Solomon McCown Reflects on WBUR Fast Forward with Jill Abramson and David Carr
October 21, 2014
October 21, 2014
Media watchers of all ages packed Boston University’s Tsai Performance Center for a conversation between New York Times journalist David Carr and former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, hosted by WBUR. (You can read WBUR’s recap of the event here; it will also be broadcast and available online shortly.)
Several SM&ers were in the audience for the event. We asked them to share their takeaways from the energetic conversation between these two media influencers.
Helene Solomon, CEO
Sometimes there is nothing more fun to watch than the media elite interviewing the media elite about the media. David Carr’s fireside chat at BU was just that. All that was missing was the wine for what felt more like a light cocktail conversation between old friends. How I wish I was a student again at COM to take classes with these two (although Jill is currently teaching across the river).
Abramson reminded us that no matter how new or fast the technology, the skills of listening, judgment, and restraint are still at the top of the reporter’s toolbox. What always strikes me about Jill is her laid back and common touch. She has achieved and endured almost more than any woman in journalism – reaching the pinnacle at the Times and the depths after being publicly fired. Just Jill from the ‘hood – Upper West Side gal, hanging out in Central Park – always with a timely take on the media revolution.
Ashley McCown, President
Helene and I first met Jill Abramson when she was Washington Bureau Chief for the New York Times. She co-hosted a reception for slain Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl. It was the first time Danny’s family spoke with the media and we helped them launch the foundation in his name.
We went to see Abramson shortly after she was named Executive Editor at the Times. Walking through the newsroom, it felt different from any newsroom I have ever been in. The import of what was being done was palpable. As it was in Jill’s office. She wore the mantle of Executive Editor with great seriousness and the willingness to make tough calls and not take crap from anyone.
And there she was last night, never shying away from the tough questions or allowing her dismissal from the Times to be sugarcoated. “I was fired,” she said. Let’s call it what it was. In every encounter with Jill, her love for finding and reporting the truth and telling a good story has its own energy. That was on full display last night as she talked about her new venture with Steve Brill. I can’t wait to read her first story.
Michal Regunberg, Senior Vice President:
Listening to David Carr, who is a very funny guy (who knew?), interview former Executive Editor of the Times brought my journalism days back to me in a rush. In the course of a very casual and candid conversation, there were some real gems from both. Here are a few quotes that stood out:
Carr asked himself, “Who’s doing a good job in journalism today?” His answer: “No one. Maybe God has a website.” Carr did however give a shout out to the Boston Globe, which he said he has been reading since taking on a visiting professorship at Boston University’s College of Communication.
Carr asked Abramson about the 24/7 news cycle and the coverage of Ebola. As a consumer of news, she said, she has found the coverage “disgraceful”. If there’s a panic, she asked, “Who has helped cause the panic?” She pointed the finger directly at the “ceaseless, ominous cable TV that stokes people’s fear.” There should be “proportionality” in the news, Abramson said. For example: “Now [healthcare.gov] is working and people are signing up – where is that story?”
I also thought their discussion of how quickly change can happen was right on. Abramson said – “We think change happens in an orderly way but change can happen so suddenly” – which prompted Carr to quote Apple founder Steve Jobs who once said: “Change comes very slowly and then all at once.”
Emcee Jeremy Hobson posed an audience question to Abramson: What’s the best advice she ever received as a journalist? Her answer was simple: “Shut up and listen.” Amen.
Amy Derjue, Senior Account Executive
Amidst a conversation heavy on the media landscape, the exchange that stood out most to me was one about handling a career setback. Carr and Abramson were discussing her departure from the Times. “When you were forced out of your job…” Carr began, but it wasn’t long before Abramson interjected.
“I GOT FIRED,” she replied forcefully. “Just say fired, geez.”
With her children in their late 20s and early 30s, Abramson pointed out that she couldn’t very well have relied on the trope of saying she was stepping down to spend time with her family after her ousting from the editor’s desk. As a professional who has been “let go” during my career, I admired that she wasn’t afraid to own her dismissal. Though I can’t help but wonder if it’s easier for a woman who’s reached the height of her industry to be so direct. Would it work as well for me, someone who’s further down the corporate ladder? Maybe I’ll give it a try. Abramson inspired me to lean into my failures, as they’ve led to greater success down the road.