Jill Abramson’s ‘Merchants of Truth’: A grim eye on the state of the news business

One of the facts bemoaned by traditional journalists in the current state of the news business is that, with a growing banquet of news to offer on any given day, in any given hour, consumers are opting for boiled down listicles and scannable reads.

It’s the antithesis in style to what The New York Times used to embody, particularly by its former senior editorial leader, Jill Abramson, the first woman to serve as the paper’s Washington bureau chief, managing editor and executive editor – the top job in American print journalism.

But as everyone knows (because news biz gossip is as eagerly gobbled as royal gossip these days), Abramson didn’t last long at the top; just three years. In May 2014, she was fired for allegedly poor management and being too “difficult” (that ever useful pejorative applied to formidable women) for even hard-boiled Times journalists to handle.

Her account of what happened (fantasy clickbait hed: “Why I was fired and what happened next!”), as laid out in her new book, “Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts,” is absorbing and fair – and it’s likely the first section many journalists will turn to.

“There was no simple reason I was fired. I was a less than stellar manager, but I also had been judged by an unfair double standard applied to many women leaders. Most of all, I became the first woman editor at a very bad time in journalism,” she writes.

But later, Abramson found herself with time to contemplate journalism in its “Age of Anxiety,” the existential crisis in the industry she loved. Now comes “Merchants,” published Tuesday (Simon & Schuster, ★★★ out of four).


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