack writes in a note to staff that the cuts come after a 3-year analysis of the company’s work processes.
The CNN Library, which houses CNN’s archives, is centralizing in Atlanta. The library in CNN New York is closing, while there will be cuts in staff at the library in Washington, DC. New positions will be added to the CNN Library in Atlanta.
“As a result of these technology and workflow changes, CNN is reducing the number of media editors in our work force in Atlanta,” Womack writes, adding, “Some photojournalists will be departing the company.”
“We cannot begin to thank these individuals enough for their service to CNN. They leave with our respect and our sincere best wishes.”
Even with today’s cuts, CNN anticipates adding staffers in the New Year with overall staff levels at this time next year, around the same.
In a separate note to the DC staff, bureau chief Sam Feist announced the reorganization of the Live Production Unit which is seeing staff cuts today, and the posting of two new positions in the near future. “I realize that these transitions can be very difficult and create many questions,” writes Feist. “However, we believe that the changes we are making here in Washington and across CNN will make us even stronger going forward.”
From: Womack, Jack
Sent: Friday, November 11, 2011 3:59 PM
To: *CNN ALL Cities ImageSound (TBS); *CNN ALL Cities Tech Ops
Subject: NOTE TO STAFF
For the past three years, we have been analyzing our work process across Image + Sound, both in the field and in our editing and production areas.
Our goal has been to make sure we have the right resources in the right places to meet the demands of all of our programs. Technology investments in our newsrooms now allow more desk-top editing and publishing for broadcast and online. This evolution allows more people in more places to edit and publish than ever before. As a result of these technology and workflow changes, CNN is reducing the number of media editors in our work force in Atlanta. CNN Image + Sound will continue with high end craft editing that has positive impact on our networks and platforms.
We also spent a great deal of time analyzing how we utilize and deploy photojournalists across all of our locations in the U.S. We looked at the evolution of daytime and evening line-ups. We analyzed how stories are assigned and more importantly the ratio of stories assigned that actually make it on to our networks or platforms. We know that we have to sharpen our focus on stories assigned to ensure that this great work gets on air. We looked at production demands, down time, and international deployments. We looked at the impact of user-generated content and social media, CNN iReporters and of course our affiliate contributions in breaking news. Consumer and pro-sumer technologies are simpler and more accessible. Small cameras are now high broadcast quality. More of this technology is in the hands of more people. After completing this analysis, CNN determined that some photojournalists will be departing the company.
We cannot begin to thank these individuals enough for their service to CNN. They leave with our respect and our sincere best wishes.
Now that we have completed this three-year review, we believe that we have the right resources in the right places and the proper staffing at Image + Sound, and that the unit is well-positioned to have an even more positive impact on our networks and platforms.
November 4, 2011
College Radio Heads: Off the Dial
By KYLE SPENCER
INSIDE a broadcast booth, at the radio station of the State University of New York Fredonia, Jud Heussler was presiding over his hourlong comedy show “The Morning Inferno.”
In a barreling voice, he announced that he would soon be throwing a few things up on the show’s Facebook page: a photo of a drunken moose he had uncovered online; a YouTube clip used for his segment “The Yoga Minute,” in which he and his co-host hyperventilate giddily along to the words of an earnest yoga instructor; and a video clip of the comedian Donald Glover, who was to perform on campus that night.
“Call, text, Facebook, whatever you want,” Mr. Heussler shouted to his listeners as he logged onto Facebook to check out who was posting on the show’s wall. Meanwhile, he sipped apple juice and fiddled with knobs on the audio board, plotting one of the day’s big activities: the videotaping of a campus groundbreaking. Who would shoot it? Someone who knew how to operate the station’s beloved Flip camera — flipping, as it’s called.
If none of this sounds like classic college radio, it’s not. Fredonia, a campus of 5,700 about an hour southwest of Buffalo, has two stations. And WDVL, the more popular, is so far removed from traditional radio it can’t even be found on the FM dial. Instead, that station streams on the Internet, which means tousled-haired disc jockeys in faded band T’s are constantly encouraging listeners to check out a rolling supply of podcasts, YouTube clips, photos and campus news on the station’s Web site.
Mr. Heussler, a senior majoring in audio-radio production, is general manager of both stations. He pointed boastfully at a printout of the station’s latest stats. “You could argue that WDVL has a bigger impact beyond the campus than we do on it,” he said. The station has about 350 online listeners a day; 40 percent of them live almost 300 miles away in the New York City area, while a mere 4 percent are on or near campus. Other log-in clusters? Los Angeles and the Czech Republic. “People listen from everywhere,” he said.
Fredonia’s radio station, with its tattered band posters and fading stickers, rickety desks and swivel chairs, and the occasional forlorn turntable or microphone jack, is plush by college standards. There is a mustard-colored couch from the 1960s in the lounge and an oversize banner of the call letters in red and black draped over an office divide. And nostalgically, a large closet houses thousands of dusty vinyls and CDs.
Most of the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System’s 700 college members now stream on the Internet along with, or instead of, their broadcasting efforts. The Web’s freedom from Federal Communications Commission regulations is not the point. At stations like Fredonia’s, the goal is to transform themselves into the multimedia platforms they believe students with unprecedented tech appetites actually want, and it is changing the ethos, content and vibe of collegiate stations.
“No one brings a radio to their dorm today,” says Sean Owczarek, a recent Yale graduate who helped remake WYBCX, the university’s online-only station, during his time as general manager there.
Instead, students arrive on campus armed with smartphones, iPods and tablets on which they can listen to music services like Pandora, an Internet station that uses an algorithm to determine what songs to play. And now that Facebook has teamed with peer-to-peer applications like Spotify, users can share music right there on the site. ITunes carries some 225 college stations.
In this crowd, luring listeners, and keeping them entertained, is a matter of survival.
A dispiriting number of college administrators, unclear on the need for radio stations at all, are selling their coveted space on the AM-FM dial. In the last two years 14 stations have been sold or have pending sales, according to College Broadcasters Inc., an industry association.
Despite vociferous protest, Vanderbilt University in June sold the broadcast license to its indie station WRVU, a Nashville institution that promoted its music as the kind “you can’t hear anywhere else.” The sale price: $3.35 million. Brown’s BSR lost its FM spot this summer, too. And after multiple attempts to scuttle the deal, Rice University recently sold its license for KTRU, which played everything from Philip Glass to shoegaze, a British rock subgenre characterized by noisy guitars and motionless musicians on stage. All three stations are now streaming online. (WRVU and KTRU can also be found on HD Radio, for hybrid digital, which requires special receivers.)
To improve morale, Rob Quicke, a communications professor and general manager of the station at William Paterson University, in Wayne, N.J., organized a College Radio Day on Oct. 11. It was a call to unity in which 365 stations showcased their best work and played a segment by Professor Quicke on the value of college radio.
Station managers, sounding more business than boho, increasingly meet to strategize ways to stay relevant. “One of the big things we do is monthly conference calls with our board of directors where we brainstorm the future of our station,” says David DyTang, a policy analysis and management major and general manager of Cornell’s rock station, WVBR. “How do we reach out to students? How do we access them through modern media?” In one way, the students are creating an app to access the station’s Web site from a smartphone.
Three years ago, Fordham started up the Alternate Side as an edgier, visually stimulating option to its FM-based station, WFUV. The Alternate Side streams 24/7 on the Internet, a few hours a day on the FM dial, and on HD Radio. Student technicians videotape and edit live jam sessions that are e-mailed to listeners in a weekly newsletter and posted on the station’s page. “We call ourselves a radio station,” says John O. Platt,WFUV’s communications director. “But we’re really a multimedia content provider.”
Students at Yale’s WYBCX refer to their station as a “global entity.”
In response to lost listenership in 2007, students voluntarily transformed their free-format AM station into an Internet-only outfit with a highbrow mix of pop-electronica and contemporary classical. While WYBCX is like many stations in that it offers live college sports, its disc jockeys would never be satisfied streaming for just a dorm buddy. “All our shows are designed for audiences beyond Yale,” says the general manager, Carl Chen, a junior sociology major who is as comfortable discussing an 11-member hip-hop collective from Los Angeles as the “media model” the station ought to be pursuing to compete for listeners. The plan is to develop niche followings with eclectic interview shows like “The Art World Demystified,” “A Glimpse of Islam” and “fsck,” on the tech world.
Once upon a time, it was a hyper-local focus that constituted the beauty of the often unpolished, old-school college radio show. Disc jockeys shouted out to roommates cramming at 3 a.m. for calculus II exams, played cranky ballads to ex-boyfriends, and introduced new, underground bands. For those who recall stations as carefree places where a kid who was into music could play some tunes, even ones no one was likely to enjoy, this global-minded, strategic maneuvering is unsettling.
“College radio has traditionally been rooted in a community, a place and a time,” says Casey Rae-Hunter, deputy director of the Future of Music Coalition, a nonprofit group that has been involved in the fight to preserve college radio. “It’s live and it’s local. There is a tremendous romance to that. Without it, college radio stations risk losing their uniqueness.”
DePaul University’s Internet-only station garners listeners from as far away as Tokyo, and when a marketing class was asked to evaluate what the station could do to improve, there was overwhelming consensus: focus more on what’s happening here, on the Chicago campus.
“We were trying to be a global radio station,” says Scott Vyverman, faculty manager for the station. “And we were missing that connection at home.”
To rectify this, the station began broadcasting campus sports and beefed up its local news coverage.
Even at free-format stations like Drexel University’s WKDU, which streams online but still maintains a strong local presence on the FM dial, students are being forced to confront issues concerning the station’s distinctiveness. In free-format programming, D.J.’s are invited to produce a show on just about any topic or musical genre they please. It’s the kind of station that has captured the romantic imagination, but in fact many now utilize formal playlists, some of them automated.
WKDU has long positioned itself as West Philadelphia’s answer to corporate music. Playing Top 40 tunes is not allowed. Jake Cooley, a junior and the station manager, chuckles when he recalls the time, a few years back, when a D.J. propped a vacuum cleaner up to his microphone and let it roar to mimic the noisy dissonance of a black metal drone band. It was part musical experience, part D.J. bravado. Would Mr. Cooley sanction such a performance today? “Probably not,” he says almost apologetically. “It’s a fine line.”
Larry L. Epstein, faculty adviser to WKDU, has watched the transition up close. “These college stations are still social environments,” says Mr. Epstein, who is also an executive board member of Cornell’s WVBR. But students tend to be more deliberate about their time at them and more demanding of one another. While some of this has to do with the changing work ethos on American campuses, he says, it also has to do with the pressure stations are under. “Their programming has to be relevant to their core audience,” he says. “The days of college stations that only appeal to the students who work there has come to an end.”
Mr. Epstein is direct. “I tell them: You don’t want to end up another Vanderbilt.”
It wasn’t always like this. As mainstream radio in the 1980s and 1990s became more focused on profits, and hence more risk averse, college radio became one of the rare broadcast venues where new sounds could be introduced, according to Susan Smulyan, author of “Selling Radio: The Commercialization of American Broadcasting.” “College radio became a hideout,” she says.
And it relished the role. In the 1980s college radio catapulted the post-punk pop of R.E.M. into the mainstream, and is credited with discovering and promoting the 1990s grunge bands Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. In the early 2000s, it was college radio that helped ignite a garage band revival with the White Stripes. Even Coldplay was lifted up through the ranks of college radio.
David Hargis, a former student disc jockey at Princeton’s WPRB, says the power of these stations has been diluted because music blogs like Pitchfork and social networking sites, which he calls “word of mouth on steroids,” are offering those same opportunities to discover new music. “There are too many other ways to get what college radio gives you,” says Mr. Hargis, who was a paid program coordinator for KUSF, the University of San Francisco’s student station, which now is found only streaming on the Internet.
Mr. Vyverman, the faculty manager at Radio DePaul, says college radio can etch out a new role, but online so young listeners can do what they have grown accustomed to doing: participating. “College students don’t want: You listen to what we tell you,” he says. “They want two-way communication. They want to feel that their voice is being heard.”
A VISITOR recently dropped by and heard a lively conversation in the Fredonia station’s lounge on what live radio stations can offer students that automated Internet radio stations can’t.
Izzy Jay, a senior and program director for Fredonia’s FM-dial station, paced back and forth, nibbling on chips and offering her thoughts on how much a disc jockey really adds to a listener’s experience. “I listen to radio to hear new music,” she argued. “I don’t need the disc jockey to draw me in.”
But Rob Neves, program director for the campus’s Internet station, leaned against an office divider in a cobalt-blue “I Love Radio” T-shirt and politely but vehemently disagreed.
“Music is what brings people to the radio,” he retorted. “Personalities are what keep them coming back.”
Mr. Neves said later, “It’s an ongoing debate between certain people — what drives people to come and why iPods and Pandora are different.”
WDVL station heads are confident they can put up a valiant fight against robotic technologies — not by becoming riskier because they’re F.C.C. free, but by producing shows that promote real-time connections. “Lover Call,” a late-night talk show, encourages listeners to instant-message their romantic woes, as one lovelorn listener did repeatedly last year. “Week after week, we got updates,” Mr. Heussler said, describing a suspense-packed virtual soap opera.
