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Ousted NY Times Editor Talks of Resiliency at Wake Field Commencement

  • VOA News

Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times, receives an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the commencement ceremony at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., May 19, 2014.

Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times, receives an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the commencement ceremony at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., May 19, 2014.

The New York Times' ousted top editor Jill Abramson made her first public remarks on Monday not shying away from the controversy surrounding her departure and told graduates to fight back.

“Some of you, and now I'm talking to anybody who has been dumped ... You know the sting of losing and not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show them what you are made of,'' she said.

Abramson delivered the commencement speech to students graduating from Wake Forest University in North Carolina after unusually scathing criticism of her management style leveled by Times' publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

She brought up Anita Hill, noting that the attorney who accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment turned her insults into a badge of honor.
FILE - With Executive Editor Jill Abramson (R), publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. holds up four fingers to indicate the four Pulitzer Prizes won by the New York Times, as winners for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize are announced in the newsroom in New York.

FILE - With Executive Editor Jill Abramson (R), publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. holds up four fingers to indicate the four Pulitzer Prizes won by the New York Times, as winners for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize are announced in the newsroom in New York.


‘Anita wrote me last week to say she was proud of me. That meant so much,'' Abramson said.

Abramson co-wrote a book with New Yorker magazine writer Jane Mayer about Thomas.

Message of resiliency

Abramson's abrupt dismissal last Wednesday unleashed a polemic in the media world amid speculation that she was fired for complaining about being paid less than her male counterparts -- an allegation denied by the company, the French news agency AFP reported.

Amid high media interest in her case, the ousted editor did not address the circumstances about her dismissal but said she wanted to bring a message to students about resilience in life.

"Sure, losing a job you love hurts," she said.

"But the work I revere -- journalism that holds powerful institutions and people accountable -- is what makes our democracy so resilient. This is the work I will remain very much a part of."

She cited numerous cases of people bouncing back from adversity and urged the graduating class to take inspiration from that.

"I'm talking to anyone who's been dumped, not gotten the job you really wanted or received those horrible rejection letters from grad school," she said.

"You know the sting of losing or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show what you are made of," Abramson said.

Sulzberger, whose family controls the New York Times Co., announced to a stunned newsroom last week that he had replaced Abramson with her second-in-command, Dean Baquet. Abramson was the first woman appointed to lead the newsroom.

She told the students that she had no immediate professional plans.

“What's next for me. I don't know. So I'm in exactly the same boat as many of you,'' Abramson told the audience.

Sulzberger's abrupt dismissal of the woman he hired three years ago sparked a firestorm of debate over women managers in the workplace. The controversy was fueled by a report in The New Yorker that said Abramson was paid less than her predecessor as executive editor, Bill Keller, and other male counterparts during her 17-year career at the paper.

Compensation factors

Sulzberger has since twice spoken out to say that Abramson's compensation was not ``considerably'' less than that of Keller's - that it was directly comparable - and to deny she was removed because she is a woman.

In a statement on Saturday, Sulzberger targeted Abramson's management skills, ticking off a list of reasons including ``arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring in colleagues with her, inadequate communication and public mistreatment of colleagues.”

To the Wake Field graduates, Abramson offered special praise for The Times in her remarks.

She said Times journalists "risk their lives frequently to bring you the best news report in the world" and is "such an important and irreplaceable institution."

Abramson famously got a tattoo of the Times iconic ``T'' on her back. When asked if she was going to remove it, she said: ``Not a chance.”

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters and AFP.

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