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WBUR Presents: 'Fast Forward: David Carr Talks With Jill Abramson'

Jill Abramson: "I felt that I had devoted my career to telling the truth, and the truth was that I was fired, so it just seemed -- what else? I wasn't going to -- my kids are 31 and 29. I wasn't going to say, 'I've decided to step down to spend more time with my family.'" Pictured: Jill Abramson and David Carr at Boston University's Tsai Performance Center, October 20, 2014. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Jill Abramson: "I felt that I had devoted my career to telling the truth, and the truth was that I was fired, so it just seemed -- what else? I wasn't going to -- my kids are 31 and 29. I wasn't going to say, 'I've decided to step down to spend more time with my family.'" Pictured: Jill Abramson and David Carr at Boston University's Tsai Performance Center, October 20, 2014. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
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A note from the editors: On Monday, Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times, and David Carr, culture reporter and columnist for that paper, spoke with Here & Now co-host Jeremy Hobson about journalism, competition, the new media landscape and more. What follows are highlights from their conversation.

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On Abramson's Firing from The New York Times

David Carr: So, I already was an admirer of yours, and when you got pushed out of your job...

I know you got run over by a truck and kept moving and then got up and ran a newspaper, but your willingness to kind of tilt into that, own it and keep moving. Is that just a decision you made, or that's who you are?

Jill Abramson: Just say fired.

DC: Thank you.

JA: I was fired.

DC: When you were fired out of your job. I just thought there was a rule that you would smile and wear beige and never use that word that you just used rather declaratively. I mean, people talk about leaning in to this and that, but that's a pile of crap right there. That's a big hatchet — and I know you got run over by a truck and kept moving and then got up and ran a newspaper, but your willingness to kind of tilt into that, own it and keep moving. Is that just a decision you made, or that's who you are?

JA: It's partly who I am, but I felt that I had devoted my career to telling the truth, and the truth was that I was fired, so it just seemed — what else? I wasn't going to — my kids are 31 and 29. I wasn't going to say, 'I've decided to step down to spend more time with my family.'

DC: Everybody dreams about sort of — I'm going to step off the hobbit wheel for a second and what'll it be like. But then you worry, what if the bell rings and I totally freak out and I'm not ready? I'm not in the thick of it? Any of that?

JA: Is the question: Have I freaked out?

DC: No. The question is: When news heats up and you don't have a --

JA: I miss it, sure.

DC: What parts?

JA: Well, I still read just as I always did. I see big stories that jump out at me that are not being covered. I mean, the chase first and foremost. I mean, I love big news stories. I don't feel like, gee, I wish I was running Ebola coverage. I don't. That should be obvious. But there are certain things — that I don't want to say what they are — 'cause I'm actually thinking about getting back into some writing and reporting.


On Ebola Coverage

JA: I heard you were asked a question just a few minutes ago about what your reaction to the media coverage of Ebola has been. And just now, as I am a consumer of the news and a teacher of journalism, but it's been disgraceful, I think, in many respects. I have to roll my eyes when today I'm reading all these stories about 'The Panic.' Well, who helped cause the panic? I mean, please!

I do think that round-the-clock cable TV coverage of this with ominous music in the background has certainly helped contribute to unnecessary panic.

DC: When you say that, are you saying that there is an overreaction, or there should be an overreaction?

JA: No. There is an overreaction.

DC: But people are scared.

JA: People are scared in part because of the ceaseless ominous cable TV and other coverage which stokes all their fears. Two people are sick and one person has died. That's what happened in the United States. Obviously, I am not talking about coverage of the disease in West Africa. That is a very serious, tragic epidemic that is shredding many lives in Liberia, Sierra Leone and elsewhere. But I'm talking about the coverage about, 'It's Coming Here.' Come on — you didn't give a straight answer to that question.

DC: The thing is, it's falling in to a media milieu when there is not Ebola, it's like, 'Next up: Your couch can kill you...here's how!' And now there is an actual menace, so what you're saying is not actually a menace per se.

JA: I'm not saying it couldn't become one. I'm just saying we're not talking about proportionality, which I think is important about how things are covered. It's just out of whack right now...I do think that round-the-clock cable TV coverage of this with ominous music in the background has certainly helped contribute to unnecessary panic.


On Competition

Jeremy Hobson: At The New York Times, and I'll throw this to either one of you, who are the main competitors? Who do you think about in the media landscape as your main competitors at the times?

I had ceased to think of my competition as other newsrooms or other new organizations. Competition came from everywhere.

JA: Well, by the end of my time at The Times, any big story that was getting a lot of attention and a lot of length and a lot of pick up on social media — I don't mean every stray piece of Kim Kardashian news, but stories of consequence that hit, I would know about, and that was my competition. I had ceased to think of my competition as other newsrooms or other new organizations. Competition came from everywhere.

DC: If you have news, anyone will point at you if it is real news. If it's an NFL player beating up his girlfriend, nobody says, 'Well, that was on TMZ.' They don't say that anymore. They just run as fast as they can, 'cause they see TMZ had the original document. I do think the playing field is leveled to the point where, on cultural matters, we hear from Vulture and New York Magazine. We can on certain political stories, maybe the trouble will come from Politico, but maybe it's Buzzfeed — you never know. I have been beaten on the media beat by Gawker — just clobbered. They can move quicker and so much faster, and the whole thing about 'they were first and we'll be better' — well, sometimes, you only get one crack at the consumer, and then it's old news. For a while, we used to make a living on step backs, but I don't think that works anymore.


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