Last year, “Bonjour Cupcake” featured soupy guitar bands that sang about foiled love affairs. Meanwhile, listeners swapped cupcake recipes in a live chat room. “Yup, that’s basically what they did.” Mr. Heussler said, affecting a tone that suggested even he was puzzled by that show’s success.
Mr. Heussler believes another way to foster these connections is to help listeners find information on artists they want to learn more about. To illustrate this, he told the story of how two years ago, WDVL conducted a phone interview with an indie electro-pop band from Colorado called 3OH!3. The podcast included a recording of “Don’t Trust Me,” the band’s catchy, tongue-in-cheek tune about the perils of hooking up. When that song shot to No. 1 on the music charts, fans from around the world, seeking news about the band, found the Fredonia site.
To old radio heads, what Mr. Heussler was describing wasn’t really introducing someone to something new. You find what you’re looking for; you don’t find what you’re not looking for. But he is not the type to get bogged down in what used to be.
When asked which station was WDVL’s biggest competitor, Mr. Heussler, taking a rare break in the foam-padded interview room, shrugged. “Who are we competing with? We’re competing with past generations.”
Kyle Spencer is a freelance writer based in New York City.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 5, 2011
A picture caption on Page 22 this weekend with an article about college radio on the Internet misidentifies a Fordham student shown videotaping a band for the university’s station, WFUV. She is Erica Talbott, not Clair Donovan.
Distracted? It’s Time to Hit the Reset Button
By EILENE ZIMMERMAN
Q. You enjoy being fully immersed in your work but find yourself becoming distracted by e-mail, the Internet and other things throughout the day. Why do you lose focus so easily?
A. People often lose their concentration when they are bored, of course, but also when they are engaged in challenging tasks, says Peter Bregman, author of “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done” and chief executive of a management consultancy in New York. “We have a momentary feeling of wanting to escape what’s difficult or boring, so we jump out,” he says — hence the appeal of e-mail and shopping Web sites.
The brain’s wiring also lends itself to being distracted. The part of the brain devoted to attention is connected to the brain’s emotional center, says Srini Pillay, author of “Your Brain and Business” and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Any strong emotion — frustration with a colleague, problems at home — can disrupt your attention, he says.
Add to that the necessity, and perceived virtue, of multitasking at work. Studies over the last decade have shown that multitasking can reduce our capacity to sustain attention, says Michael Komie, a psychologist who teaches at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and consults with executives. “Although there are always exceptions to the rule,” he says, “the research shows that for the average worker in the workplace, multitasking while trying to solve a complex problem is a very bad strategy.”
Q. What strategies can you use to refocus at work?
A. Refocusing is hard for many people because they have trained their brains to work on a variety of things at the same time, Dr. Pillay says. He suggests visualizing a reset device in your brain and saying: “I need to press the reset button and get back on track.” This takes the spotlight off the distraction and puts it on the redirection. “You are rewiring your brain,” he says.
Robert Epstein, a research psychologist in San Diego and founder of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, suggests the following: “Stop and listen to music for a few minutes, go for a short walk or take a cleansing breath, where you breath in deeply, count to five slowly, hold it and breathe out very slowly.” This can “blow out all the tension and clutter in your mind, and that can restore your focus.”
But if you are having severe problems maintaining focus at work, you should consult a psychologist or physician, Dr. Komie says, as severe symptoms could be a sign of anxiety, depression or adult forms of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.
Q. How can you set up your day so you aren’t easily distracted and can complete your tasks?
A. Take more control by structuring your time and becoming more aware of your behavior, Mr. Bregman says. For example, he often sets his phone alarm to go off every hour, as a reminder to stay on task.
“It’s a way of creating awareness,” he says. “You have to notice you’ve lost focus in order to do something about it.”
You are more vulnerable to distraction when you’re uncomfortable, hungry or tired, so it’s important to plan “self-management activities,” says Dr. Epstein, such as when to eat, go to the gym or take a walk.
Starting the day with a to-do list is important, but if it’s overly ambitious you will put yourself in a state of anticipatory anxiety, Dr. Pillay says. That makes it hard for the brain — which doesn’t like uncertainty — to concentrate. “Choosing three or four things as your priority for the day allows your brain to settle down and focus,” he says. Look at what is realistically possible and be specific with yourself about what you can and cannot do that day.
Q. Can distractions ever have a positive effect?
A. Scheduling distractions as a reward for productivity can motivate your brain to stay focused, Dr. Pillay says. Ideally, those distractions should also be good for you — like a massage, a yoga class or just putting on headphones and listening to music. “The brain benefits significantly from breaks,” he says. “You may even come back and feel more creative if you take your mind off its primary focus for a little while.”
If your distraction of choice is Facebook, Twitter or other social media, schedule time for that, says Dr. Epstein, so that you’re proactive, not reactive.
“You control it,” he says, “rather than it controlling you.”
November 8, 2011, 8:00 AM
Getting Names Wrong
By PHILIP B. CORBETT
Notes from the newsroom on grammar, usage and style. (Some frequently asked questions are here.
We’ve said it before. We’ll say it again, and no doubt again after that.
Getting people’s names right is one of the most basic tasks of reporting and editing. Of course, it’s not as easy as it may seem to outsiders — scores of stories, hundreds or thousands of names, every day, all day long, on an unforgiving deadline of right this minute. We’re bound to slip once in a while.
In fact, we slip every day, often several times a day. My colleague Greg Brock reports that of about 2,800 errors we’ve corrected in print so far this year, 460 have involved people’s names. And every time we get a name wrong, we chip away at The Times’s credibility in the eyes of readers. It’s embarrassing when we misspell well-known names. Even worse is misspelling the names of ordinary people who may appear in The Times only once. Their moment in the spotlight is spoiled, and they’re likely to tell everyone they know that The Times can’t get its facts straight.
Perfection is impossible, but we could do much, much better. The correct information is almost always available, usually easily found. In many cases, the reporter is talking to the very person who knows the answer best — the subject. A few reminders for harried writers and editors:
• In every interview, ask the subject to spell his or her name.
• If you use another source, online or elsewhere, be sure it’s reliable. (Don’t take a Google poll and go with the spelling that gets the most hits.)
• Don’t just check how we spelled the name last time — our archive is, among other things, a minefield of past errors.
• Copy editors should check as many names as humanly possible.
• If you couldn’t double-check before the first deadline, do it afterward.
• Be wary of names with common variants — Stephen and Steven, O’Neil and O’Neill and O’Neal.
• Don’t rely on memory.
Here’s the sad tally from one recent day’s print correction column (10/27). Of 10 corrections, six were for errors in names. (For the record, we also gave a wrong neighborhood in Brooklyn; misspelled Woodlawn Cemetery as Woodland; misattributed a quotation; and gave the wrong number of minority head coaches in the N.F.L.)
An article on Monday about elections in Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings, misstated the given name of the founder of a liberal Tunisian political party and former dissident exile. He is Moncef Marzouki, not Marcel.
An article on Saturday about the embarrassing exposure in Russia’s social media of a staged event for President Dmitri A. Medvedev at Moscow State University’s journalism department, in which the audience was packed with members of a pro-Kremlin youth group and not enthusiastic journalism students, misspelled the name of a spokeswoman for Nashi, one of the pro-Kremlin youth groups that had participated. She is Kristina Potupchik, not Postupchik.
An article on Wednesday about a proposed constitutional amendment in Mississippi that would declare a fertilized human egg to be a legal person misstated the surname of the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy group. She is Nancy Northup, not Northrup.
Because of an editing error, an article on Wednesday about Amazon.com’s quarterly earnings misstated the middle initial for the company’s chief executive. He is Jeffrey P. Bezos, not Jeffrey A.
••• An article on Tuesday about the cracking of an 18th-century code known as the Copiale Cipher misspelled the surname of the mathematician to whom Warren Weaver, a pioneer in automated language translation, wrote a letter in 1947 that suggested applying code-breaking techniques to the challenge of translating a foreign language. He is Norbert Wiener, not Weiner.
••• Because of an editing error, an obituary on Wednesday about John McCarthy, a computer scientist, misspelled the given name of one founder of Apple, who had been a member of the Homebrew Computer Club, a hobbyist group that Dr. McCarthy invited to meet at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He is Stephen Wozniak, not Steven.
Correcting the Martin Luther King memorial mistake
By Rachel Manteuffel, Friday, January 13, 4:44 PM
Five months ago, in this space, I wrote that something was wrong with the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. The quotation inscribed on the monument’s left flank had been so badly excerpted that a modest statement of King’s was turned into a boast.
At the time, it wasn’t clear how or why this had happened, but what seemed likely, at least to me, was that nothing would be done about it. Things that are etched in stone seldom are changed, especially in Washington, which is not famous for admitting error, righting wrongs, getting things done in a timely fashion, or getting things done at all.
It turns out I was right about the error but wrong about Washington. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told The Post today that the quote will be corrected. He has given the National Park Service 30 days — because “things only happen when you put a deadline on it” — to consult with the King Memorial Foundation, family members and other interested parties and come up with a more accurate alternative.
“This is important because Dr. King and his presence on the Mall is a forever presence for the United States of America, and we have to make sure that we get it right,” Salazar said.
Consider it no small victory for the power of public opinion over the sometimes ponderous inertia of bureaucracy, and also for the power of words — King’s words — to be heard.
“I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,” the monument says. What an odd choice for a quote, I thought, when I visited in August before its scheduled dedication. It sounded almost . . . conceited. And it was past tense, as though King was speaking from the grave. It didn’t sound like King at all.
I went looking for the context, read the whole speech and found there was a reason it didn’t sound like him. “If you want to say I was a drum major, say I was . . .” is how King began his statement. As many have since pointed out, the “if” and the “you” entirely change the meaning. To King, being a self-aggrandizing drum major was not a good thing; if you wanted to call him that, he said, at least say it was in the service of good causes.
Some important people who hadn’t seen the quote yet read the op-ed and agreed. The poet Maya Angelou, who knew and worked with King, said the truncated quote made King seem like “an arrogant twit.” Roy Peter Clark, an expert on the use of words, wrote for CNN, “Everything I’ve learned about the language of enshrinement suggests that the inscription on the King monument should be revised.” Martin Luther King III told CNN: “That was not what Dad said.”
Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert noted that it was “to the point. Not Dr. King’s point, but still. Brevity is the soul of saving money on chiseling fees.”
Even the sidewalk T-shirt vendors chose an image from the memorial’s plans rather than the real thing. Because, it turned out, the original plans included the full, in-context quote. After the plans were approved, the lead architect and the sculptor thought the stone would look better with fewer words. They did the editing themselves, without considering the violence it would do to the quote’s meaning. It was as simple as that.
“I do not think it’s an accurate portrayal of what Dr. King was,” Salazar told us Friday.
How sweet, then, that King can still be giving to us on his 83rd birthday, though he lived for only 39 of them. He can give us this story of many different Americans using their tools at hand — celebrity, media, commerce, satire, academia — to ask their government to right a wrong.
And King, a lover of words and a profound symbol to all of us, demanded action. Because of him, at least this time, the system worked.
Cynopsis: Classified Advantage
Good morning it’s Tuesday, November 29th, 2011, and this is your weekly issue of Cynopsis: Classified Advantage!
The Death of a Document?
Rejoice one and all. The bane of our existence, at least for job seekers, is coming to an end. Yes folks, I’m here to tell you that the cover letter is dead. Or at least on life support.
This document that has perplexed so many and has been read by so few is finally disappearing from the job seeking process.
In its place is a note. Sounds much less intimidating doesn’t it? A note or even a short email with your resume attached, stating the job you’re applying for, why you are the one who should be hired, and highlight one or two of your major accomplishments as proof of your worth. End the note with a sincerely and all contact information.
To some, this might sound just like a cover letter, but it’s not. It’s shorter, less formal and considerably less daunting.
What does remain is addressing your introductory note by name; not a Dear Sir or Madam.
Caution, not everybody is on board with this yet. So call and ask if a traditional cover letter is requested or if an introductory note will suffice.
Not only is this easier on you, but most of the people reading these documents will love you for it.
Next Issue: To the People who read Cover Letters.
We are always on the look out for more Experts to advise our readers – if you’re a headhunter, job coach, career advisor, etc., and may be interested in contributing to this edition from time to time, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
~ ACTIONABLE EXPERT ADVICE ~
See Yourself As Others See You
by Michael Pollock
What you think really doesn’t matter when you’re pitching yourself for a job. What matters is what the recipient of the pitch thinks: the hirer. What you need to be doing is intuiting what they are looking for and what they are worrying about, so that when they meet you they feel better, they feel that their problems will be taken care of.
So what should they feel when they look at you? Think about it, she is just a person with a job to do and problems to solve, whether she’s in HR or the manager you’d be working for; though in each case their problems will be slightly different.
Do this exercise before you write to them or go into the interview: ask yourself “what do they hope they will see in me? What problem or worry do they have that I can help them with?”
Put yourself in their shoes. Forget for a moment about your qualifications and think about her needs. Your predictions might include: I can trust her, I want someone who has worked on projects like mine, I want someone who understands the category, I want someone who will fit in with the team, I want someone who has proven results. This kind of thing.
So which of these are the likely triggers for your particular hirer? Which can you support best? Ask yourself these questions and then look at your resume and cover letter and decide whether they are framed to give the right impression.
To do this you need to have a good sense of what you have to offer. You need to understand which of your experiences and skills are relevant to their needs which ones are important.
