Upheaval in New York and Paris newsrooms

Some interesting developments in the journalism world today.

First, in New York:

In an abrupt change of leadership, The New York Times on Wednesday dismissed Jill Abramson as executive editor and replaced her with Dean Baquet, the managing editor.

Speaking to a stunned newsroom that had been quickly assembled to hear the news, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the paper and the chairman of The New York Times Company, said that he had made the decision because of “an issue with management in the newsroom.”

Ms. Abramson, 60, had been in the job only since September 2011. But people in the company briefed on the situation described serious tensions in her relationship with Mr. Sulzberger, many of them over his concerns about her management. Her style has been described as mercurial and brusque. They had disagreements even before she was appointed executive editor, and she had also had clashes with Mr. Baquet

That’s a huge deal and I’m sure leaves most people in the profession stunned. After all, people usually know when something like this is going to happen. The powers that be in the profession (the publishers, not the editors) usually leave breadcrumbs with other media outlets when they’re about to lower the boom on their newsroom leaders. There are three major newspapers in the U.S., and in the past shake-ups of the two that weren’t the New York Times, you suspected some kind of overthrow was in the works. But this situation at the Times, despite last month’s anti-Jill piece in Politico, caught everyone by surprise.

But that’s not all that happened today. Something just as big happened in Paris:

Faced with a newsroom revolt, the editor in chief of Le Monde, France’s most prominent newspaper, stepped down on Wednesday after a 14-month tenure marked by staff resistance to her efforts to push the paper faster and more fully into the digital era.

The editor, Natalie Nougayrède, had been criticized by her staff for a top-down management style and an inability to build consensus. The discontent was focused largely on a plan to redesign the newspaper and its electronic applications and transfer more than 50 staff members from the print newspaper to the digital operation.

Two of her deputies announced their resignations last week, and seven other editors resigned weeks earlier in opposition to the way Ms. Nougayrède, 47, and the paper’s owners were going about changing Le Monde.

This, unlike in New York, seemed to be inevitable. But still, it’s odd that two of the  most powerful women in global journalism were sacked on the same day. And it’s troubling that in both cases, the underlying reason for their dismissals is that “they were bossy.” Because it reminds me of this:

In both cases, there’s also word that the two editors were moving toward a digital strategy that faced resistance in their newsrooms. If newspaper publishers at The Times and Le Monde are hoping to preserve a print product and getting rid of people who are trying to speed up the transition to a digital format, they won’t have much time to deal with criticism that their actions in these two firings were sexist. They’re going to collapse anyway because print is dying.


Talk of the town: a dialect test



There’s a scientific way to discover where people are from by how they talk. Click on this link at the New York Times and take the dialect test.

How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk

About a year ago, I drove from Milwaukee to New Orleans. It was amazing to actually hear the accents change as I drove from state to state. And the most neutral accent between the two cities was heard somewhere in Indiana. Of course.

Nelson Mandela: 1918-2013

New York Times correspondents remember Nelson Mandela:

And Mandela speaks:

GOP heart of darkness: The horror. The horror.

This is coming from the New York Times’ conservative commentator Ross Douthat. It’s pretty brutal:

“THEY told me,” Martin Sheen’s Willard says to Marlon Brando’s Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now,” at the end of a long journey up the river, “that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.”

His baldness bathed in gold, his body pooled in shadow, Kurtz murmurs: “Are my methods unsound?”

And Willard — filthy, hollow-eyed, stunned by what he’s seen — replies: “I don’t see any method at all, sir.”

This is basically how reasonable people should feel about the recent conduct of the House Republicans.

Sky high class

James Atlas has a piece in the New York Times on the Class Struggle in the Sky:

The floor is strewn with candy-bar wrappers and broken headsets, crumpled napkins and cracked plastic glasses. There’s so little legroom that I have to push my knees against the seat in front of me as if I’m doing crunches. Welcome to economy.

Elsewhere in the plane — “on the other side of the curtain,” as the first-class and business cabins are referred to — dinners are being served on white linen tablecloths, with actual bone china. Everyone’s got their “amenities kit” — one of those little nylon bags containing slippers, an eyeshade and a toothbrush. And legroom? Tons. While our seat width contracts — on some airlines by nearly eight inches in recent years — the space up front continues to expand: Emirates Airlines now offers, as part of its “first-class private suite,” a private room with minibar, wide-screen TV and “lie-flat bed.”

