Lessons From the Firing of an Editor

Image

Jill Abramson, former The New York Times executive editor. Photo from The New York Times website by Fred R. Conrad.

On Monday, May 19th, Jill Abramson, top news editor, stood before the graduating class of Wake Forest University in North Carolina to deliver the commencement speech. It would have been an ordinary event, yet it became a minor media circus.

Less than a week prior to her speech, Abramson was fired as executive editor of one of the most influential news publications in the world, The New York Times. She was replaced by her number two man, managing editor Dean Baquet.

The Times very own journalists David Carr and Ravi Somaiya reported that the entire newsroom was “stunned” by the ouster, as announced by publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. in a hastily-assembled general meeting on the afternoon of May 14th. “It is one thing to gossip or complain about your boss, but quite another to watch her head get chopped off in the cold light of day. The lack of decorum was stunning,” Carr wrote in a subsequent article.

Abramson, 60, was the first woman to ever hold the highest-ranking editorial post at The Times. She helped supervise the coverage of two wars, four national elections, hurricanes and oil spills. She led the expansion to new platforms on digital and mobile. The Times won eight Pulitzer Prizes under her.

So why fire her? In many organizations all over the world, there are many leaders who have far less accomplishments (or none at all), and yet their heads are nowhere near the chopping block.

Several speculations surfaced from Abramson’s personality (she has been described as “brusque”, “polarizing”, “mercurial”); to issues of gender bias. Ken Auletta of The New Yorker wrote in an article that sources said Abramson discovered that her pay and pension benefits were less than that of her male predecessor (The Times denied this.)

Sulzberger gave the following official explanation of Abramson’s firing: “an issue with management in the newsroom,” “she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back,” “[Abramson is guilty of] arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues.”

There are reports of tensions between Abramson and Baquet. Abramson was reportedly planning to hire Janine Gibson of The Guardian to become Baquet’s co-managing editor for digital. Carr wrote that Baquet was “furious and worried about how it would affect not only him but the rest of the news operations” and so Baquet supposedly told the publisher he will leave the paper.

Image

Dean Baquet addressing the newsroom on the day he was appointed as executive editor. Photo from The New York Times’ website by Todd Heisler

That Baquet is the man standing and now holds the top post may give an indication as to how he is regarded. The first African-American to hold the plum position, Carr describes Baquet as “courageous and smart, and he makes newspapering seem like a grand endeavour” and has the makings of a “great leader.”

The makings of a leader

I briefly witnessed Baquet at work last year during my fellowship with the World Press Institute (WPI). The WPI fellows attended the morning page one meeting presided by Baquet, with all the top editors in attendance. It was a formidable room. He seemed very collegial, allowing the editors free rein to develop stories with their reporters. But when time came to make choices for the front page, he was very decisive and sure of what he wanted.

After the editorial meeting, he engaged the WPI fellows in a casual chat for a few minutes. He spoke about how the mobile and digital platforms have changed the media landscape. He seemed keenly aware not just of the editorial side but also the business challenges in news, at a time when print circulation and revenues are diminishing.

How do you get readers to pay for online content? What can you offer that is worth paying for? Who is more important – the consumer or advertiser? Can all media outlets put up a pay wall on their websites? Who is your market? What other online revenue sources can you tap? Baquet touched on these things.

Uphill battles

Indeed, improving business-newsroom relations and digital/mobile innovations may be Baquet’s biggest uphill battles. Auletta wrote that Abramson had clashed with The Times CEO Mark Thompson over the “perceived intrusion of the business side into the newsroom.”

And recently, Nieman Journalism Lab wrote a piece on a supposed New York Times innovation report. The report is a self-examination on how The Times is performing on the digital platform.

The Times is undoubtedly known for some of the best online work in the world (check out its Snowfall multimedia project), but the report was critical of where The Times was doing poorly: social media promotion, reader interface and engagement, providing and packaging more in-demand content, creating tools for its writers, integrating research and development with newsroom operations, pushing staff to do away with traditional newspaper practices and adapt to the changing times, among others.

(Ironically, in an interview with Ken Auletta, Abramson said that one of the biggest changes at The Times under her was innovation in the digital platform by enhancing narrative with video and motion graphics, among others.)

Evidently, there is no escaping politics in any organization in the world, but set aside the struggle of relationships, the real battle is taking place in the digital and mobile sphere. Those who can adapt, innovate and earn amid these changing times are the ones to survive and thrive. As to what’s next for Abramson, she says she’s in the same boat of uncertainty as the new graduates she addressed which, she says, makes for a frightening, yet exciting time.

“I’m talking to anyone who has been dumped — have not gotten the job you really wanted or have received those horrible rejection letters from grad school… You know the disappointment of losing, or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show what you are made of,” Abramson said.

#

Follow the author on twitter.com/Paulhenson or Instagram @heaveninawildflower

A visit to Pope John XXIII’s birthplace

A statue of Pope John XXIII in his birthplace in Sotto il Monte

On Sunday, April 27, 2014 multitudes of pilgrims will descend upon the Vatican City for the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, descendants to the throne of St. Peter who both shepherded the Catholic Church through the complexities of the modern era.

On this day, a small and once obscure town north of Italy will also be swarming with thousands of devotees: Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, a commune’ in the province of Bergamo in the Lombardia region named after its most famous citizen, who once belonged to a family of peasant farmers, would eventually become pope, and now, a saint.