There is often a difference between important and interesting. Focus on the “important” and then color it with a little “interesting.” But don’t put so much interesting in that your reader loses sight of the important parts she is not going to give it that much time before she moves on. And don’t make them work to discover the important parts.
Put them up front tell them what you bring them and then prove it in your chronology or the cases you cite. Don’t make them search for it. Why should they?
Surely there is no job in the creative business where effective, powerful presentation of ideas is not important. So show them with your own pitch for yourself that you have that mastered.
So what will they see when they see your resume or meet you at interview? Will they see a list of qualifications and clients and dates and advancements? Or will they see the answer to their problem? Which would you prefer they see?
Michael Pollock is President of Pollock Spark (www.pollockspark.com). He is an Executive Coach and Consultant to Creative and Media professionals. He works with people in film, TV, journalism, advertising, design, marketing, music and the Internet, bringing them the experience, techniques and inspiration to take their businesses and careers to new levels of success.
~ ASK THE EXPERTS ~
Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock
What should I be looking for when asking people for references? And should I ask them to sit down with me beforehand to discuss the contents of the reference?
Look for people who will say good things about you. Okay, you laugh, but this is not always done. Just because they worked with you doesn’t mean they like what you do; so think carefully before you ask.
Look for people with respectable titles and responsibilities; people you’ve worked for rather than your peers.
Know what you want your hirer to hear about you and look for those specifics in the references: general nice-guy stuff is usually not that helpful, you want them to emphasize your successes.
Mostly the people who will give you the time for a sit-down are not the ones who will give the most valuable references.
So if there are particular areas you feel that a referee could support you on when you ask them, suggest that they might consider touching on those things.
Is sending in a resume and cover letter really just a hit and miss situation, even when everything is done properly?
For sure there is always a degree of hit and miss. Will it be opened? Will it be opened by someone who matters? Will it be read by someone who understands? Will it be printed out and put on a pile and buried? Will it be passed on and mislaid? Will it be scanned for some peculiar combo of keywords that you couldn’t predict? Had they actually already picked a winner but had to advertise to convince themselves? And so on.
So even with the perfect submission there is a lot that can happen that might not be good. Hit or miss? I would say there is some of that.
But you’ve got to be in it to win it so don’t forget the personal introductions and using your network to spread the resume. These distribution techniques are a critically important part of “doing it properly.”
Michael Pollock is President of Pollock Spark (www.pollockspark.com). He is an Executive Coach and Consultant to Creative and Media professionals.
Have a question for our experts? Send it to email@example.com
Is the Era of the Motorcycle Over?
By FREDERICK SEIDEL
Published: November 5, 2011
ARE motorcycles passé? Are they sort of over? I ask as a rider of two-wheel Italian beauties that go very fast, gracefully streamlined subsonic technology from the Ducati factory in Bologna. I own two sport bikes and two racers. I ride racing motorcycles on the street. One of my motorcycles is capable of nearly 200 miles an hour. I write prose about motorcycles. I write poems about motorcycles.
So I ask with some authority. Are motorcycles — even superb and lovely Italian motorcycles from the land of Donatello and Bertolucci — being replaced as love objects, as arm candy, by other more contemporary show-off desirables?
Electronic ones. Mostly made by Apple.
The iPhone 4S, the iPad 2, the 11-inch and 13-inch thin, light MacBook Air computers — these are the sleek gorgeousness young people go on about, have to have, and do have, in the millions. These machines, famous for the svelte dignity of their designs — and of course, far less expensive than a motorcycle — are a lens to see the world through and to do your work on. It’s their operating speeds that thrill. Young people cut a bella figura on their electronic devices.
Now, of course, it is not just the young who buy Apple products. I lay emphasis on the young, particularly young men, because they are the ones who might otherwise be buying motorcycles, and aren’t, at least not at all in the numbers they did before the economic downturn. The great recession was disastrous for motorcycle sales around the country, especially, it seems, for sport bikes, the ones that perform with brio but have no practical point to make. In other words, they are not bikes to tour on, they are not a comfortable way for you and a companion — wife or partner or friend — to travel to work or to a distant campground. You can do it, but it’s not ideal. Young riders were not buying motorcycles of any kind, and especially, it seems, not sport bikes.
Or, to say it another way, it’s as if the recession induced a coma in all the potential new motorcyclists, and in so many of the already experienced motorcyclists, from which they woke changed, changed utterly, and found themselves standing in line outside an Apple store, patiently waiting to buy the latest greatness.
They are buying a slice of what Apple does — and how it does it — and how it looks doing it. They are buying function but, just as important, they are buying glamour. The device enhances the buyer’s sense of self. It helps the person think and at the same time not think. Once, not so long ago, motorcycles did the same thing.
In a few days, at the International Motorcycle Show inMilan, Ducati will introduce a radically new sport bike called the Panigale, after Borgo Panigale, the neighborhood on the outskirts ofBolognawhere the Ducati factory is. The Ducati people are being secretive about how the Panigale will look and how it will perform. But there have been spy photos of the bike being tested on the Mugello circuit, with the former World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss aboard, and plenty of rumors and speculation about the tech specs.
We know this much. It will make brave hearts beat faster. It will weigh less than its predecessor. It will have a new sort of frame. It will have an ingenious new exhaust system. It will handle. It will be fast. It will be beautiful. How many Ducati followers — the Ducatisti — will have to have one? Some.
Oh, for the days — not so long ago — when a boy’s world would have fallen to its knees before a new Ducati design.
In Dallas, at Advanced Motorsports, his motorcycle dealership, Jeff Nash, a gentleman and one of the great Ducati racebike tuners in America, and a racer himself, deplores the passivity of the young who would rather be home with their iPads playing computer games than astride the red-meat lightning of an 1198 Superbike blazing down a Texas highway making that unmistakable growling deep Ducati sound. Mr. Nash would go further.
Better to be out in the air astride just about any motorcycle alive!
Frederick Seidel is the author of the poetry collections “Ooga-Booga” and, most recently, “Poems, 1959-2009.”
Shunning Facebook, and Living to Tell About It
Tyson Balcomb quit Facebook after a chance encounter on an elevator. He found himself standing next to a woman he had never met — yet through Facebook he knew what her older brother looked like, that she was from a tiny island off the coast ofWashington and that she had recently visited the Space Needle inSeattle.
“I knew all these things about her, but I’d never even talked to her,” said Mr. Balcomb, a pre-med student inOregonwho had some real-life friends in common with the woman. “At that point I thought, maybe this is a little unhealthy.”
As Facebook prepares for a much-anticipated public offering, the company is eager to show off its momentum by building on its huge membership: more than 800 million active users around the world, Facebook says, and roughly 200 million in the United States, or two-thirds of the population.
But the company is running into a roadblock in this country. Some people, even on the younger end of the age spectrum, just refuse to participate, including people who have given it a try.
One of Facebook’s main selling points is that it builds closer ties among friends and colleagues. But some who steer clear of the site say it can have the opposite effect of making them feel more, not less, alienated.
“I wasn’t calling my friends anymore,” said Ashleigh Elser, 24, who is in graduate school inCharlottesville,Va.“I was just seeing their pictures and updates and felt like that was really connecting to them.”
To be sure, the Facebook-free life has its disadvantages in an era when people announce all kinds of major life milestones on the Web. Ms. Elser has missed engagements and pictures of new-born babies. But none of that hurt as much as the gap she said her Facebook account had created between her and her closest friends. So she shut it down.
Many of the holdouts mention concerns about privacy. Those who study social networking say this issue boils down to trust. Amanda Lenhart, who directs research on teenagers, children and families at the Pew Internet and American Life Project, said that people who use Facebook tend to have “a general sense of trust in others and trust in institutions.” She added: “Some people make the decision not to use it because they are afraid of what might happen.”
Ms. Lenhart noted that about 16 percent of Americans don’t have cellphones. “There will always be holdouts,” she said.
Facebook executives say they don’t expect everyone in the country to sign up. Instead they are working on ways to keep current users on the site longer, which gives the company more chances to show them ads. And the company’s biggest growth is now in places like Asia andLatin America, where there might actually be people who have not yet heard of Facebook.
“Our goal is to offer people a meaningful, fun and free way to connect with their friends, and we hope that’s appealing to a broad audience,” said Jonathan Thaw, a Facebook spokesman.
But the figures on growth in this country are stark. The number of Americans who visited Facebook grew 10 percent in the year that ended in October — down from 56 percent growth over the previous year, according to comScore, which tracks Internet traffic.
Ray Valdes, an analyst at Gartner, said this slowdown was not a make-or-break issue ahead of the company’s public offering, which could come in the spring. What does matter, he said, is Facebook’s ability to keep its millions of current users entertained and coming back.
“They’re likely more worried about the novelty factor wearing off,” Mr. Valdes said. “That’s a continual problem that they’re solving, and there are no permanent solutions.”
Erika Gable, 29, who lives inBrooklynand does public relations for restaurants, never understood the appeal of Facebook in the first place. She says the daily chatter that flows through the site — updates about bad hair days and pictures from dinner — is virtual clutter she doesn’t need in her life.
“If I want to see my fifth cousin’s second baby, I’ll call them,” she said with a laugh.
Ms. Gable is not a Luddite. She has an iPhone and sometimes uses Twitter. But when it comes to creating a profile on the world’s biggest social network, her tolerance reaches its limits.
“I remember having MySpace for a bit and always feeling so weird about seeing other people’s stuff all the time,” she said. “I’m not into it.”
Will Brennan, a 26-year-old Brooklyn resident, said he had “heard too many horror stories” about the privacy pitfalls of Facebook. But he said friends are not always sympathetic to his anti-social-media stance.
“I get asked to sign up at least twice a month,” said Mr. Brennan. “I get harangued for ruining their plans by not being on Facebook.”
And whether there is haranguing involved or not, the rebels say their no-Facebook status tends to be a hot topic of conversation — much as a decision not to own a television might have been in an earlier media era.
“People always raise an eyebrow,” said Chris Munns, 29, who works as a systems administrator inNew York. “But my life has gone on just fine without it. I’m not a shut-in. I have friends and quite an enjoyable life inManhattan, so I can’t say it makes me feel like I’m missing out on life at all.”
But the peer pressure is only going to increase. Susan Etlinger, an analyst at the Altimeter Group, said society was adopting new behaviors and expectations in response to the near-ubiquity of Facebook and other social networks.
“People may start to ask the question that, if you aren’t on social channels, why not? Are you hiding something?” she said. “The norms are shifting.”
This kind of thinking cuts both ways for the Facebook holdouts. Mr. Munns said his dating life had benefited from his lack of an online dossier: “They haven’t had a chance to dig up your entire life on Facebook before you meet.”
But Ms. Gable said such background checks were the one thing she needed Facebook for.
“If I have a crush on a guy, I’ll make my friends look him up for me,” Ms. Gable said. “But that’s as far as it goes.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 13, 2011
An earlier version of this article misstated the percentage of Americans who do not have cellphones, as estimated by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. It is 16 percent, not 5 percent.
An Undertaker With Purple Nails
By COREY KILGANNON
“SOMETIMES you got to do it all yourself,” said Doris V. Amen late one recent weeknight as she hopped up onto the back of her hearse, clamped her high-heeled pumps onto the back bumper and yanked a stubborn corpse on a stretcher out onto a windswept Brooklyn street.
She wheeled the body into the embalmer’s office and left it next to a pair of unclothed waxy bodies stitched up like handbags. Then she headed back to the Jurek-Park Slope Funeral Home, where she is the funeral director.
Ms. Amen — yes, it is her surname, pronounced like laymen — bought the business in 1989 from a Polish family. Her clientele is still largely Polish, though she is not.
“Italian, but Brooklyn, born and raised,” she said, sitting in her tiny office, which is full of memorabilia and which rumbles every time the R train goes by.
As usual, she had her fuel: an extra large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, mugs of fudge-flavor diet soda, and her electronic cigarette. And as usual, she wore a form-fitting knit dress and matching pumps. She was painting her long nails purple to match them.
Her two Cadillacs were parked outside the funeral home, onFourth Avenuenear theGreen-WoodCemetery: her 1978 silver hearse and her 2009 XLR coupe. The coupe gets a lot of whistles. The hearse is good for errands because it doesn’t get parking tickets. The decorative pillow above Ms. Amen’s head was embroidered with the words “Behind every successful woman is herself.”
“People are sometimes surprised I’m a funeral director,” she said. “But I tell them, ‘Listen, if a woman can bring you into the world, she can certainly bring you out.’ ”
Ms. Amen says she lands a lot of customers with her $1,999 starting price for a wake. This buys the use of a nice coffin for the viewing only. After that, the body is put in a cardboard box for cremation or burial.
“It’s bare bones, literally,” said Ms. Amen, who grew up in Bay Ridge and came of age there in the Saturday Night Fever era, a product ofFortHamiltonHigh SchoolandBrooklynCollege.
She has no children — “I have cystic fibrosis in my family and I didn’t want to pass it on to more children” — and her marriage ended in divorce 15 years ago. Since then, she has had two serious relationships, but both men died. She handled their wakes and funerals, and even prepared the bodies for viewing.
