Tag Archives: Women in journalism

It’s commencement season, and this was my message: “LEAD your own life.”

 

(This is a slightly edited version of the address I had the honor of delivering at North Carolina’s St. Andrews University.)

 

Good morning.

I want to thank President Baldasare for having me here today.

I want to add my thanks, too, to the faculty and administration of this wonderful university, who have made the fine education that we celebrate today possible. I want to salute the parents and grandparents, the brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins and dear friends who are here to witness this momentous occasion. And, finally, the most important thing I have to say:

CONGRATULATIONS to all you freshly minted graduates of St. Andrews University! Hooray!!! Job well done! You’ve done so much hard work to get to the place where you sit today.

This is a very moving moment for me. I find myself these days in the midst of milestones: our younger daughter got married two weeks ago today. We will be celebrating my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday next month, in Charlotte. And our older daughter is due to deliver our first grandchild in July.

Equally moving to me is this: I am here, on this beautiful campus, where both of my parents taught. I got to party last night with friends I first made half a

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century ago, friends with whom I graduated from Laurinburg High School. On this campus, my brother taught me to drive a stick shift, bucking around the parking lot that was then behind the Vardell Building. And it was in that building, by the way, that I took piano lessons. (I became a pretty good driver, but not much of a pianist.)

So, this is a very powerful place for me. And today is a very powerful moment. I was deeply honored to be invited to give your commencement address, and I wanted very much to find something real and meaningful to say to you. So, amidst all these milestones, I’ve been thinking a lot about life, and how it is shaped, and what shapes it. And that’s what I want to talk to you about: The role you play in shaping your life.

In other words, I want to talk to you about LEADING your life. You know, much of the time, life leads YOU. And this is truer now than ever. My field, journalism, has surely shown me that. The constant wealth of information available, whenever and wherever you are, is an addictive distraction. Virtually every field is like journalism, in that change is coming unbelievably quickly – technological change, social change. All our lives, now, are affected by fast-paced change, happening constantly all around us.

It’s easy to get carried along in the rapids.

Continue reading It’s commencement season, and this was my message: “LEAD your own life.”

Abramson and Sulzberger: The Two Who Couldn’t Tango

The reasons for Jill Abramson’s firing as editor of The New York Times are no doubt many and complex. But one thing is clear: the editor-publisher relationship failed, spectacularly.

This classic journalistic partnership, when it works, is like a good marriage. Full of successes and challenges, warmth and tension, it requires constant open communication and full-hearted dedication on the part of both parties. Also loyalty. A good editor ensures that the publisher is never blindsided.  A good publisher ensures sufficient editorial independence to do good journalism. And a newsroom relies on believing that the two have confidence in one another.  The successful combinations are legendary: Punch and Abe, Katharine and Ben. (I learned how essential this partnership is when I was fortunate enough, as editor of the Des Moines Register, to work with publisher Charlie Edwards.)

What happened in this case, according to the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., is that his editor, Abramson, had to leave because of her management style. But, really: Editors are famed for being difficult.  Every journalist has stories about newsroom leaders throwing fits – or, better, potted plants. Hot tempers, arrogance, polarization:  these have practically been job requirements for editors.  I’m not saying this is a good thing.  I’m saying that it’s striking that we’d become sensitive to the unpleasantness only when a woman makes it to the top.

Actually, though, there IS cause for newsrooms to be even unhappier today than usual.  They are being made to change (though not quickly enough), and change is difficult. So, if it has always been true that newsrooms were fertile ground for anyone seeking anonymous gripes, it is even truer now. Indeed, my word to wise publishers would be to be wary today of the universally loved editor.  He’s probably not doing what you need him to do.

Of course, the editor does have a managerial responsibility to the publisher: To ensure that the staff is doing good work.  In this, Abramson seems to have succeeded. Her “management style” became a firing offense only because the editor-publisher relationship was broken.

Continue reading Abramson and Sulzberger: The Two Who Couldn’t Tango