More than a week after the release of her book, Jill Abramson continues to weather accusations of plagiarism over passages that closely resemble those found in articles published years prior. The book, “Merchants of Truth,” chronicles how media companies old and new are grappling with the digital age.
“I was up all night going through my book because I take these claims of plagiarism so seriously,” Abramson, the former executive editor of The New York Times, said in a statement following the controversy.
“The language is too close in some cases and should have been cited as quotations in the text,” she added, vowing to fix what she described as errors.
Addressing the larger question of her credibility, Abramson told Yahoo Finance reporter Melody Hahm she has to “work to win back some trust.”
Hours before the controversy erupted, Abramson spoke with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer for an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment. She described how Facebook and Google are hurting digital media companies, what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has done well in his leadership of the Washington Post and how President Donald Trump has helped, not hurt mainstream news.
At 22 years old, Abramson covered the 1976 presidential election for Time Magazine. She went on to spend decades as a Washington D.C.-based editor for the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. After climbing the ranks at the Times, Abramson became the first woman to run the paper, a post she held from 2011 to 2014.
Serwer requested a follow-up interview with Abramson to discuss the plagiarism allegations, which she declined.
Facebook, Google are ‘starving’ media companies
Facebook and Google are “starving” digital media companies, says Abramson, citing the struggles of outlets like BuzzFeed and Vice. Layoffs have befallen hundreds of journalists at both companies in recent weeks.
Abramson criticized Facebook and Google for “eating up every bit of digital advertising” and failing to “share the wealth” with outlets that provide valuable content. The two tech giants make up about 58% of the online advertising market.
She said the “dominance and hugeness of social media” helped upstart digital outlets build audience, but has since become a central cause of their financial stress.
In light of the industry’s shrunken revenue, Abramson says wealthy owners or parent companies may be necessary to support some media companies but “there isn't one business model that is going to be right for every news organization.”
Jeff Bezos has enabled the Washington Post ‘to make a comeback’
Abramson called Bezos a “benevolent billionaire” in his leadership of the Washington Post.
“He has really fulfilled his promise...to provide the runway, not a completely open wallet, for them to make a big comeback. And they have,” she said.
Abramson downplayed the negative effects of what some consider a more fundamental threat to the mainstream press: President Trump. She acknowledged that Trump is “challenging all the norms of journalism” but said the assault has driven readers to legacy outlets like The New York Times.
“His rants about fake news and enemies of the people... his base loves that,” she said. “But I think it has encouraged a lot of informed readers to feel, with Facebook and fake news and whatnot, that it's best to return to trusted news organizations that have a great record of accuracy and reliability.”
As for how outlets should cover Trump’s misstatements, Abramson says, “I am comfortable calling lies, when then they are lies, ‘lies,’” she said. But, she added, “There are many editors who don’t want to use that word.”
After the Trump presidency, what will happen to the media industry and its audience bump? “That’s the $100,000 question,” Abramson says.
“I'm hoping against hope that the idea that you need to be informed, and know facts, and what is true will survive beyond a president who is always telling untruths and challenging facts,” she says.
Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance.