What's Gotten Lost In The Conversation About Jill Abramson

May 16 2014, 4:03pm CDT | by

The metaphorical door has barely closed behind Jill Abramson and there has already been a raft of talk about what we’re really talking about when we talk about Jill Abramson.

References to “pushy” and “brusque”–and their frequent, gendered application to Abramson’s manner–have largely shaped the discourse. But is this always how we’ve discussed the Times‘ first female executive editor?

Or has the confusion about her termination, the discussion of pay gaps and condescension that have characterized her exit colored our memories of her as well?

To wit, I conducted a brief visual experiment. The “controls” in place were simple: I copied the text of the top 6 results of a Google search of “Jill Abramson,” removed each use of “Abramson,” “editor,” and “Times” (since the words dominated each article and provided little context), then pasted the resulting text into Wordle.net. The first time I searched for results from before May 11, 2014.

(It should be noted that this was an admittedly unscientific exercise. Google results vary user to user, and I visit the New York Times website and Google search media-related topics regularly. One of the top results was Abramson’s Wikipedia entry, which is a dubious indication of any kind of “discourse.”)

The actual representation of previously archived chatter about Abramson paints a picture I hadn’t quite expected. Namely, most of it is about work. Little of it is about gender. Words like “newsroom,” “news,” “people,” managing,” and “paper” dominate, with nods to “Sulzberger,” “New York,” and “Washington.”

“Family,” “mean,” and “home” are all included as well, though peripherally. ”Pushy” is notably absent.

None of which erodes the severity with which Abramson was often described during her tenure. But the fact that “bureau” was statistically more likely to appear in an article along with “Jill Abramson” than any of the adjectives levied against her is a reminder that at one point, the conversation about Abramson was one about a person and her profession.

A glance at the image generated by repeating the same search, today, with full results reveals just when Jill Abramson went from being the executive editor of a newspaper, who was a woman, to the woman who might have been fired by the New York Times for asking to be paid like a man.

Note the real estate ceded to words like “compensation,” “women,” “female,” “salary,” “told,” “hard,” and “comparable.” It’s a conversation that’s pushed any reference to Abramson’s career, and the achievements therein, completely out of the picture.


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