On this night, down in the funeral home’s furnished basement, Ms. Amen prepared for her annual Halloween party. She put a Frankenstein figure in a full-size coffin, and repurposed a child-size coffin to serve as a beer cooler. She also converted a large coffin into a couch by putting milk crates inside and laying cushions on them.
Last year, she surprised the partygoers by popping out of a coffin, long legs first, in a tiny miniskirt. This year, she would top that, she said, by wearing a leather dominatrix outfit and singing a few Rolling Stones numbers with a backup band at midnight.
In terms of funerals, things were quiet, though she was waiting on a “pending,” aStaten Islandman who was “hanging on by a thread,” she said.
“Oh, please let him hang on till after my party,” she said, clasping her hands.
At 9 p.m., a family rang the buzzer seeking a next-day wake for their 95-year-old grandmother who had just died at the family’s apartment nearby. The family took the $1,999 deal. When they asked who would pick up the body, Ms. Amen pulled up her sleeve and flexed her bicep. The family members mustered a smile and handed Ms. Amen a $500 cash deposit. She tucked it into her bra and went out to start the hearse.
At the family’s apartment, with a police officer standing by, she pulled the bedsheet over the corpse and wrapped it cocoon-like, knotting it at the head and foot. Then, with the officer’s help, she lifted the body onto a stretcher and wheeled it out to the hearse. The family gave Ms. Amen an outfit to dress the corpse for the viewing, and Ms. Amen stuffed it into her purse.
By 2 p.m. the next day, Ms. Amen was dressing the body at her funeral home. The family, which had paid only the deposit, was two hours late to the viewing. An anxious Ms. Amen said she would drop the body at the medical examiner before paying for burial herself. (The family paid.)
“I’m not stupid,” she said, drawing on her electronic cigarette. “Don’t let the blond hair fool you.”
ANNALS OF TECHNOLOGY
The real genius of Steve Jobs.
NOVEMBER 14, 2011
Jobs’s sensibility was more editorial than inventive. “I’ll know it when I see it,” he said.
Not long after Steve Jobs got married, in 1991, he moved with his wife to a nineteen-thirties, Cotswolds-style house in oldPalo Alto. Jobs always found it difficult to furnish the places where he lived. His previous house had only a mattress, a table, and chairs. He needed things to be perfect, and it took time to figure out what perfect was. This time, he had a wife and family in tow, but it made little difference. “We spoke about furniture in theory for eight years,” his wife, Laurene Powell, tells Walter Isaacson, in “Steve Jobs,” Isaacson’s enthralling new biography of the Apple founder. “We spent a lot of time asking ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of a sofa?’ ”
It was the choice of a washing machine, however, that proved most vexing. European washing machines, Jobs discovered, used less detergent and less water than their American counterparts, and were easier on the clothes. But they took twice as long to complete a washing cycle. What should the family do? As Jobs explained, “We spent some time in our family talking about what’s the trade-off we want to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table.”
Steve Jobs, Isaacson’s biography makes clear, was a complicated and exhausting man. “There are parts of his life and personality that are extremely messy, and that’s the truth,” Powell tells Isaacson. “You shouldn’t whitewash it.” Isaacson, to his credit, does not. He talks to everyone in Jobs’s career, meticulously recording conversations and encounters dating back twenty and thirty years. Jobs, we learn, was a bully. “He had the uncanny capacity to know exactly what your weak point is, know what will make you feel small, to make you cringe,” a friend of his tells Isaacson. Jobs gets his girlfriend pregnant, and then denies that the child is his. He parks in handicapped spaces. He screams at subordinates. He cries like a small child when he does not get his way. He gets stopped for driving a hundred miles an hour, honks angrily at the officer for taking too long to write up the ticket, and then resumes his journey at a hundred miles an hour. He sits in a restaurant and sends his food back three times. He arrives at his hotel suite inNew Yorkfor press interviews and decides, at 10 P.M., that the piano needs to be repositioned, the strawberries are inadequate, and the flowers are all wrong: he wanted calla lilies. (When his public-relations assistant returns, at midnight, with the right flowers, he tells her that her suit is “disgusting.”) “Machines and robots were painted and repainted as he compulsively revised his color scheme,” Isaacson writes, of the factory Jobs built, after founding NeXT, in the late nineteen-eighties. “The walls were museum white, as they had been at the Macintosh factory, and there were $20,000 black leather chairs and a custom-made staircase. . . . He insisted that the machinery on the 165-foot assembly line be configured to move the circuit boards from right to left as they got built, so that the process would look better to visitors who watched from the viewing gallery.”
Isaacson begins with Jobs’s humble origins inSilicon Valley, the early triumph at Apple, and the humiliating ouster from the firm he created. He then charts the even greater triumphs at Pixar and at a resurgent Apple, when Jobs returns, in the late nineteen-nineties, and our natural expectation is that Jobs will emerge wiser and gentler from his tumultuous journey. He never does. In the hospital at the end of his life, he runs through sixty-seven nurses before he finds three he likes. “At one point, the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated,” Isaacson writes:
Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. . . . He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex.
One of the great puzzles of the industrial revolution is why it began in England. Why not France, or Germany? Many reasons have been offered. Britainhad plentiful supplies of coal, for instance. It had a good patent system in place. It had relatively high labor costs, which encouraged the search for labor-saving innovations. In an article published earlier this year, however, the economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr focus on a different explanation: the role of Britain’s human-capital advantage—in particular, on a group they call “tweakers.” They believe that Britaindominated the industrial revolution because it had a far larger population of skilled engineers and artisans than its competitors: resourceful and creative men who took the signature inventions of the industrial age and tweaked them—refined and perfected them, and made them work.
In 1779, Samuel Crompton, a retiring genius fromLancashire, invented the spinning mule, which made possible the mechanization of cotton manufacture. Yet England’s real advantage was that it had Henry Stones, of Horwich, who added metal rollers to the mule; and James Hargreaves, of Tottington, who figured out how to smooth the acceleration and deceleration of the spinning wheel; and William Kelly, of Glasgow, who worked out how to add water power to the draw stroke; and John Kennedy, of Manchester, who adapted the wheel to turn out fine counts; and, finally, Richard Roberts, also of Manchester, a master of precision machine tooling—and the tweaker’s tweaker. He created the “automatic” spinning mule: an exacting, high-speed, reliable rethinking of Crompton’s original creation. Such men, the economists argue, provided the “micro inventions necessary to make macro inventions highly productive and remunerative.”
Was Steve Jobs a Samuel Crompton or was he a Richard Roberts? In the eulogies that followed Jobs’s death, last month, he was repeatedly referred to as a large-scale visionary and inventor. But Isaacson’s biography suggests that he was much more of a tweaker. He borrowed the characteristic features of the Macintosh—the mouse and the icons on the screen—from the engineers at Xerox PARC, after his famous visit there, in 1979. The first portable digital music players came out in 1996. Apple introduced the iPod, in 2001, because Jobs looked at the existing music players on the market and concluded that they “truly sucked.” Smart phones started coming out in the nineteen-nineties. Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, more than a decade later, because, Isaacson writes, “he had noticed something odd about the cell phones on the market: They all stank, just like portable music players used to.” The idea for the iPad came from an engineer at Microsoft, who was married to a friend of the Jobs family, and who invited Jobs to his fiftieth-birthday party. As Jobs tells Isaacson:
This guy badgered me about how Microsoft was going to completely change the world with this tablet PC software and eliminate all notebook computers, and Apple ought to license his Microsoft software. But he was doing the device all wrong. It had a stylus. As soon as you have a stylus, you’re dead. This dinner was like the tenth time he talked to me about it, and I was so sick of it that I came home and said, “Fuck this, let’s show him what a tablet can really be.”
Even within Apple, Jobs was known for taking credit for others’ ideas. Jonathan Ive, the designer behind the iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone, tells Isaacson, “He will go through a process of looking at my ideas and say, ‘That’s no good. That’s not very good. I like that one.’ And later I will be sitting in the audience and he will be talking about it as if it was his idea.”
Jobs’s sensibility was editorial, not inventive. His gift lay in taking what was in front of him—the tablet with stylus—and ruthlessly refining it. After looking at the first commercials for the iPad, he tracked down the copywriter, James Vincent, and told him, “Your commercials suck.”
“Well, what do you want?” Vincent shot back. “You’ve not been able to tell me what you want.”
“I don’t know,” Jobs said. “You have to bring me something new. Nothing you’ve shown me is even close.”
Vincent argued back and suddenly Jobs went ballistic. “He just started screaming at me,” Vincent recalled. Vincent could be volatile himself, and the volleys escalated.
When Vincent shouted, “You’ve got to tell me what you want,” Jobs shot back, “You’ve got to show me some stuff, and I’ll know it when I see it.”
I’ll know it when I see it. That was Jobs’s credo, and until he saw it his perfectionism kept him on edge. He looked at the title bars—the headers that run across the top of windows and documents—that his team of software developers had designed for the original Macintosh and decided he didn’t like them. He forced the developers to do another version, and then another, about twenty iterations in all, insisting on one tiny tweak after another, and when the developers protested that they had better things to do he shouted, “Can you imagine looking at that every day? It’s not just a little thing. It’s something we have to do right.”
The famous Apple “Think Different” campaign came from Jobs’s advertising team at TBWA\Chiat\Day. But it was Jobs who agonized over the slogan until it was right:
They debated the grammatical issue: If “different” was supposed to modify the verb “think,” it should be an adverb, as in “think differently.” But Jobs insisted that he wanted “different” to be used as a noun, as in “think victory” or “think beauty.” Also, it echoed colloquial use, as in “think big.” Jobs later explained, “We discussed whether it was correct before we ran it. It’s grammatical, if you think about what we’re trying to say. It’s not think the same, it’s think different. Think a little different, think a lot different, think different. ‘Think differently’ wouldn’t hit the meaning for me.”
The point of Meisenzahl and Mokyr’s argument is that this sort of tweaking is essential to progress. James Watt invented the modern steam engine, doubling the efficiency of the engines that had come before. But when the tweakers took over the efficiency of the steam engine swiftly quadrupled. Samuel Crompton was responsible for what Meisenzahl and Mokyr call “arguably the most productive invention” of the industrial revolution. But the key moment, in the history of the mule, came a few years later, when there was a strike of cotton workers. The mill owners were looking for a way to replace the workers with unskilled labor, and needed an automatic mule, which did not need to be controlled by the spinner. Who solved the problem? Not Crompton, an unambitious man who regretted only that public interest would not leave him to his seclusion, so that he might “earn undisturbed the fruits of his ingenuity and perseverance.” It was the tweaker’s tweaker, Richard Roberts, who saved the day, producing a prototype, in 1825, and then an even better solution in 1830. Before long, the number of spindles on a typical mule jumped from four hundred to a thousand. The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world. The tweaker inherits things as they are, and has to push and pull them toward some more nearly perfect solution. That is not a lesser task.
Jobs’s friend Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, had a private jet, and he designed its interior with a great deal of care. One day, Jobs decided that he wanted a private jet, too. He studied what Ellison had done. Then he set about to reproduce his friend’s design in its entirety—the same jet, the same reconfiguration, the same doors between the cabins. Actually, not in its entirety. Ellison’s jet “had a door between cabins with an open button and a close button,” Isaacson writes. “Jobs insisted that his have a single button that toggled. He didn’t like the polished stainless steel of the buttons, so he had them replaced with brushed metal ones.” Having hired Ellison’s designer, “pretty soon he was driving her crazy.” Of course he was. The great accomplishment of Jobs’s life is how effectively he put his idiosyncrasies—his petulance, his narcissism, and his rudeness—in the service of perfection. “I look at his airplane and mine,” Ellison says, “and everything he changed was better.”
The angriest Isaacson ever saw Steve Jobs was when the wave of Android phones appeared, running the operating system developed by Google. Jobs saw the Android handsets, with their touchscreens and their icons, as a copy of the iPhone. He decided to sue. As he tells Isaacson:
Our lawsuit is saying, “Google, you fucking ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off.” Grand theft. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go to thermonuclear war on this. They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty. Outside of Search, Google’s products—Android, Google Docs—are shit.
In the nineteen-eighties, Jobs reacted the same way when Microsoft came out with Windows. It used the same graphical user interface—icons and mouse—as the Macintosh. Jobs was outraged and summoned Gates fromSeattleto Apple’sSilicon Valleyheadquarters. “They met in Jobs’s conference room, where Gates found himself surrounded by ten Apple employees who were eager to watch their boss assail him,” Isaacson writes. “Jobs didn’t disappoint his troops. ‘You’re ripping us off!’ he shouted. ‘I trusted you, and now you’re stealing from us!’ ”
Gates looked back at Jobs calmly. Everyone knew where the windows and the icons came from. “Well, Steve,” Gates responded. “I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”
Jobs was someone who took other people’s ideas and changed them. But he did not like it when the same thing was done to him. In his mind, what he did was special. Jobs persuaded the head of Pepsi-Cola, John Sculley, to join Apple as C.E.O., in 1983, by asking him, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” When Jobs approached Isaacson to write his biography, Isaacson first thought (“half jokingly”) that Jobs had noticed that his two previous books were on Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, and that he “saw himself as the natural successor in that sequence.” The architecture of Apple software was always closed. Jobs did not want the iPhone and the iPod and the iPad to be opened up and fiddled with, because in his eyes they were perfect. The greatest tweaker of his generation did not care to be tweaked.
