As she entered the Times Building, she waved to the security officers and greeted colleagues in the elevator, something that she had usually been too preoccupied to do.
The vast newsroom was quiet—the place does not really come alive until about ten-thirty—but there was a hint of apprehension.
Many who gathered in the newsroom that day were thinking of this history. Susan Chira, an assistant managing editor, says that she kept thinking that when she joined the women were “sad, bitter, angry people who were talented but who had been thwarted.” Editors openly propositioned young women. Inside the newsroom, her schoolteacherlike way of elongating words and drawing out the last word of each sentence is a subject of endless conversation and expert mimicry.
When she appeared on television after her appointment as executive editor, the blogger Ben Trawick-Smith wrote, “Speech pathologists and phoneticians, knock yourself out: what’s going on with Abramson’s speech? One speculated that, like a politician, she had trained herself to limit the space between sentences so that it would be hard to interrupt her; another said she had probably acquired the accent in an attempt to not sound too New York while she was an undergraduate at Harvard.
The Abramsons lived at the Ardsley, an Art Deco building at Ninety-second Street and Central Park West.
Abramson’s father, Norman, a prosperous importer of linen for dresses, was a physically imposing man who did not graduate from college.
A lot of women at Radcliffe thought we were sellouts and wanted to be in the male world. “I thought of Jill as an artsy person,” her colleague Stephen Adler, who is the editor-in-chief of Reuters, recalls.The few reporters at their pods silently watched their new boss as she walked by.Abramson put her purse down on a white Formica desk that she occupies in the middle of the third-floor newsroom.The letter was from a nine-year-old girl named Alexandra Early, who wrote that she got mad when she watched television: “That’s because I’m a girl and there aren’t enough girl superheroes on TV.” The cover note to Abramson said, “Wherever Alexandra Early ended up, I hope that she heard about your new job.”Abramson had previously been the paper’s managing editor, and many in the newsroom considered her to be intimidating and brusque; she was too remote and, they thought, slightly similar to an earlier executive editor, the talented but volcanic Howell Raines, who had also begun the job right after Labor Day, in 2001.After less than two years, Raines was forced out, and his memory is still cursed.Not a single black journalist rose above the position of reporter.In the late nineteen-seventies, after facing multiple lawsuits alleging discrimination against women and minorities, the company became more aggressive in promoting and recruiting staffers who weren’t white men.Jill attended the Ethical Culture School, a private school on Central Park West and a favored destination for secular Jews.When she was allowed to go out without supervision, she went to see old movies at the Thalia and the New Yorker.When Judy Garland died, she and a friend took a bus to the Frank Campbell funeral home to soak up the experience and observe celebrities.She went to high school at Fieldston, a private school in the Bronx. “Our class was the first class that could choose to live at Radcliffe or in Harvard Yard,” one of her classmates, Alison Mitchell, who is now the ’ weekend news editor, recalls. It was an era when you walked into the dining room and would not see another female.