Published on The Daily Femme – Friday, June 3, 2011
Contributed by Annamarya
Jill Abramson was appointed executive editor of the New York Times.
That sentence on its own doesn’t seem like much, but when you consider the history behind this promotion, it takes a whole new meaning: Abramson is the first woman to run the paper in 160 years. Yes, your eyes did not deceive you. That’s 160 years. She is succeeding Bill Keller, with whom she worked as one of his top deputies since 2003, and opening doors for other female journalists making their way up the ladder. On the appointment, the 57-year-old former investigative reporter and Washington correspondent/editor acknowledged the women at the New York Times who’ve assisted her in her career, saying most humbly “Every executive editor stands on the shoulders of others.”
While I’m thrilled that a woman has finally taken one of the highest seats over at the New York Times–that one of the most revered and influential journalistic institutions has finally brought itself into the 21st century–I can’t help but be weary of this history. Sure, this historic moment in women history andjournalism history should be looked at as a glass ceiling-shattering success for female reporters. After all, as Ms. Magazine mentions, this is the veritable boys club we’re talking about, where, although women make up about 37 percent of the industry, women journalists are shoved inside and on the back pages and where, as of 2004, they only made up 32 percent of Times’ writer bylines (a glaring issue also found at The Atlantic and The New Yorker). So for a woman to finally be recognized–and rightly rewarded–for her achievements, ambition, and talent at a publication that ignored such power for 160 years, and can allow inadequate and insensitive reporting on rape to exist in its pages, is something to applaud and look at as a step towards a more inclusive professional community (it should go without saying that I’m also beholden to an informed fear that any obstacle Abramson faces now will be far greater simply because she is a woman in a man’s world). But it’s that number that gets me most. 160 years. It took 160 years for the New York Times to put a woman in a position of power. Why so long?
A part of me wants to forget about this century-and-half long absence of female leadership. A part of me wants to accept this development as the history maker it is. But a larger part of me wants the decision-makers at the New York Times, past and present, to explain themselves. A larger part of me wants to know why they’ve waited so long to bring women truly into the executive fold. Why is it now that Abramson has snagged this spot? Were there no women beforehand that possessed the qualifying factors to take on responsibility? Or is it a matter of what has always been suspected: that even the most respected paper is riddled with unwavering sexism?
Still, despite my reluctance to blindly celebrate, I can’t help but also have some hope. And that hope is best expressed in the words of Poynter’s Jill Geisler:
[This promotion] can tap old-school publishers on the shoulder and remind them to look beyond their comfort zones when it’s time to promote. Old habits die hard. New success stories help kill old habits…It can serve as an inspiration to today’s journalism students, many of whom are women. It takes fortitude to pursue a career path in an industry under challenge. Seeing a woman lead a legacy institution into the digital future can be a powerful motivator.