The residence of Pope John XXIII, now the Museo di ca’ Maitino

Ten years ago, in July of 2004, I had the great blessing of visiting the birthplace of Pope John XXIII. His canonization stirred an impulse within me to dig up old photographs and journals from that trip, in the hope of getting reacquainted with a man who, though not as widely known as Pope John Paul II, made just as much contributions to the Church.

From farm boy to pope

One of the places that I saw was the humble farmhouse where Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Roncalli, grew up. The place has since been converted into a museum , the Casa Natale del Santo Papa Giovanni XXIII.

The farmhouse is painted a dusky shade of pink with wooden beams and staircase surrounding the porch. Planters are adorned with bright flowers in season. Inside the rooms are simple furnishings like wooden dressers and simple beddings that give a glimpse of the austere life of young Angelo.

Angelo was the fourth of 13 children, and though he grew up in poverty, his biographical notes stated that his family was wealthy in faith, love and trust in God.

The parish church named Parrochia di Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII

I also visited the summer residence that he used when he was already Pope John XXIII, now the Museo di ca’ Maitino. There are a lot of memorabilia including photographs which show John XXIII often smiling, a glimpse into his warmth and congeniality. One can also visit the Pope’s personal bedroom, his study and chapel.

Inside the parish church named after Pope John XXIII

A statue of Christ inside the parish church

In another room, pilgrims leave behind mementos such as medallions, paintings and pictures that are testaments to John XXIII’s intercession. There were those who were spared from death, those who survived near-fatal accidents like a car crash or falling off an electrical tower or from a tall building. There were photos of infants born of parents who thought they would never bear a child.

A fresco inside the parish church named after Pope John XXIII

I also visited the parish church named after the Pope, Parrochia di Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII. It is a lovely hillside Church, which is a solemn space for prayer as well as a place to admire for its frescoes.

Legacy

While John XXIII worked in mysterious ways in the lives of many people, his enduring legacy is his work as head of the Catholic Church from 1958 to 1963. Bishop Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope in 1958 at the age of 77, and he took the name inspired by three personalities: his father, the patron of his birthplace, and of John, the evangelist of the charity.

He announced the Second Vatican Council in 1959, and when it opened in 1962, the Church took a big evolutionary step by seeking ways to unify Christian Churches, and create an atmosphere of dialogue with contemporary culture in the modern world.

John XXIII also appointed 37 new cardinals during his term, including a Filipino, Rufino Santos.

His 1963 encyclical “Pacem in terris” (Peace on Earth) spoke, not only to Catholics, but to all good willing people, a sign of reaching out to people in peace and solidarity, regardless of faith.

On Sunday, the saints in heaven shall welcome with open arms John XXIII, a man who has dutifully served his flock.

This article appeared on abs-cbnnews.com:  http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/focus/04/25/14/visit-pope-john-xxiiis-birthplace

 

1ST FILIPINO ASTRONAUT CHINO ROQUE AND WHAT HE DREADS IN OUTER SPACE

Image

(Chino Roque, 2nd from left, on the set of Bandila with, L-R, Julius Babao, Karen Davila and Boy Abunda.  Photo credit: @iamkarendavila on Instagram)

I spoke with soon-to-be astronaut Chino Roque a few minutes before his guesting on Bandila’s Ikaw Na! segment and asked him if he’s nervous (I was referring to the space mission) and he said he’s more nervous about fumbling his answers and lines during his live TV news interview.  If I were in his space suit, I’d be more concerned about reentering the earth’s orbit.  Indeed Chino is charming, not in an out-of-this-world manner, but in a down to earth sort of way. 

Obviously, Chino has not yet been bitten by the celebrity bug.  Between now and his space launch over a year from now, he will have to focus on training for this endeavor.  I asked him if he watched Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s space blockbuster flick “Gravity” and he said yes.  What happened in that disaster movie is highly possible, Chino said.    

He and 23 other astronauts from different countries, selected from a competition, will train intensively at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  They will each get a chance to board a 2-seater reusable space shuttle with a trained pilot, but they will not just be passive passengers because, as Chino says, they also have to learn “which buttons to push.”  They also need to prepare for the physical rigors of space flight.

Veteran astronauts have lectured to them and they were told that one of the hardest things to do in space is going (as in doing your toilet business).  Imagine doing it in zero gravity (they better have good aim because you don’t want stuff floating around in an enclosed space).  Another challenge is reentry into the earth’s orbit because the pressure shocks the body and causes muscle atrophy.

Our talk was cut short when the live newscast started.  Chino sat with Boy Abunda for the interview and carried himself well despite the nerves.  Boy asked him if he has a girlfriend and Chino admitted he’s courting someone.  He was asked, given the choice to take a showbiz personality to space, who would that be?  He paused, was obviously at a loss for words, then finally said he really had not thought about it.  Evidently, hindi pa siya showbiz (and hopefully he’ll stay that way).

Boy asked a different question.  “If you saw the face of God when you fly to space, what would you tell Him?”  Chino answered that he wants to be able to give back as much as he could from that experience.  He says he will tell God, “I am down on both knees even if it is zero gravity.”  It’s been said that being in space is an encounter with God.  We have the right man for the job.

#