Post Abramson, women in journalism push for pay transparency

A firing leads to an industry discussion

Part of what reportedly led to Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor of The New York Times, being fired on Wednesday was her push for pay parity. According to The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta, whose reporting on her ouster is fast becoming the definitive account:

As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000. She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes. She also learned that her salary as Washington bureau chief, from 2000 to 2003, was a hundred thousand dollars less than that of her successor in that position, Phil Taubman.

Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has disputed that Abramson was paid less than her peers in a carefully and vaguely worded statement. Whatever the spin-less truth of the matter, Abramson’s unceremonious firing has spurred a soul-searching discussion of pay disparities among women in journalism, both in organized forums and informally.

Those discrepancies are real and enduring. According to Pew, women journalists make 17 percent less than their male counterparts, a margin that has narrowed somewhat in the past few decades, but nonetheless persists—partly because it’s hard to gauge what salaries should be when nobody talks about them.

“People are often embarrassed by money questions,” said an entry on an off-the-record feminist e-list yesterday, launching a thread where streams of members are volunteering income information. (I’m quoting it with the poster’s permission.) “The only people we’re protecting by keeping this information secret are those who would exploit us.”

This is a more personal discussion than related analyses of the “glass cliff” phenomenon, which says that women are more likely to be hired into a messy situation, thereby stacking the odds of succeeding in the role against them. Most female journalists won’t ascend to the top of a media powerhouse (nor will most male ones, for that matter). But it’s possible they are, right this moment, being paid less than their male colleagues. And one takeaway from Abramson’s departure now is: Asking for a raise can be a factor in losing your job. I haven’t seen such an inflamed discussion on media-world payment since that epic March 2013 Branch conversation on paying freelance writers.

Some BuzzFeed staffers noticed the discussion too and quietly circulated an email asking men and women with full-time journalism jobs to anonymously submit their salary and job-type, the goal being, according to senior editor Jessica Misener, to compile “a quick snapshot of current media salaries from our peers.” They’ve gotten 900 responses so far, and a piece is in the works.

“New law school graduates can easily figure out what they should expect to make in their first year at a firm, but what should a 24-year-old associate Web and social media editor in NYC expect to be making?” Misener emailed. “Many of us are quietly wondering if we’re being paid a proper salary in relation to our peers.”

Update: That BuzzFeed story can be found here.

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Kira Goldenberg was an associate editor at CJR from 2012-2015. Follow her on Twitter at @kiragoldenberg. Tags: , ,