Fired 'Times' editor Jill Abramson: I'm in 'same boat' as college grads

Jill Abramson, former executive editor at the New York Times speaks during commencement ceremonies for Wake Forest University on May 19, 2014 in Winston Salem, N.C.
Jill Abramson, former executive editor at the New York Times speaks during commencement ceremonies for Wake Forest University on May 19, 2014 in Winston Salem, N.C.

Jill Abramson has a lot in common with today’s college grads: She’s out of a job, and doesn't know when she’ll get a new one.

The recently fired executive editor of The New York Times delivered her first public remarks since her abrupt ouster on Monday morning when she delivered a keynote address, which focused on resiliency, to the graduating class of Wake Forest University.

“What’s next for me? I don’t know. So I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you,” Abramson joked at the North Carolina school.

The first female executive editor of the paper’s history added that losing a job she loves “hurts” but she’s excited for the next chapter in her life. Journalism, she said, would remain very much a part of her life.

To the surprise of many, Abramson, 60, was dismissed from the paper last Wednesday. Questions about her management style, compensation and whether or not she was treated differently because she was a woman were raised. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the Times’ chairman said over the weekend that the firing was over her management style and not a result of gender discrimination. Managing editor Dean Baquet will replace Abramson and will be the newspaper's first African-American executive editor.

“We had an issue with management in the newsroom. And that’s what’s at the heart of the issue,” said Sulzberger.

Abramson did bring up gender discrimination during her address, acknowledging several women who have dealt with the issue with strength, including the late Katharine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post who oversaw the paper’s Watergate coverage in addition to Anita Hill, the woman who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991. Abramson said Hill wrote to her after the firing saying she was “proud of me.”

Abramson, who has worked for the paper for 17 years, revealed that she would not get rid of her famed tattoo of the Times’ “T” logo on her back. “Not a chance!” she told the 1,900 graduates.

She also offered some parting advice, telling the students that while they have experienced success by virtue of graduating, failure is also part of life. Abramson quoted her father and will perhaps take a page out of his playbook: “When that happens, show what you are made of,” she said.