Perhaps this is why Bill Gates—of all Jobs’s contemporaries—gave him fits. Gates resisted the romance of perfectionism. Time and again, Isaacson repeatedly asks Jobs about Gates and Jobs cannot resist the gratuitous dig. “Bill is basically unimaginative,” Jobs tells Isaacson, “and has never invented anything, which I think is why he’s more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.”
After close to six hundred pages, the reader will recognize this as vintage Jobs: equal parts insightful, vicious, and delusional. It’s true that Gates is now more interested in trying to eradicate malaria than in overseeing the next iteration of Word. But this is not evidence of a lack of imagination. Philanthropy on the scale that Gates practices it represents imagination at its grandest. In contrast, Jobs’s vision, brilliant and perfect as it was, was narrow. He was a tweaker to the last, endlessly refining the same territory he had claimed as a young man.
As his life wound down, and cancer claimed his body, his great passion was designing Apple’s new, three-million-square-foot headquarters, inCupertino. Jobs threw himself into the details. “Over and over he would come up with new concepts, sometimes entirely new shapes, and make them restart and provide more alternatives,” Isaacson writes. He was obsessed with glass, expanding on what he learned from the big panes in the Apple retail stores. “There would not be a straight piece of glass in the building,” Isaacson writes. “All would be curved and seamlessly joined. . . . The planned center courtyard was eight hundred feet across (more than three typical city blocks, or almost the length of three football fields), and he showed it to me with overlays indicating how it could surround St. Peter’s Square inRome.” The architects wanted the windows to open. Jobs said no. He “had never liked the idea of people being able to open things. ‘That would just allow people to screw things up.’ ” ♦
ILLUSTRATION: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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ANNALS OF COMMUNICATIONS
Jill Abramson takes charge of the Gray Lady.
by Ken Auletta
OCTOBER 24, 2011
Abramson says that she wants to improve the paper’s digital strategy—and also work on “listening more and talking less.” Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark.
At nine o’clock on the morning of September 6th, Jill Abramson was riding the subway uptown from her Tribeca loft. It was her first day as executive editor of the New York Times, and also the first time in the paper’s hundred and sixty years that a woman’s name would appear at the top of the masthead. Abramson described herself as “excited,” because of the history she was about to make, and “a little nervous,” because she knew that many in the newsroom feared her.
Abramson, who is fifty-seven, wore a white dress and a black cardigan with white flowers and red trim. Her usually pale complexion glowed from summer sun, but there were deep, dark lines under her eyes. As she entered theTimesBuilding, she waved to the security officers and greeted colleagues in the elevator, something that she had usually been too preoccupied to do. The vast newsroom was quiet—the place does not really come alive until about ten-thirty—but there was a hint of apprehension. The few reporters at their pods silently watched their new boss as she walked by.
Abramson put her purse down on a white Formica desk that she occupies in the middle of the third-floor newsroom. Someone had left her a sealed envelope with “Congratulations” written on the front. It contained a cover note from a female editor at the paper along with a laminated letter passed down from that editor’s father. The letter was from a nine-year-old girl named Alexandra Early, who wrote that she got mad when she watched television: “That’s because I’m a girl and there aren’t enough girl superheroes on TV.” The cover note to Abramson said, “Wherever Alexandra Early ended up, I hope that she heard about your new job.”
Abramson had previously been the paper’s managing editor, and many in the newsroom considered her to be intimidating and brusque; she was too remote and, they thought, slightly similar to an earlier executive editor, the talented but volcanic Howell Raines, who had also begun the job right after Labor Day, in 2001. After less than two years, Raines was forced out, and his memory is still cursed. So Abramson made a point of doing something that Raines was unlikely to have done: walking over and calling out, “Good morning, Metro desk!” Then she offered congratulations for a front-page story on the admissions policies ofNew Yorkprivate schools. In an e-mail to the staff that day, she promised “to be out in the newsroom, a lot, talking to all of you and listening to your ideas. . . . You’ll be sick of me there will be so many brainstorming sessions, meal invitations and small meetings.”
Once, it was preposterous to think that a woman could become the editor of the Times. When Eileen Shanahan, who went on to become a well-respected economics reporter, arrived for an interview with Clifton Daniel, the assistant managing editor, in 1962, she hid her desire to become an editor. “All I ever want is to be a reporter on the best newspaper in the world,” she told him.
“That’s good,” Daniel responded, as Shanahan told the story, “because I can assure you no woman will ever be an editor at the New York Times.”
Four decades ago, women and minorities were second-class citizens at the paper. According to Nan Robertson’s book “The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men, and the New York Times,” only forty of the Times’ four hundred and twenty-five reporters were women, and this included not a single national correspondent. There were no female photographers, columnists, or editorial-board members. Not a single black journalist rose above the position of reporter.
In the late nineteen-seventies, after facing multiple lawsuits alleging discrimination against women and minorities, the company became more aggressive in promoting and recruiting staffers who weren’t white men. By 2010, forty-one per cent of the editors and supervisors were women; just under twenty per cent of all employees were minorities; and thirteen per cent of supervisory positions were held by minorities.
This June, the paper’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., announced the appointment of Abramson and of Dean Baquet, who is black, as the new managing editor. Many who gathered in the newsroom that day were thinking of this history. Not a few women cried. Susan Chira, an assistant managing editor, says that she kept thinking that when she joined the Times, in 1981, many Times women were “sad, bitter, angry people who were talented but who had been thwarted.” Editors openly propositioned young women. “I can’t believe how far we’ve come. To see Jill take the mantle, I felt tingling. You have to praise and savor when a woman can earn it through merit. No tokenism here. Jill studied for this job. She earned it.”
The first thing that people usually notice about Jill Abramson is her voice. The equivalent of a nasal car honk, it’s an odd combination of upper- and working-class. Inside the newsroom, her schoolteacherlike way of elongating words and drawing out the last word of each sentence is a subject of endless conversation and expert mimicry. When she appeared on television after her appointment as executive editor, the blogger Ben Trawick-Smith wrote, “Speech pathologists and phoneticians, knock yourself out: what’s going on with Abramson’s speech?” He was deluged with responses. One speculated that, like a politician, she had trained herself to limit the space between sentences so that it would be hard to interrupt her; another said she had probably acquired the accent in an attempt to not sound too New York while she was an undergraduate at Harvard. The writer Amy Wilentz, a college roommate of Abramson’s, has said that the accent probably has something to do with trying to sound a bit like Bob Dylan.
None of those accounts get it right, since Jill’s sister, Jane, has the same unusual voice, as did their mother, Dovie Abramson. The Abramsons lived at the Ardsley, an Art Deco building atNinety-second Streetand Central Park West. Abramson’s father, Norman, a prosperous importer of linen for dresses, was a physically imposing man who did not graduate from college. He had an exuberant personality and pushed his two daughters to excel. Dovie Abramson, a Barnard graduate, read to her daughters—“Little Women,” poetry, Dickens—and liked taking them to horror movies and the theatre.
The family so revered the Times that at one point they had two copies delivered to their home. “The New York Times was our religion,” Abramson has said more than once. Dovie and Norman were Adlai Stevenson idealists. In the 1960 Democratic primary, they adhered to liberal principle rather than support the more moderate and more electable John F. Kennedy. Dovie was a volunteer for William Fitts Ryan, one of the first members of the House of Representatives to denounce the war inVietnam.
Jill idolized her sister, Jane O’Connor, who is six years older, and the best-selling author of the “Fancy Nancy” children’s books. The two sisters have the same cackle of a laugh, and every year they go off alone on adventurous trips—toChina,Morocco,Budapest. “We both think we’re the smartest girls in the room,” Jane says. Jill attended theEthicalCultureSchool, a private school on Central Park West and a favored destination for secular Jews. When she was allowed to go out without supervision, she went to see old movies at the Thalia and the New Yorker. When Judy Garland died, she and a friend took a bus to the Frank Campbell funeral home to soak up the experience and observe celebrities. She went to high school at Fieldston, a private school in theBronx.
In 1972, Jill was admitted to Harvard. “Our class was the first class that could choose to live at Radcliffe or in Harvard Yard,” one of her classmates, Alison Mitchell, who is now the Times’ weekend news editor, recalls. “Jill and I chose to live in Harvard Yard. It was an era when you walked into the dining room and would not see another female. All of us who chose to do that felt like we were feminists breaking into the male world. A lot of women at Radcliffe thought we were sellouts and wanted to be in the male world. But we felt like pioneers.”
As a freshman, instead of trying to join the Harvard Crimson, Abramson wrote profiles and theatre reviews for the weekly campus paper, the Independent. “I thought of Jill as an artsy person,” her colleague Stephen Adler, who is the editor-in-chief of Reuters, recalls. As a junior, Abramson became the editor of the arts section, under Alison Mitchell. “I would never have predicted she would become the editor of the New York Times,” Mitchell says. “The people who thought they wanted to go into journalism and make connections went to the Crimson.” One of Abramson’s Harvard friends, Peter Kaplan, who is the editorial director of Fairchild Fashion Media, says, “Jill always had a swagger. It was as if she were in a romantic comedy. She had the same feeling that Rosalind conveys in ‘As You Like It.’ In the last act, everything would work out. She wasn’t like the other girls at Harvard. Most of my crowd were either wonks or tough feminists who would chew your balls off. But Jill was the witty cosmopolitan who gave running commentary that was like a voice-over narration from a Billy Wilder movie.”
In August, 1973, the summer after Abramson’s freshman year, her parents rented a house on Nantucket, where Abramson worked in a cheese shop and as a cocktail waitress. While they were there, Joseph Kennedy crashed his jeep, leaving a young woman paralyzed. It was four years after the Edward Kennedy tragedy at Chappaquiddick, and the accident provoked a media frenzy. But Nantucketwas fogged in, and press organizations were desperate for details. A friend of Jill’s sister who worked in Time’s Boston bureau recruited Abramson to find out what happened. For the next three years, she worked as a stringer for the magazine.
But journalism hardly dominated her time. In her sophomore year, Abramson performed as an English flapper in Noël Coward’s “Hay Fever.” The Crimson’s critic, Ruth C. Streeter, was unimpressed. “Jill Abramson vamps madly in her part as the inane and brainless ingénue,” Streeter wrote, “but her squeaky voice, exaggerated walk, and batting eyes quickly become tiresome.” For Abramson, the highlight of the production was meeting a classmate, Henry Little Griggs III, who played the piano between acts. They became a couple. Griggs was a news junkie, shy but funny. He was from an old-line Protestant family inMadison,Connecticut. Friends describe him as easygoing and not as ambitious as Abramson. (Years later, Griggs, who works as a public-relations consultant, enjoys being a part-time country squire: lawn bowling with men several decades older inMadison and collecting and displaying local postcards.)
Abramson graduated from Harvard and, after spending a year in the Bostonbureau of Time, moved toVirginia, where she and Griggs worked for the gubernatorial campaign of the Democratic populist Henry Howell. After Howell lost, they moved toColumbia,South Carolina, where Griggs worked as a political consultant. Abramson worked for an advertising agency, writing ads for other Southern Democratic populists inspired by the 1976 Presidential victory of Jimmy Carter, including theArkansas gubernatorial candidate Bill Clinton.
In the 1980 Presidential contest, Abramson returned to journalism, as a researcher for NBC’s election unit. During the campaign, she met Steven Brill, who had recently started an irreverent magazine on the legal profession, The American Lawyer. In 1981, he hired Abramson as a reporter. Brill was a cantankerous boss, Stephen Adler, who also joined The American Lawyer, recalls. “The first story I edited was one of hers. Steve Brill wrote on the top of it, ‘Really bad first edit.’ He’d often write, ‘Is English your second language?’ ”
Abramson and Griggs married in 1981, and have two children, Cornelia and Will. In 1986, Abramson became the editor of another Brill-owned paper, Legal Times, which was based inWashington, where Griggs was a press representative for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Brill was an exacting boss whose normal speaking voice was a shout. But he and Abramson got along. According to Brill’s recollection, the two of them yelled at each other only once. Abramson had fired a female employee, who promptly threatened to file a sex-discrimination suit. “If you don’t fight this case, I’m quitting,” Brill says Abramson hollered at him. “I discriminate against stupid people, and she’s stupid.”
“Calm down,” he said. “I’m not settling.”
In 1986, Abramson published her first book, written with Barbara Franklin, a colleague at The American Lawyer, called “Where They Are Now: The Story of the Women of Harvard Law 1974.” It traced the difficulties that female lawyers confronted as they encountered double standards and professional disappointment. The next year, Norman Pearlstine, the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal , decided that the paper needed to expand its coverage of the law. “As managing editor, I had a rule to hire anyone who could last a year with Steve Brill,” Pearlstine says. Abramson was invited to an interview with theWashington bureau chief, Al Hunt, who agreed to see her only to accommodate Pearlstine. Hunt expected a perfunctory meeting, but it turned out to be “unlike any interview I ever had,” he recalls. “Jill rattled off seven or eight fabulous story ideas that had never occurred to us.” He added, “I’ve interviewed hundreds of reporters or editors for jobs, and this easily was the most impressive and memorable.” Abramson wrote many front-page investigative stories. In 1993, she was promoted to deputy bureau chief.
