Jill Abramson, 57, became perhaps the most influential media professional in the world in September when she ascended to the executive editorship of The New York Times. That a Jewish person has been made top editor of the Times, an institution that once went to great lengths to play down its own Jewish ownership, is no longer novel.
But Abramson, who grew up in a secular Jewish home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, stands apart from her recent predecessors. Besides being the first woman to sit in the Times newsroom’s corner office, she is also the first executive editor in recent history without the well-stamped passport of the foreign correspondent.
It’s too early to say how Abramson’s reign will differ from that of her predecessor, Bill Keller, who is widely praised for pulling a discontented staff together after the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal rocked the paper in 2003. But colleagues praise Abramson for her decisiveness, intelligence and equanimity. In the face of a collapsing newspaper industry, it is perhaps that last characteristic that will serve her best as she works to protect and grow the paper amid a rapidly changing media landscape. In June, shortly after Abramson’s promotion was announced, a former Harvard classmate, author Amy Wilentz, offered this assessment: “I think she’s a good captain for stormy weather.”