This stark class division should come as no surprise: what’s happening in the clouds mirrors what’s happening on the ground. Statusization — to coin a useful term — is ubiquitous, no matter what your altitude. While you’re in your hospital bed spooning up red Jell-O, a patient in a private suite is enjoying strawberries and cream. On your way to a Chase A.T.M., you notice a silver plaque declaring the existence within of Private Client Services. This man has a box seat at a Yankees game; that man has a skybox. And the skybox isn’t the limit: high overhead, the 1 percent fly first class; the .1 percent fly Netjets; the .01 fly their own planes. Why should it be any different up above from down below? …

I learned from a blogger just how close we are to class warfare in the sky. Disgusted by the grubby conditions on his flight, this Robespierre of the unfriendly skies invokes the French Revolution and warns: If you annoy “the salt of the earth enough, the rank and file and what have you, sometimes you wind up beheaded.” Let them eat Pringles.

The evolution of the class separation in the air is pretty well documented. Back in the 1950s, there was an egalitarian sense of luxury:

Industrialists and movie stars sat in the same cabin and got the same service as honeymooners and children. No class separation.

That extended into the 1960s:

These seats are huge. Look at that meal. And who knew that jet airplanes used to have passenger lounges?

But the separation of service was obvious by the 1970s, as “The Carol Burnett Show” demonstrated:

Now, on a good day, flying on an airplane is like taking a Greyhound bus … with less legroom and no Internet access. (Who’d have thought you’d get Internet on the bus, but not on the plane.)

On a bad day, it’s like you’re in a cattle car.



Lost and found in the New York subway

There’s a heart-warming piece in Thursday’s New York Times by Peter Mercurio that opens with this:

The story of how Danny and I were married last July in a Manhattan courtroom, with our son, Kevin, beside us, began 12 years earlier, in a dark, damp subway station.

I won’t spoil it by excerpting more, but it is worth reading. Or, you can wait a few years, because somewhere in Hollywood, someone is thinking, “This would make a great movie.” Take a look here.

The numbers game

Here’s Nate Silver’s forecast for today’s presidential election:

In the next 24 hours, we’ll see if numbers crunching is more reliable than political pundits. I’m hoping the statistician wins, because there are a lot of overpaid media types who spout things they often know nothing about with complete pomposity.

Nate indicates it’s pretty much a done deal. The chattering classes say it’s too close to call and nobody could possibly know what the American people are thinking.

I’ve been reading Silver for years. Before he got a contract with the New York Times, he was really close on the 2008 election, and he called the GOP takeover of the House in 2010.

Stay tuned.

11 Excellent Reasons Not to Vote? (from Errol Morris)

A short by Academy Award winning filmmaker Errol Morris (via the New York Times):

There’s early voting in many states, so go early if you can. Just make sure you’ve made your decision by Tuesday.


Where the presidential election stands today

Nate Silver at the Five Thirty Eight blog with the New York Times has been very good at projecting where an election is headed.

This is what he sees if the presidential election were held today:

But we’re in July, and the election is less than four months away. Anything can happen in that time, but if Mitt Romney continues to run the campaign he’s been running (retroactive retirement, no tax returns, swapping positions based on which way the wind is blowing), this chart understates how badly he will lose.

Mitt Romney’s quantum duality

Today’s New York Times Opinion page has an pseudoscientific analysis called “A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney.”

It contains the following principles of Mitt’s being and nothingness:

Complementarity. In much the same way that light is both a particle and a wave, Mitt Romney is both a moderate and a conservative, depending on the situation. It is not that he is one or the other; it is not that he is one and then the other. He is both at the same time.

Probability. Mitt Romney’s political viewpoints can be expressed only in terms of likelihood, not certainty. While some views are obviously far less likely than others, no view can be thought of as absolutely impossible. Thus, for instance, there is at any given moment a nonzero chance that Mitt Romney supports child slavery.

Uncertainty. Frustrating as it may be, the rules of quantum campaigning dictate that no human being can ever simultaneously know both what Mitt Romney’s current position is and where that position will be at some future date. This is known as the “principle uncertainty principle.”

Entanglement. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a proton, neutron or Mormon: the act of observing cannot be separated from the outcome of the observation. By asking Mitt Romney how he feels about an issue, you unavoidably affect how he feels about it. More precisely, Mitt Romney will feel every possible way about an issue until the moment he is asked about it, at which point the many feelings decohere into the single answer most likely to please the asker.

Noncausality. The Romney campaign often violates, and even reverses, the law of cause and effect. For example, ordinarily the cause of getting the most votes leads to the effect of being considered the most electable candidate. But in the case of Mitt Romney, the cause of being considered the most electable candidate actually produces the effect of getting the most votes.

Duality. Many conservatives believe the existence of Mitt Romney allows for the possibility of the spontaneous creation of an “anti-Romney” that leaps into existence and annihilates Mitt Romney. (However, the science behind this is somewhat suspect, as it is financed by Rick Santorum, for whom science itself is suspect.)

Let’s hope the next entry here will be the string theory of Rick Santorum (despite infinite parallel universes, he’s the same everywhere).