While at the Journal, she resumed a friendship with a fellow Fieldston student, Jane Mayer, who is now a staff writer at The New Yorker. In 1991, they decided to write a book together about the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, who, during his confirmation hearings, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had sexually harassed her. Thomas professed innocence, saying that he was the subject of a “high-tech lynching.” Abramson and Mayer set out to determine who was lying.
In their book, “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas,” they conclude that Thomas had not been truthful. They wrote, “If Thomas did lie, as the preponderance of evidence suggests, then his performance, and that of the Senate in confirming him, raises fundamental questions about the political process that placed him on the court.” Thomas asserted that Hill was “the only person who has been on my staff who has ever made these sorts of allegations about me.” But Mayer and Abramson interviewed three women who detailed similar instances of sexual harassment. The book was also critical of Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, including the chairman, Joe Biden, who is portrayed as being so eager to demonstrate to Republicans that he was “fair” that he was unfair to Hill.
When the hearings ended, Abramson wrote Maureen Dowd, who covered them for the Times, a mash note. Dowd, who later became a columnist, sent back a mash note of her own. Some years later, Dowd told Abramson that she was looking for more women to join the Times. “You know any sensational women out there?” Dowd asked.
“Yeah, me!” Abramson shot back.
Dowd reported this to the Washingtonbureau chief, Michael Oreskes, who invited Abramson to lunch. She joined the Times in September, 1997, and in December, 2000, she was namedWashington bureau chief.
This began a happy period in Abramson’s life. She was the first woman to head the bureau, and she proved both demanding and popular among most reporters. At her first meeting as bureau chief, her deputy, Richard L. Berke, recalls, she acted like a reporter. She shared information and news tips with her staff. “I had worked inWashingtonfor twenty years, and I had never seen anyone who seemed to know everything that was happening behind the scenes inWashingtonand seemed to have amazing recall of stories from twenty years ago,” Berke said. Dowd was impressed by her omnivorous curiosity: “If there was a lunar eclipse at three in the morning that was best viewed from a bridge inMaryland, she wanted to go.” Jeff Gerth, an investigative reporter, who became a confidant, says, “She was a great team leader, a loyal friend, someone you’d want in the trenches with you. But if you didn’t meet her high professional standards you were not on her team.”
In September of that year, convinced that the Times had become lethargic, Sulzberger chose Howell Raines, a distinctly hot personality who had been running the editorial pages, to succeed Joseph Lelyveld, a preternaturally cool Times lifer, as executive editor. Lelyveld had pressed Sulzberger to choose Bill Keller, then the managing editor, but Keller, unlike Raines, had not cultivated a close relationship with the publisher. Raines became editor a few days before 9/11, and in the first months of his stewardship he seemed an inspired choice. He galvanized the newsroom to perform in spectacular fashion, and that spring the Times won seven Pulitzer Prizes. This was Raines’s moment of triumph and pride; his downfall was not long in coming.
At first, Mayer says, Abramson was excited, because Raines, who had once worked in theWashingtonbureau and served as the chief political correspondent, and who had won a Pulitzer Prize, was a proponent of deeper political coverage and aggressive investigative reporting. But soon he began to micromanage Abramson’s bureau. He routinely cut her off at the daily page-one meeting to bark into the telephone that her story ideas were lame and that her bureau lagged in post-9/11 coverage. Gerald Boyd, who was the managing editor under Raines and his closest deputy, wrote a memoir some years later in which he said, “I could read Raines well, but I could not understand why he had a problem with her. He complained that she was not dynamic enough and lacked glitz.”
When David Sanger, who is now the paper’s chiefWashingtoncorrespondent, covered President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, with Richard Stevenson, they reported that the President warned Saddam Hussein that failure to disarm would lead to war. Sanger recalls, “Jill received a call from Howell saying that we should say, ‘Bush effectively declared war onIraq.’ . . . We pushed back very hard. A declaration of war is a distinct thing. We were not hearing that. Jill backed us up, and toldNew Yorkthat a war declaration was not a correct interpretation. Eventually, we won.” Raines now says that he was probably just exploring different news angles. Within days, he summoned Abramson toNew Yorkand chewed her out.
A senior editor who worked closely with Abramson and Raines described their relationship this way: “Howell believed she was failing asWashingtonbureau chief, and she felt he was making it impossible for her to succeed.”
“It was the only time she had a boss who was not thrilled to have her,” Abramson’s sister, Jane O’Connor, says. Raines wanted to replace Abramson with Patrick Tyler, a former colleague of his at the St. PetersburgTimes, whom he had recruited from the Washington Post. Tyler was named chief Washington correspondent and given an office next to hers, which made him what the staff called “a shadow bureau chief.” Raines says that first he offered Abramson the job of investigations editor in New York. “I thought that would be a better fit for her talents than Washington,” he says. Abramson does not remember this proposal but recalls being offered the editorship of the weekly Book Review. But she refused to leave her bureau.
By late 2002, Abramson was miserable, and considered taking a senior editing position at the WashingtonPost. Finally, she recalled, “I came up to talk to Arthur” about the Washington Post job offer—and to tell him that she couldn’t continue to work under Raines. It was, in effect, a polite ultimatum: he would relent or she would leave. Traditionally, it was unusual at the Times for an editor to go straight to the publisher with a complaint, and even more so for the publisher to say that he would intervene. Abramson’s trip toNew York prompted a phone call from Janet Robinson, the C.E.O. of the Times Company. “I had heard that Jill was very unhappy and might leave,” Robinson recalls. “I reached out to her and told her, ‘You’re doing a wonderful job.’ She felt as if she were being strong-armed. I said to her, ‘Over my dead body do you leave this paper!’ If I don’t support people in this organization, women in this organization, I’m not doing my job.” Robinson, too, talked to Raines, “as a peacemaker,” as she put it.
Abramson told Robinson how difficult it was to work under Raines. In May, 2003, Sulzberger invited Raines and Abramson to meet with him in his office. He recalls opening this marriage-counselling session by saying, “We’re not leaving this table until I have an understanding of what’s going on between you two.”
That same month, it was revealed that a young reporter named Jayson Blair had been fabricating news articles. That scandal, combined with more complaints from editors and reporters about Raines—many of whom believed he had become disdainful of them—made Sulzberger realize that he needed to make a change. “Jill was one of a number of my journalistic colleagues who played a role in educating me about Howell,” Sulzberger says. “But, at the end of the day, it was Howell who educated me about Howell.” The crisis was consuming the paper and subverting its public credibility. There was no time for repair. On June 5th, Raines and Boyd were forced to resign.
Looking back on Abramson’s performance during the crisis, one would find it hard to argue with the assessment of a senior Times reporter inWashington who said that “she was a black belt” infighter. “Howell clearly viewed Jill as the person who did him in,” an editor with a position on the paper’s masthead says. Raines told me that that “is clearly someone’s interpretation. It’s not based on conversations with me. Indeed, my references to Jill have been few and not condemnatory.” Then, like a prize fighter who cannot resist a brawl, he took a swing, suggesting that she has a “vendetta” against him and that it would be useful to inquire into “why she has such a bee in her bonnet.” He also said that he wonders “why the new leaders continue a war of personal retribution.”
After Raines left, Abramson became a heroine to many in the newsroom. “Jill had been very courageous in speaking out about Howell,” Susan Chira, whom Raines had exiled from the editorship of the Week in Review to a lesser post, says. “A lot of us were cowed by Howell.”
There are, however, critics of Abramson’s tenure as Washingtonbureau chief. They note that during this period the Times was duped into believing that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. “She came in during a period where there were many political and domestic stories that were all subjects she was comfortable with,” a fellow-editor who wishes to remain anonymous observed. “Then, after 9/11, the story changed—and she was not as comfortable with foreign policy and intelligence.”
The most prominent problem stemmed from the work of the correspondent Judith Miller, who arrived inWashingtonsoon after 9/11 and began reporting onIraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Abramson recalls that right after 9/11 Raines said to her, “ ‘Judy is going down toWashingtonto do some reporting and she has sources in the White House who will not talk to anyone else.’ He also said, ‘She will win a Pulitzer.’ ” (Raines says, “With the start of theIraqwar, I became concerned that the bureau seemed reluctant to take ownership of the nuclear-arms story.” He adds, “I don’t recall any Pulitzer reference, though it’s true we won a lot in those days.”)
Miller ended up writing a series of stories about Saddam Hussein’s weapons stockpile that turned out to be exaggerated and erroneous. Raines asserts that Abramson edited several of the erroneous stories on W.M.D.s. Abramson counters that Judith Miller “did not work for me.” Douglas Frantz, who was the investigations editor, and oversaw Miller, agrees that Abramson did not edit Miller’s stories, and says that “Miller operated outside the normal reporting and editing channels.”
Abramson, however, accepts some blame. In 2008, she wrote in the Times, “I failed to push hard enough” to publish an article, written by James Risen, the Times national-security reporter, that was skeptical of claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. She also says, “My responsibility as bureau chief is that I did not pay sufficient attention to the stories Judy was writing. Many were based on Iraqi defectors. I wish I had been more skeptical.” Miller, who now works as a commentator for Fox and as a drama critic for the online magazine Tablet, declined to comment, saying, “I will be addressing these issues and more in my forthcoming book.”
Many in the newsroom place the blame for the stories on Raines. “Howell and Gerald were so excited to have these ‘scoops’ that they bypassed the normal editing strictures,” Susan Chira says. They took away the checks and balances that she believes would have spared the Times some embarrassing stories about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons. Under Keller and Abramson, Chira says, “we got back to a desk system where editors did their jobs.”
Raines says that Chira, who was then working in the Times’ book-development office, was in no position to know what happened. “Her statements are made up and false,” Raines told me. He added that he was stunned by “Chira’s assertion that desk editors did not do their jobs. My impression was that Jill was the only department head who wouldn’t take ownership of sensitive stories and difficult personnel matters.”
Another critique of Abramson’s performance as bureau chief surfaced as well. Even her most devoted supporters say that she could be short with people, curtly cutting them off in mid-sentence. Those who failed to meet her exacting standards were often berated, sometimes publicly; her critics thought that she played favorites and was mercurial. Some members of her staff also found her egotistical, inclined to quote her own work and to say things like “You have to read my book.” From such complaints and anxieties, ironic whispers began: the woman who had helped slay the king could be “Howell-like.”
After two years of what Bill Keller refers to as “my happy exile” as an editorial-page columnist and Times Magazine writer, he won the job denied him in 2001. Keller knew that he had management issues to address. Internal committees found that better oversight might have prevented Jayson Blair’s deception. So Keller, for the first time, chose two managing editors: Abramson for all news gathering, and John M. Geddes for news operations, including the production of the newspaper and oversight of the budget. Keller knew Geddes well, but his relationship with Abramson was new. “In the beginning, we didn’t know each other,” she says.
Keller had spent much of his career as a foreign correspondent, Abramson had spent hers as an investigative reporter. “My scoops are more in the realm of explaining,” Keller once said. Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of the Book Review, says, “The foreign correspondent at the upper levels is essentially bearing witness. He is bringing back the story. The investigative reporter is trying to get to the bottom of a story.”
Keller was reserved, and in meetings people mistook his silence for passivity; Abramson didn’t hesitate to announce her opinions. He avoided confrontation; she did not. When the Times prepared a front-page investigative report on the investor Steven Rattner, a former Times reporter and a close friend of Sulzberger’s, Abramson listened to Rattner’s complaints but then gave the go-ahead to publish the story on page one. The article opened a temporary rift between Sulzberger and Rattner. “What better test is there for an editor than how they handle the publisher’s best friend?” a former Times correspondent asks. And, one could add, what better test is there for a publisher than his refusal to bully his newsroom to help a friend?
Keller and Abramson came to treat their different interests and temperaments as complementary. “It was great to have her as a partner,” Keller says. “Jill took newsroom meetings to an extraordinary level with her thoroughness. She would come in most mornings having read everything.” She pressed editors and reporters to offer more context and to delve into people’s motives. At the daily 10 A.M. page-one meeting, Keller mostly listened as his managing editor burrowed in with questions. “Jill is a little more competitive,” Geddes observes. She will say, “ ‘XYZ had this story this morning. What are we doing?’ ”
Her loyalty to Keller went unquestioned. “I was at a gathering where people bad-mouthed him, and she wouldn’t brook it,” Janet Elder, the editor in charge of polling and election analysis, says. Keller might be sphinxlike in newsroom meetings, but he was quick to unleash invective in e-mail responses to critics. He would let Abramson read his drafts before he pressed send. Keller says, “I always felt she had my back, someone who would not just defend you but tell you when you were about to do something stupid. . . . And not tell anyone else.”
Carolyn Ryan, who was promoted to Metro editor this past January, first worked closely with Abramson on the story that forced the resignation of Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York. Keller was in Europe, and Times reporters were trying to confirm a story that Spitzer was having sex with prostitutes and possibly hiding the financial transactions through nefarious means. “A lot of editors would have done the kind of Al Haig ‘We’re gonna bring down the Governor!’ routine,” Ryan says. What struck her “was the way Jill stayed with us and asked the right questions, but she did not in any way overwhelm us.” Around midnight on a Friday, Abramson took the Metro reporters and editors out to a late-night restaurant near the Port Authority. Abramson related how she had struggled to get to the bottom of the relationship between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. The Times broke the Spitzer story the following Monday.
