[This review was originally posted at the Nieman Journalism Lab on May 23, 2014.]
This week's essential reads
: If you're short on time, this week's key pieces are Recode's Kara Swisher
and Politico Magazine's Susan Glasser
on editing while female, Mark Potts
on The New York Times' innovation report, and Jacob Harris on being skeptical of data
while doing journalism with it.
Jill Abramson and editing while female
: Last week's review
ran as the dust was still settling from Jill Abramson's firing from The New York Times, so here's a quick rundown of what speculation and explanation has emerged since then: Countering the reports that Abramson's inquiry into her unequal pay was a key event in her dismissal, Politico's Dylan Byers
and Fox News' Howard Kurtz
reported that Abramson was fired after publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and CEO Mark Thompson believed she had misled them as she attempted to hire The Guardian's Janine Gibson as a co-managing editor with Dean Baquet. Sulzberger gave Vanity Fair some more details
about the events leading to her firing.
Sulzberger issued a statement
denying that gender was an issue in Abramson's firing, and The Times asked The New Yorker for a correction
to the Ken Auletta story last week that reported Abramson's salary protest played a role. Auletta wrote another piece
confirming the reports that Sulzberger and Thompson believed Abramson misled them and saying the situation came down to keeping either Abramson or Baquet. Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall expanded on that description
, speculating that faced with the prospect of being stuck with Abramson, whom Sulzberger clearly disliked, he fired her instead. The Times' David Carr described the salary dispute
as a "sideshow" and said that regardless of who's in charge, The Times fate and legacy are far bigger than whoever's running it. Former newspaper editor Geneva Overholser reflected
on how dysfunctional Abramson and Sulzberger's editor-publisher relationship had become.
Much of the invective following the firing was directed at Sulzberger, as The Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove documented his PR failings
in the wake of the move, and both Alex Pareene
at The Awl and Forbes' Brett Arends
called for him to resign, with Pareene saying, "Arthur Sulzberger is in over his head. He's clearly not up to the challenge of being the publisher of the nation's last newspaper during the newspaper extinction era." At Time, Alex Jones argued
that Sulzberger was simply showing the same ruthlessness his father did. Poynter's Jill Geisler urged Sulzberger
to conduct a thorough review of the status of women at The Times.
Abramson's departure continued to highlight the status of women across the U.S.' top newsrooms, with Media Matters' Joe Strupp noting
that none of the country's 10 largest newspapers are now run by women and the Pew Research Center's Monica Anderson pointing out the lack of change
in the share of women in newsrooms as well as their pay relative to men's. BuzzFeed conducted an informal survey
of male and female journalists' pay, which New York's Jesse Singal warned
not to put much stock in.
Reuters' Shane Ferro lamented Abramson's firing
by saying that "The New York Times appears to have wanted a woman at the top, without actually letting her be in charge. The message here is that women — even the most powerful woman in media — are meant to fall in line. When they don’t, they are dumped."
At The Guardian, Emily Bell expressed her frustration
that Abramson's firing put the lie to the idea that female journalists can be rewarded for their excellent work without also having to be someone other than who they are.
Three female editors — Recode's Kara Swisher
, Politico Magazine's Susan Glasser
, and former Sydney Morning Herald editor Amanda Wilson
— all reflected on their own experiences of editing while female, noting that they, too, had been described as "pushy" or "difficult" while male editors had been lauded for the same character traits. "You have to have the skin of a rhinoceros to be a woman willing to suit up for life in this public arena. To be willing to be called difficult and pushy and all the rest when you raise your hand," Glasser wrote. "To never respond or defend yourself, because that would be combative or risky or just plain unpleasant."
Pushing back against print at The Times
: The other big story in the journalism world also came from The New York Times last week, as observers continued to absorb and discuss the paper's leaked innovation report
. Forbes' Kashmir Hill said The Times should have published the report itself
rather than letting other sites reap the traffic, and her colleague Steve Olenski said the paper's digital problems are a microcosm of the industry
Paul Gillin of Newspaper Death Watch highlighted
a few of the overarching themes of the report, and journalism professor Nikki Usher added some useful context
to the report from her own research at The Times. Vox's Timothy B. Lee explained
that it's going to be tough for The Times to implement the report's recommendation because it's still tied to print revenue and the demands print brings. At the Columbia Journalism Review, Emily Bell made a similar point
and said it's time for The Times to decide who it really wants to be on the web. "Because you cannot really produce innovation in digital whilst fighting the gravitational pull of print. It is too significant a force in terms of resource and workflow,"
Here at the Lab, Ken Doctor tied the report's findings
to Dean Baquet's hiring, outlining the need for the generally non-digital Baquet to make a digital splash and the barriers to his doing so. Derek Willis, who works on The Times' new data journalism site, The Upshot, urged his colleagues
at the paper to be more proactive about trying digital tools rather than blaming the system. Journalism professor Carrie Brown-Smith sympathized with Willis' frustration
and noted that opposition to change is broader than The Times, and it's deeply rooted in organizational routines and individual psychology.
At the American Journalism Review, Mark Potts also noted a similarity
between The Times' situation and that of so many other newspapers over the past two decades. He proposed abandoning the current incremental approach in favor of the radical change of dropping the print edition to unshackle the paper from print routines and shift it toward a mobile-first mindset. Peter Lauria of BuzzFeed also saw in the report
a potential future without a print Times.
Elsewhere from the report, Vox's Ezra Klein
and Trinity Mirror's Martin Belam
pushed back against the idea that the report signaled the death of the homepage as a strategy for The Times and other news organizations, arguing that the homepage still has value for power users and as a brand statement. Poynter's Sam Kirkland also made a similar point
, and wondered why The Times has just made a big play based on a mobile app rather than the social traffic that seems to be supplanting traditional homepage traffic.
Meanwhile, as if to underscore the digital difficulties The Times is facing, The Guardian hired away Aron Pilhofer
, The Times' top digital editor and longtime digital pioneer. to a new executive editor of digital position.
Creating more careful data journalism
: There was some thought-provoking conversation about the new wave of data journalism websites from a variety of places this week. Data visualization professor Alberto Cairo pointed out
the troubling number of pieces on sites like Vox and FiveThirtyEight that are based on dubious data interpretation or presentation, deriving far too grand theories from far too little evidence. At Source, The New York Times' Jacob Harris provided a thorough critique
of one faulty piece and give some suggestions for being skeptical of your data. There was also some good conversation on Twitter, Storified here
, about what might be causing this data journalism shoddiness.
Business Insider's Milo Yiannopoulos said data journalism sites are too scattershot and dull
to draw attention and sustain trust, while Liliana Bounegru at the Harvard Business Review called on data journalists to create their own datasets
more often, rather than relying on "official" ones. British journalism professor Paul Bradshaw, meanwhile, wondered
what might be in the data journalism canon.
: Yes, there were events and discussions this week that weren't related to The New York Times. Well, a couple, at least. Here's a quick rundown:
— A few net neutrality notes: Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times explained
how the Federal Communications Commission hemmed in by its attempts to please everyone, Poynter's Al Tompkins looked at the impact
of the regulations on journalism, and the Columbia Journalism Review explored
the potential effect on diversity online.
— Two interesting pieces on some of the inner workings behind new journalism processes: The Lab's Josh Benton wrote about Vox's use of "notebooks"
to provide a way for its journalists to publish very short pieces, and Jihii Jolly wrote at the Columbia Journalism Review
about the use of algorithms to determine news production.
— Finally, Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic collected more than 100 of his picks for the best nonfiction of 2013
. You should be able to find a few (or a few dozen) that are well worth a read.