Jill Abramson and Income Disparity

By now, you’ve either heard the news of Jill Abramson being fired from the New York Times or you are blissfully unaware of the drama in the professional media. If you fall into the latter category, you have an inner peace within you that I yearn to one day achieve.

Regardless, one of the issues that is getting played out to no end is the idea that she was getting paid less than her male predecessor. It led to the Left screaming that, once again, a female was getting paid less than her male equals, and damnit that just can’t happen. The New York Times has denied this on several occasions, which you can read about at Dylan Byers’ blog on POLITICO. Kudos to him for following it. However, the New Yorker has numbers they were given that do, in fact, suggest a disparity in wages.

Let’s look at some numbers I’ve been given: As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000. She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes. She also learned that her salary as Washington bureau chief, from 2000 to 2003, was a hundred thousand dollars less than that of her predecessor in that position, Phil Taubman. (Murphy would say only that Abramson’s compensation was “broadly comparable” to that of Taubman and Geddes.)

Murphy cautioned that one shouldn’t look at salary but, rather, at total compensation, which includes, she said, any bonuses, stock grants, and other long-term incentives. This distinction appears to be the basis of Sulzberger’s comment that Abramson was not earning “significantly less.” But it is hard to know how to parse this without more numbers from the Times. For instance, did Abramson’s compensation pass Keller’s because the Times’ stock price rose? Because her bonuses came in up years and his in down years? Because she received a lump-sum long-term payment and he didn’t?

And, if she was wrong, why would Mark Thompson agree, after her protest, to sweeten her compensation from $503,000 to $525,000? (Murphy said, on behalf of Thompson, that Abramson “also raised other issues about her compensation and the adequacy of her pension arrangements, which had nothing to do with the issue of comparability. It was to address these other issues that we suggested an increase in her compensation.”)

Please take your time trying to digest those numbers. They are, in fact, astounding.

In the world of local journalism, you don’t see anywhere near those numbers. The newspaper industry, by and large, cannot afford them. And, if you look at the financial struggles the New York Times faces, you could get the same idea here.

I’m not interested in creating a debate based on wealth envy, but this goes to show how the elite media operates. Abramson, according to her former publisher, had terrible newsroom management skills. She attempted to hire a co-managing editor without consulting anyone, and made media appearances without altering the bosses. She carefully crafted a story that would gain her sympathizers when the world found out about her firing and damaged the Times’ reputation, if perhaps only slightly, among the media community.

The New York Times is a sterling example of an insulated media force that drives a narrative. Yes, under her leadership, the Times’ newsroom picked up eight Pulitzer Prizes, but the content generally put out by the paper is unabashedly left-leaning and attacks anything that crosses the center line heading Right.

There are a lot of good journalists out there, not along the East or West coasts. They make nowhere near the kind of money New York Times editors apparently do. Some have to live paycheck to paycheck. Again, I’m not trying to make a wealth envy argument, but rather, lay out an argument that the insulated media in the DC-New York bubble does not seem to have a clue what life is like outside their bubbles, but they feel free to preach to the rest of the nation how people should govern themselves (or, more accurately, how they should be governed).

The Times admits they have monetary issues, and a report was recently released where they admit they have issues keeping up with the times, especially when it comes to digital strategy. So, I’d like to make a suggestion to them. That half a million dollars they pay their editors? Half that. Take the remaining money, and invest it in digital infrastructure, whatever it may be (people, content platforms, whatever). Maybe then you’ll be able to create a better (if not less biased) product.