Last week was not a good one for women in media. Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times, was fired, and Natalie Nougayrède, editor of Le Monde, France’s leading newspaper, resigned. Both were the first women to hold their respective posts.
While both departures were shocking, neither was particularly surprising, given weeks of leaked news of discontent on both editorial floors. Most of the stories focused on managerial styles: Abramson was characterized as polarizing and mercurial, while Nougayrède’s management was described as authoritarian and “Putin-like.”
Accusations of sexism were inevitable, as women in media wondered if the same adjectives, applied to men, would have been pejoratives (“Putin-like” aside). The specifics in Nougayrède’s case, among them that she butted heads with editors over her attempts to put more emphasis on the digital version of the paper, could be used on either side of the argument. However, Abramson’s pay being lower than that of her male predecessor supported the accusations. On Saturday, Times owner Arthur Sulzberger Jr. released a statement saying that Abramson’s management style was the sole reason for her termination, and that her total pay package was similar to that of her predecessor – which turned out not to entirely add up. As of press time, Abramson was expected to tell her side of the story Monday morning.
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for The Times and Le Monde.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Be prepared to present facts. All business entities want bad PR to fade away quickly, but in the event that questions make it linger, facts dampen speculation. The difficulty in transitioning from print to digital is being emphasized as the conflict between Nougayrède and her staff; Abramson’s reaction to the salary discrepancy was hiring a lawyer, a move that ruffled her superiors’ feathers irreparably. The reason for her needing to do so, however, is something that keeps this story alive, and Times owners on the defensive.