Despite Abramson’s abrupt manner, Times reporters and editors also praise her sense of empathy. The editor Dana Canedy was engaged to Army First Sergeant Charles Monroe King. Their son, Jordan, was born in 2006—when King was in Iraq—and he started writing a journal addressed to Jordan, offering life advice in case he didn’t come back. In October, just a month before King was to return home, he was killed by an improvised explosive device. At the end of the year, the Times planned a series of short profiles of soldiers killed in Iraq, and Canedy volunteered to write about King. Editors were nervous about running a first-person account in a newspaper that prides itself on a dispassionate tone, but Canedy persisted, and says that Abramson was her champion.
The story, “From Father to Son, Last Words to Live By,” appeared on page one of the Times on January 1, 2007. Canedy wrote about King’s lessons: how to behave on a date and how to treat people who are different. She movingly described how “as a black man he sometimes felt the sting of discrimination,” yet “betrayed no bitterness.” Readers flooded the paper with letters and e-mails. Organizations invited her to speak. Publishers vied to give her a book contract. Denzel Washington optioned the movie rights.
At one point, Canedy told Abramson that she was worried that Jordan did not have proper male role models. Abramson thought of William Woodson, her son’s best friend and an African-American, who had been raised by a single mother and had become almost a member of her family. He had gone on vacations with them, and she and her husband had helped pay his college tuition. Now he was a junior executive at Restaurant Associates. He started going to Canedy’s house every Wednesday evening, reading to Jordan, taking him to the playground, and staying for dinner.
In May, 2007, in the same week that her son, Will, graduated from N.Y.U., Abramson was in midtown, on her way to the Harvard Club for an early-morning workout. As the light changed at the intersection of Forty-fourth Street and Seventh Avenue, a large truck, racing to beat the red, knocked her down. Its front tire crushed her right foot. Its rear tire rolled over her left side and snapped her femur, broke her pelvis, and left her with extensive internal injuries. An ambulance rushed her to Bellevue Hospital’s trauma center, where a doctor said that if the rear wheel had struck her thigh just two inches higher she’d have been killed. Surgeons administered blood transfusions, inserted a titanium rod in her leg, and told her that she needed to spend six weeks in bed. Many months of painkillers, excruciating rehab, and physical therapy followed, as she progressed from wheelchair to crutches to cane. Her oldest friend, Jim Lax, who is now a physician, said that she experienced a kind of “post-traumatic stress,” including bouts of anxiety and depression.
The columnist and former food critic Frank Bruni remembers going out to dinner with her after the accident, with Bill Keller and his wife, Emma. “We were celebrating that she was out of a wheelchair,” Bruni says, and at the end of dinner Abramson said that she wanted to walk home. “I remember it took us twenty-five minutes,” Bruni says. “It was eleven at night. It was the end of a very long day. But she had an opportunity to get in a little therapy and exercise, and I remember thinking, She is one fierce, resilient woman.”
Abramson returned to work, in a wheelchair, nine weeks after the accident. By then, the Times had moved from its old building, on West Forty-third Street, to the sleek Renzo Piano building, on Eighth Avenue between West Fortieth and West Forty-first Streets. The architect had made each editor’s office the same size, with the same furniture and gray industrial carpet. All her old furniture was gone. “It was totally not me,” she says. “I went to Arthur and I said, ‘It would make a difference for me if I could have my old stuff back.’ He laughed, but he was not going to deny me in my state.”
Her old furniture came back: a cloth-covered green couch with a dog pillow, a Persian rug that would cover part of the carpet, a shelf of books, a Yankees baseball cap, and pictures of Babe Ruth, Keith Richards, and E. B. White and his Westie.
During Abramson’s tenure as managing editor, many women at the Times came to see her as their advocate. When women received promotions, Abramson often hosted a celebratory party for them. These events got to be so frequent, the European correspondent Suzanne Daley joked, “it almost became ‘Oh, God, another party!’ I credit her with being the first woman to hit that level and actually bring other people along.” But the support that Abramson provides for women makes some men at the Times nervous. One male correspondent says, “She plays favorites, it is said. Especially for women.”
Some also complained that, as managing editor, Abramson was too close to Sulzberger and Janet Robinson. In interviews, she would go out of her way to praise them. William E. Schmidt, the deputy managing editor, puts it a different way. He says of Abramson, “She’s shrewd in that she understands the importance of dealing with people upstairs. Many previous editors treated upstairs as the place that delivered the money the newsroom needed.” But in the current tough economic times, he says, Abramson understands that “you need these people.”
As for the complaint that Abramson is too rough with underlings, some believe that female executives like her are victimized by stereotypes. Sally Singer, who worked closely with Anna Wintour, at Vogue, before joining the Times as the editor of its magazine T, last year, told me, “When women are blunt, maybe it’s seen as ‘tough,’ but actually it’s just efficient. I worked for Anna for eleven years, and you can hem and haw and pretend to like something, but why? You’re just going to end up having six more meetings about it—and you’re going to demoralize someone over days as opposed to in a moment.”
Thirteen years ago, Abramson and Griggs bought an eighteenth-century house near Long Island Sound in Madison, Connecticut, where Scout, their golden retriever, frolics in the water and they can take long walks. In 2009, Abramson began writing a popular online column for the Times about her dog, and she is now publishing a book, “The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout.” Like all books that people write about their dogs, it’s partly about the pet and partly about the owner. In it, she describes the death of the family’s first dog, Buddy, and says that her sister calls Scout “needier” than Buddy. “But we were needy, too,” she writes. “After the departure of our children, Buddy’s death, and my accident, our home lives had become a little narrow and thin. . . . Bringing into our empty nest another living being to make happy and take care of helped put our relationship back on its natural axis.”
“She knew before she did the puppy diaries that she would get a lot of grief,” Trish Hall, the deputy editorial-page editor who edited the column, says. “She didn’t care. I like it that she’s got this rich life. It used to be that women wouldn’t talk about when their kid had a dentist appointment. Jill doesn’t pretend that work is the only thing in her life.”
“Being executive editor is a full-time job,” one masthead editor demurs. “You shouldn’t be writing a book.” Especially one called “The Puppy Diaries.” Abramson admits that she is self-conscious about her dog book being published during her second month as executive editor of the august New York Times. Say what you will about the grayer days of the Times in mid-century, but it was always hard to imagine James Reston writing a book about a beloved household pet.
In the spring of 2010, in an effort to brighten the paper’s future (and, presumably, her own), Abramson took a leave from the managing-editor position to supervise news content on the Times’ Web site. She spent much of her time in a section of the third floor near the Web team. Her “detour” coincided with a company-wide reëvaluation of how the Times should charge for its online edition.
Abramson was surprised at how poorly integrated the two parts of the newsroom were. The daily meetings devoted to selecting six front-page stories consumed huge amounts of energy; little time was spent thinking about what appeared on the Web home page.
Some people in the newsroom believe that Abramson’s digital knowledge remains skimpy. But, broadly speaking, she knows that the Web is vital to the Times’ future, and she wants Web people working alongside print people in each section of the newsroom. The page-one meetings now feature the home page of NYTimes.com on a large overhead screen, and editors decide what stories to post immediately.
While colleagues respect Abramson’s news judgment, they are wary of her sometimes brusque manner. In the summer of 2010, nearly two dozen editors met to plan coverage for the midterm elections. Although Abramson was still working on the online paper, she decided to attend. The gathering was chaired by the national editor, Richard Berke, and the political editor, Richard Stevenson. They began to talk about stories they wanted covered. Abramson interrupted, without allowing them to finish the presentation, and began belittling many of their ideas.
“This was a small earthquake of a meeting,” one reporter, who was informed about it shortly afterward, says. “She whacked editors,” a senior editor who heard about the meeting says. Glenn Kramon, an assistant managing editor, says of Abramson, “The challenge is to say what she wants, not what she doesn’t like.” A senior editor says, “She and Howell are remarkably similar. They are big personalities. They suck the air out of the room. They tell stories about themselves. . . . Unlike Howell, she is not mean. Jill is a nice, caring person. . . . She doesn’t enjoy torturing people. So much of her negativity is unintended.”
Even her supporters were mildly critical of her behavior at the political meeting. Dean Baquet, the acting managing editor at the time, says, “I wouldn’t have handled it that way.” Her criticism “was too sharp.” Abramson now admits, “I think I was probably too tough,” and “hijacked the meeting in a way that was not helpful.”
That summer, Bill Keller told his wife, Emma, that he longed to return to writing. She said that the timing was wrong, as did Abramson, when he confided in her. “I was thunderstruck,” Abramson says.
Keller’s tenure had been defined by three crises—morale, economic, and digital. “He came in at a challenging time journalistically, with all we had gone through with Howell, with Jayson Blair,” Sulzberger says, “and Bill really came in and stabilized the newsroom.” He was a calming presence. The media columnist David Carr speaks for many in the newsroom when he says, “There are a lot of people who say that that job slowly drives you crazy, because you end up moving through an environment that’s without rigorous feedback. So you end up convinced of your own rectitude. . . . I never felt like I couldn’t talk to him.”
Keller’s demeanor helped to cushion the economic tsunami that struck the Times and newspapers in general. Between 2006 and 2010, the company cut costs by eight hundred and fifty million dollars. The newsroom budget of two hundred million dollars was reduced by ten per cent, Geddes says. The Times shrank from six daily sections to four. The company was compelled to sell, and lease back, the floors it occupied in its new building. Its stock price plunged. Sulzberger consented to take a loan from one of the world’s richest men, Carlos Slim, paying a usurious rate of fourteen per cent.
By the time Keller told his wife and Abramson that he was ready to leave, he had survived the morale and economic crises, but the company was absorbed in a conversation over how to charge for the online edition. After speaking with them, he decided that he had to complete that last debate.
In March, the Times launched a Web subscription plan, requiring readers who don’t already subscribe to pay thirty-five dollars a month for digital access on all devices. Early indications were encouraging. In the first three months, the Times attracted two hundred and eighty-one thousand digital subscribers.
In May, Keller went to see Arthur Sulzberger. As the publisher recalls the conversation, Keller said, “Arthur, I’ve been the executive editor of the New York Times longer than Joe Lelyveld, longer than Max Frankel. I think the time has come for me to hand the reins over to someone else.”
Sulzberger was surprised, but after a moment he said, “If this is what you want, you’ve earned it.” They talked about possible successors, and, Keller says, “I told him I thought it was prudent to consider a range of candidates, but that he had an obvious candidate in front of him and Jill was it.”
For a publisher, few decisions rival that of choosing the editor. Sulzberger asked various editors and executives to recommend candidates, and to describe the strengths and weaknesses of each. He quickly concluded that he would not look outside the Times Company, and settled on three editors whom he knew reasonably well: Abramson; the Washington bureau chief, Dean Baquet; and the editor of the Boston Globe, Martin Baron. (The Globe is owned by the Times Company.) He says he knew that each candidate was a proponent of “good journalism,” so a decisive factor would be the person’s “willingness and ability to push us down the digital road.”
He had a meal with each of the three. Abramson was the front-runner. Sulzberger respected her professional judgment, and they also had a personal bond. Sulzberger had turned to her in search of guidance and career advice for his son, Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, and another relative, Sam Dolnick, both talented young reporters.
Abramson was candid with Sulzberger about her weaknesses. She recalls, “I said I needed to work on listening more and talking less, and not interrupting. I worried that questions I asked about the substance of journalism can come off as being critical.” They talked about what she would do as editor, and she said that she would “be out and about in the newsroom,” talking to reporters and editors. She composed a memorandum outlining her mission, if she should get the job. She recalls writing that she would maintain the paper’s “core mission” of producing excellent journalism. Unlike Howell Raines, who wanted to transform the newsroom, Abramson preached newsroom continuity. She would create a new leadership team with “some new people.” But her real innovations, she vowed, would be digital.
That’s what Sulzberger wanted to hear. He told me that he needed an editor who understood “the move from search to social and what that means for us. Increasingly, people are learning where they want to go, what they want to consume, how they want to engage with news or games or a variety of different things from each other.” As he weighed the three candidates, people in whom he confided say, he saw negatives in each. He did not pursue Baron, because he had been outside the Times for a lengthy period. Dean Baquet, who may be the most popular editor in the newsroom, did not have digital experience, and there were questions about his patience for managing the newsroom and its budget. As for Abramson, there were concerns about her assertiveness and whether it would stifle discussion and dissent, and about her presentation skills, including her voice.
Janet Robinson praised the talents of the three contenders, but clearly leaned toward Abramson. “At the end of the day,” Robinson says of Sulzberger, “he focussed on Jill, because of that experience on the digital side and the work she had done in the organization.” Sulzberger also knew that, if he chose Baquet, Abramson might leave.
At eight-fifteen one morning, just two weeks after her meeting with Sulzberger, the phone rang in Abramson’s loft. Sulzberger was calling from Europe. “I have a surprise,” he said.
She was, she says, “extremely nervous,” and asked, “Is it a good surprise or a bad surprise?”
When he offered her the job, she responded, “It would be the honor of my life.” Before racing uptown, she called her sister. Days later, she asked Baquet to become the managing editor. She had helped recruit him to rejoin the Times, in 2007. They talked often, and swapped recommendations on novels. He had more national-security experience, and had the personal skills of an accomplished politician, with none of the phoniness. “If you take this,” he says she told him, “this is an appointment that will make the newsroom smile.”
