Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

How to answer the Jill Abramson equal pay question

Steven Brill
May 16, 2014 18:57 UTC

abramson

With the firing of New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson last week, a dispute broke out over whether her ouster by publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. had anything to do with a complaint she reportedly made to Times executives that she had not been paid the same as Bill Keller, the man she succeeded.

Disclosure: Abramson is a good friend, so I have a favorite in this dispute. But I do know a way to figure it out objectively — with some simple reporting by a competent business reporter. The result would be a story that I’m sure many people would like to see.

The New Yorker’s longtime media writer Ken Auletta reported in two web dispatches (here and here) this week that, shortly before her firing, Abramson had complained to Times executives — and even hired a lawyer to discuss the complaint for her – about her compensation. She reportedly discovered that her salary in 2013 (and through this year) was significantly less than Keller made during his last year on the job in 2010 — $503,000 for Abramson in 2013/2014 and $559,000 for Keller in 2010.

Yet Sulzberger, responded, through his spokesperson, with this statement, that Auletta duly reported:

It is simply not true that Jill’s compensation was significantly less than her predecessors. Her pay is comparable to that of earlier executive editors. In fact, in 2013, her last full year in the role, her total compensation package was more than 10 percent higher than that of her predecessor, Bill Keller, in his last full year as Executive Editor, which was 2010.

MSNBC’s book promotion machine, helping Dasani, and profiling Eric Schneiderman

Steven Brill
Dec 24, 2013 11:53 UTC

1. MSNBC’s book promotion machine:

Lately it seems as if it must be written into MSNBC anchors’ contracts that if he or she writes a book, no matter how related to current news, the anchor will get endless opportunities to promote it on the cable channel’s air.

The most blatant example is “Hardball”’s Chris Matthews, who recently came out with Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked — about how the friendship between then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan supposedly produced productive, bipartisan governing during the Reagan years.

Since Matthews’ book was published in October (in fact, even in the weeks leading up to its publication) whenever there has been a story about Washington gridlock — which is just about always — MSNBC has used it as a pretext to feature Matthews on its various shows talking about how things were different in the good old O’Neill-Reagan days, when Matthews was O’Neill’s chief of staff

A New York Times home run, piggyback journalism, and hospital TV ads

Steven Brill
Apr 16, 2013 10:55 UTC

1.   The Times hits a home run in the Bronx:

This item comes under the category of stories I loved seeing. On Sunday the New York Times did a front pager (continued on two full pages inside) by veteran reporter William Glaberson on the collapse of the criminal courts in the Bronx that was about as close to perfection in execution and impact as journalism can get.

Glaberson’s chronicle of epic incompetence and sheer laziness among the judges, prosecutors and just about everyone else mixed mountains of impressive data (endless delays, startlingly low conviction rates) with the kind of personal stories that give the data indelible meaning: A murder defendant who was held in jail for nearly four years before being acquitted recounts how court officers, lawyers and prosecutors would be “laughing and giggling” while they scheduled postponement after postponement, ignoring him so completely that he “felt almost invisible inside the courtroom.” There’s a running narrative, artfully sprinkled in italics throughout the piece, of the agony of the family of a murdered bodega proprietor that is forced to wait five years for the accused killer to come to trial, only to have to face a new trial later this year because stale evidence and the witnesses’ foggy memories resulted in a hung jury.

When a reporter uncovers almost unbelievable data about a system failing, he’s doing a terrific job. When he then ties it this way to real people, he creates a reading experience that is unforgettable. Imagine igniting water cooler conversation about the Bronx criminal justice system rather than Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy. Glaberson did that.

The New York Times becomes a video force

Steven Brill
Dec 6, 2011 13:43 UTC

The opinions expressed are his own.

1. The New York Times Goes Video:

Three different story ideas are prompted by the hours of interviews former Penn State assistant football coach and accused child molester Jerry Sandusky gave to the New York Times’ Jo Becker that resulted in a front-page Times story on Saturday.

First, by Saturday night I was seeing video clips of Becker’s interview on NBC, which credited the Times. This means Becker, a highly-regarded, hard-nosed print reporter, brought a video crew with her to make her Times report a multimedia event – which it was, with great impact, on the Times’ website. This left NBC’s Michael Isikoff, himself a print refuge from Newsweek, narrating a story on the Evening News on Saturday night using audio from Becker’s interview and the Times’ branded video package.

This, in itself, is a big media story. The Times‘ website, which now charges non-subscribers and is attracting hundreds of thousands of paying customers, is becoming an increasingly robust 24/7 multimedia platform. What are the prospects of the Times dispatching video crews more regularly to tape important on-the-record interviews? How will that change the reporter’s interview style and methods? (It sure would change mine, because it shifts the atmosphere and rhythm of an interview.) How might this affect the media chase to corral hard-to-get, high-profile figures for interviews? Might some feel better making their TV debut with a Times reporter than a conventional TV reporter? Leaving aside questions about their decision to talk to the press at all, it could be that Sandusky and his lawyer believed that by agreeing to this forum, they were minimizing the dangers of “gotcha” questions or of having sound bites taken out of context.

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