New York Times Denies Jill Abramson Was Paid ‘Significantly Less’ Than the Men Before Her

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Photo: Evan Agostini/AP2010

In the New York Times' sudden, clumsily handled firing of executive editor Jill Abramson, a report claiming she made "considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced" became an immediate sticking point for those getting a whiff of sexism in the unceremonious firing of a woman — the first atop the paper's masthead — deemed "pushy." Abramson allegedly confronted her bosses, including presumably publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., recently, and "the pay gap with Keller was only closed after she complained," The New Yorker's Ken Auletta reported.

In a memo to staff today, Sulzberger said, "It is simply not true that Jill's compensation was significantly less than her predecessors."

"I am writing to you because I am concerned about the misinformation that has been widely circulating in the media since I announced Jill Abramson's departure yesterday," wrote Sulzberger. "I particularly want to set the record straight about Jill's pay as Executive Editor of The Times."

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% higher than that of her predecessor, Bill Keller, in his last full year as Executive Editor, which was 2010.  It was also higher than his total compensation in any previous year.

Her pension was less, he explained, because, "Jill's years of service were significantly fewer than those of many of her predecessors." (Pensions at the company were frozen in 2009.)

According to Auletta, the dispute occurred "several weeks ago," but both that report and Sulzberger's response leave open the possibility that Abramson was only now made aware of the pay discrepancy in previous years, like 2012, her first as executive editor. (The numbers Sulzberger cites also includes bonuses, so it's possibly the issue was with base salary.) A source told Auletta, "She found out that a former [male] deputy managing editor made more money than she did" while she was managing editor. "She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off."

Sulzberger denies it had anything to do with the firing. "Compensation played no part whatsoever in my decision that Jill could not remain as executive editor. Nor did any discussion about compensation," he wrote. "The reason – the only reason – for that decision was concerns I had about some aspects of Jill's management of our newsroom, which I had previously made clear to her, both face-to-face and in my annual assessment."

Here is Sulzberger's full memo:

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to you because I am concerned about the misinformation that has been widely circulating in the media since I announced Jill Abramson’s departure yesterday.  I particularly want to set the record straight about Jill’s pay as Executive Editor of The Times.

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% higher than that of her predecessor, Bill Keller, in his last full year as Executive Editor, which was 2010.  It was also higher than his total compensation in any previous year.

Comparisons between the pensions of different executive editors are difficult for several reasons.  Pensions are based upon years of service with the Company. Jill’s years of service were significantly fewer than those of many of her predecessors.  Secondly, as you may know, pension plans for all managers at The New York Times were frozen in 2009.  But this and all other pension changes at the Company have been applied without any gender bias and Jill was not singled out or differentially disadvantaged in any way.

Compensation played no part whatsoever in my decision that Jill could not remain as executive editor. Nor did any discussion about compensation.  The reason – the only reason – for that decision was concerns I had about some aspects of Jill’s management of our newsroom, which I had previously made clear to her, both face-to-face and in my annual assessment.

This Company is fully committed to equal treatment of all its employees, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation or any other characteristic. We are working hard to live up to that principle in every part of our organization.  I am satisfied that we fully lived up to that commitment with regard to Jill.

Arthur