Sulzberger was certainly pleased. Baquet was Abramson’s choice, one executive at the Times says, but Sulzberger’s desire to see an African-American lead the paper with the first woman editor “was unspoken. Arthur wants that to be part of his legacy, and Jill is smart enough to know that.”
The announcement was made in the third-floor newsroom on June 2nd. Bill Keller, standing with his wife and members of Abramson’s family, was beaming. With his square jaw, neatly parted gray hair, dark suit, and pocket kerchief, Keller on this day could have passed for what his father was, the chairman and C.E.O. of Chevron. Yet when he stepped to the microphone his voice quavered, and he occasionally paused to restrain tears. “If it’s true that eighty per cent of life is just showing up, I think the other twenty per cent is knowing when to move on,” he began. He thanked Sulzberger and Abramson, before holding his wife in a tight hug as the newsroom awarded him a sustained round of applause.
Abramson moved to the middle of the newsroom, where, reading from notes, she spoke into a microphone that reached her forehead. She singled out some of “my sisters on the business side and in editorial,” as well as the Times’ female pioneers. She listed some of the women who have inspired her and declared, “Strong shoulders are holding me up right now.”
Over the summer, Abramson visited many department and masthead editors and asked, “What does this place need less of, and more of, from the executive editor?” She received two overwhelming responses: “The first is that they want editors who will be less remote. A number of people I talked to felt that in the last couple of years Bill and John Geddes and I were not walking the floor and talking to people about their work. . . . The second was more about me. It is learning things I’m already aware of, which is that I can seem forbidding.”
But doesn’t fear attach itself to any demanding editor who sets exacting standards? It does, she says. “But there is some reason that when I am being probing it is seen as criticism. My kids when they were little would sometimes say to me—and with my kids I don’t think I ever raised my voice—‘Stop yelling!’ ” She planned to apply in the newsroom some of the “positive training” that she lavished on Scout. She and her husband, she writes in her book, used “encouragement, not punishment” to train Scout, rewarding her for good behavior with a piece of kibble. “In one’s relationship with dogs and with a newsroom, a generous amount of praise and encouragement goes much better than criticism,” she says. One wonders whether there might, however, be some editors who are tougher to please than Scout.
In late June, Abramson and Baquet flew to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they spent time with their correspondents and met with government officials. Neither had been a foreign reporter, and the trip was intended as a signal of support to the bureaus. Throughout the trip, they talked about how they might allow another generation of editors to rise, and how they might inject new energy into the paper by shifting longtime department heads. They would make those decisions in consultation with two editors she had asked to continue in their jobs, John Geddes and William Schmidt.
The first big change came in late July, when Abramson named David Leonhardt, a thirty-eight-year-old economics writer and a Pulitzer Prize winner, to replace Baquet as Washington bureau chief. Calling it the most “out-of-the-box decision I’ve seen,” the business columnist and Dealbook editor Andrew Ross Sorkin, who is thirty-four, says, “She took a young guy without so much management experience and made him Washington bureau chief. It was not the same old, same old New York Times.”
Abramson said that she hoped to make many of the major personnel decisions by her first day as editor, and insecurity and speculation were common among Times editors this summer. “Has Jill really been itching to do something that hasn’t been done?” Suzanne Daley, the European correspondent, said. “I don’t know. All of us are waiting to see what it is.” Aside from Abramson’s core team of four, the six other masthead editors ranged in age from fifty-six to fifty-eight, and knew that they were in the way if Abramson wanted to bring along the next generation. The new executive editor, it was said, did not have a close relationship with the assistant managing editor, Jim Roberts. She and the culture editor, Jonathan Landman, “rub each other the wrong way,” a friend of both said. People noted that there was occasionally tension between her and Susan Chira, at the time the foreign editor. Then, there were fiefdoms to contend with. “There are thirty different news departments,” Schmidt, the deputy managing editor, observes. “Each one, like the Balkans, not only speaks its own language but thinks it prints its own currency.”
Abramson says that her editorship will be marked by more investigative reporting, attention to politics, cultural coverage, and searching for the story behind the public-relations announcement. One can sense the kind of contextual reporting that Abramson is looking for from a review she did, published in the Times Book Review in 2008, of Bob Woodward’s “The War Within” and his three previous books on George W. Bush, and from a review she did in 2010 of campaign books, including “Game Change,” by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. While praising Woodward’s latest volume, she takes him to task for failing to provide deeper context and analysis in his earlier books:
Woodward is famous for his flat, just-the-facts-ma’am style, if one can call it that. It is the old-fashioned newspaperman’s credo of show, don’t tell. He rarely pauses in his narratives to synthesize or analyze, let alone to judge his powerful subjects, especially those who have been his sources. He has only one angle, the close-up.
In the essay on campaign books, she compares Heilemann and Halperin’s best-selling “Game Change” to Theodore H. White’s classic, “The Making of the President 1960”:
Their book is so relentlessly entertaining, in part, precisely because the authors operate so differently from White, rarely pausing between scooplets to examine political history, to provide broader contextual information about the country or even to weigh the nuances of the characters—the candidates and their aides—who dominate their story. Indeed, as the title suggests, they approach a landmark election as a grueling sports competition, with the various players jousting and falling to the ground, and the narrative seems constructed to fit the 24/7 news flow that dominates so much political reporting today: the tidbits of news, gossip, recent polls and state-by-state odds doled out continuously on the Internet . . . not to mention the attitude-driven “reports” on cable TV.
Abramson found that filling out her executive team took longer than she anticipated and was less dramatic than she promised. “It’s like a cascade of related downstream effects, and all of them have to be considered,” she told me at the end of a long September day. She had to confer with candidates for every editorial opening, and she had to meet with every editor who was replaced or promoted. So when she replaced two editors on the masthead, Gerald Marzorati and Susan Edgerley, with Richard Berke and Susan Chira, she had to meet with each privately. (The newsroom noticed that, with Chira, Abramson had promoted someone with whom she sometimes clashed.) Every decision triggered still more decisions. After promoting Chira, for example, Abramson had to meet with the assistant managing editor, Jim Roberts, to tell him that she was subtracting part of his portfolio and adding something else, supervision of the online Times. She tried to navigate between goals that sometimes collided—seeking more diversity and trying to promote a new generation of editors, yet not depriving the paper of those with experience and wisdom. While her decisions pleased editors in their early fifties, like Chira and Berke, they did not please editors who were closer to sixty and wondered if their age was held against them. Despite the desire to reduce the number of masthead editors, she had not done so.
“It’s hard,” Abramson says, of the personnel decisions. “I approach it with a sense of extreme worry verging on dread. Not because I think the decisions are wrong or I’m second-guessing myself but because the conversations are so difficult.” One senior editor at the paper who was unaffected by the changes observes, “The difference between Jill and Howell is that Howell executed people he didn’t like.”
In her first weeks on the job, Abramson frequently wandered around the three newsroom floors doling out compliments. She stopped at the Metro desk on September 12th and said, “I just wanted to say fantastic job,” referring to Robert McFadden’s front-page account of the events that took place on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. “Would you call me when he comes in?” She went downstairs and sat down next to a young business reporter, Louise Story, telling her, “Your front-page story today was great.” At the 10 A.M. page-one meeting, she went out of her way to praise editors for their work. “She is really trying,” one editor says. “How long it will last I don’t know.”
The foremost question for the Times is financial. Can the New York Times Company, which derives more than ninety per cent of its revenues from the Times and the seventeen other daily newspapers it owns, defy the bleak recent history of newspapers? The Times Company lost money in two of the past five years, but saw its operating profit jump to two hundred and thirty-four million dollars last year; its net debt has been cut nearly in half since 2006, and it has repaid the loans from Carlos Slim. James M. Follo, a senior vice-president and the C.F.O., notes that the company’s digital-news revenue rose fifteen per cent in the second quarter. “It’s still way too early to declare victory,” Arthur Sulzberger says about digital subscriptions. “But it’s significantly gone past our expectations. Yes, it’s working.” Follo predicts further “subscription growth in this quarter.”
Nevertheless, according to the company’s latest financial report, which covers the second quarter of 2011, the company lost a hundred and twenty million dollars, revenues fell two per cent, and print advertising dropped more than twice as rapidly as digital advertising rose. With Times Company stock hovering at about seven dollars per share, the market value of the entire company is barely a billion dollars, about what the Times spent to acquire the Boston Globe, in 1993. In mid-September, Janet Robinson warned investors that the Times’ third-quarter ad revenues would drop eight per cent, twice the projected falloff. Last week, Abramson announced that she would be eliminating about twenty jobs in the newsroom through buyouts. “We’re still sailing across the Atlantic,” Lawrence Ingrassia, the business editor, says, “and we don’t know what’s on the other side.”
One thing that Abramson does know—as she described, generally, in her memo to Sulzberger—is that she’s going to have to turn the Times into something more than a newspaper. She must plan for new multimedia possibilities—audio, video, archives, and the participation of readers. Should the Times create online news programs? Should the Times work more closely with Twitter and Facebook? Should the Times publish e-books? “These are the kinds of strategic questions that Jill is going to have to grapple with in a way that none of her predecessors had to,” Gerald Marzorati says. “We’re not just a newspaper anymore.”
Because Times reporters appear in both the print and the online editions, they no longer just file their stories in the early evening for the next day’s paper. They are expected to file for the Web site several times each day—and to maintain the paper’s quality even when they’re rushed. “So the challenge is how to manage people without mistakes, without burning them out, without losing standards,” Baquet says.
The meshing of online and print introduces another challenge: figuring out how much attitude and opinion to include. The Times today offers opinion on its editorial page, in business-section columns, in political stories only sometimes marked “News Analysis,” and in the Sunday Review, which falls under the editorial-page editor, Andrew Rosenthal. (In its previous iteration, as the Week in Review, it fell under the news department.) More than a few editors worry that there is too much attitude or opinion in the Times.
Rosenthal, whose father, A. M. Rosenthal, once rigorously policed newsroom opinions as executive editor, is a leading worrier. “Readers are confused by what we’re doing,” he says. “The news report can be undermined, particularly in the highly partisan, accusatory time we live in, if we mingle news and opinion.”
“There is huge apprehension all through the newsroom about the blurring of lines,” Schmidt says. “On the other hand, there’s a sense of wanting to be edgier.” In an attempt to clearly demarcate the two, the Times has had informal committees address the subject, but consensus has proved elusive. “Part of the great competition for audience in the twenty-first century is the competition to get beyond commodity news,” Bill Keller says. “To add meaning to it. To help readers organize the information into understanding.” That’s especially true, he says, in the print newspaper, because many of the facts have already been available online. “The tenor of a front-page news story has changed in the last five or ten years from who, where, when, what, why to more emphasis on how and why.”
Norman Pearlstine, Abramson’s former boss at the Wall Street Journal and today the chief content officer of Bloomberg L.P., believes that too much opinion seeps into the Times’ news pages: “Sometimes it’s hard to tell what I’m reading. There are a lot of stories where it seems there is an editorial voice.” For example, the first page of the Metro section on September 25th featured an article by Ginia Bellafante titled “Gunning for Wall Street, with Faulty Aim.” It was an early account of Occupy Wall Street. Bellafante wrote:
The group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgeably is unsettling in the face of the challenges so many of its generation face—finding work, repaying student loans, figuring out ways to finish college when money has run out. But what were the chances that its members were going to receive the attention they so richly deserve carrying signs like “Even If the World Were to End Tomorrow I’d Still Plant a Tree Today”?
If it had been on the editorial page or the cultural page or labelled “News Analysis,” it would not have stood out. Instead, in the print edition there was a box with the writer’s name and the rubric “Big City.” Online, the column bore no special markings and had the same layout as the other stories in the Metro section.
An editorial voice in news stories adds credence to the frequent charge that the Times’ news reporting often displays a liberal bias—a critique that will not be lessened by the elevation of a woman brought up in a liberal-Democratic household on the West Side of Manhattan who worked for liberal Southern Democrats and wrote a book asserting that Clarence Thomas probably lied.
Abramson, asked whether the Times has a liberal bias, says, “I think we try hard not to” be biased, but she adds that the Times, as its public editor argued in a column seven years ago, has an insular urban bias that is sometimes apparent in social stories. She fervently believes that the Times is an equal-opportunity prober of Democrats as well as of Republicans. Asked about her own upbringing, she responds, “I’m often the one who raises the point in page-one meetings that our mix of stories is too urban in outlook, too parochial. All my years in Washington, and in some ways being attacked by conservatives, made me more conscious of how a story might be seen in the rest of America.”
In the meantime, she flaunts just how much of a New Yorker she is. To celebrate her return to the city, in 2003, Abramson got a small tattoo on her right shoulder that replicates an old subway token. It was intended, she says, as a tribute to the subway system, which she rides and which she associates with her home town, and as a declaration that she had “come back to New York, likely for good.” The slogan on the coin, she said, was also meant as a reflection of her philosophy that life is not a dress rehearsal for anything: “Good for one fare.” It’s also, though, an implicit reminder of the challenge Abramson faces as she seeks to transform her newspaper. The days of a young girl’s family receiving two printed copies of the New York Times and calling it “our religion” are long gone—as are the days when you dropped a coin into a slot before pushing through a subway turnstile. ♦
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