New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson spoke at SXSW in Austin, Tex. yesterday, further proof of her tolerance for meta-media spectacles previously hinted at by appearances at the World Economic Forum in Davos and the Iowa caucuses.
Ms. Abramson, well within her area of expertise, appeared in a conversation about “The Future of the New York Times” with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith.
Less than a year after her predecessor, Bill Keller, wondered aloud in the Times magazine if Twitter was making us stupid, Ms. Abramson said that the real question was whether or not to break news on Twitter without a story to link to. Some of her political reporters wanted to “issue an edict” against it, but she’s not ideological about it. She’d seen on the campaign trail that Twitter was a “revolution” for news gathering.
(Not that you have to tell us. The Observer curated—or is it aggregated?—all the information in this post from the safety of New York, using SXSW-goers manic Tweets and Poynter editor Steve Myers’s liveblog. Is there a symbol for that?)
Pressed on that front—the difference between her and Mr. Keller—she said, “He reads poetry on the subway, I’m reading my horoscope in the Post on the subway.” (Ms. Abramson is a Pisces.)
The functional difference, of course, is the 6-month digital sabbatical Ms. Abramson took before taking his post, which she described to Mr. Smith. A “scary and hopeful” time, she learned she had a lot to learn but was comforted by the fact that new media tools advance old school work like investigative reporting. Longform investigations are among the Times most popular online articles, she said.
The rest of Austin was gossiping about CNN’s rumored acquisition of Mashable, but Ms. Abramson praised the Times’s internal development team, including Andrew DeVigal and Aron Pilhofer.
Not that they get it totally right all the time.
For example, Clara Jeffery, editor of Mother Jones, asked why the Times has the irksome habit of never linking out.
Ms. Abramson said there’s no policy against it, and there will be more of it in the future.
While Times tech and media reporters Jenna Wortham and Brian Stelter Instagrammed on the newspaper’s official SXSW Tumblr (Ms. Wortham packed a glittery vest! Mr. Stelter flew in to Dallas to save money!), Mr. Smith asked Ms. Abramson if the Times, once upon a time, wouldn’t have frowned upon strong individual reporter brands, “the David Carr-ification of the New York Times.”
Ms. Abramson said the relationship was symbiotic: Mr. Carr benefits from the institutional clout as much as the Times benefits from the Page One star’s wattage.
“No one is going to convince me otherwise,” she said.
Although Ms. Abramson’s appearance was undeniably good diplomacy toward the powerful tech leaders to which media companies now find themselves beholden, keeping pace with SXSW’s rapid-fire self-documentation is easier said than done.
Ms. Abramson herself hasn’t tweeted since December.
“I don’t pretend that I know everything but it’s been exciting and very eye-opening and great listening time for me here,” Ms. Abramson told Forbes‘s Jeff Berovici before the panel.
In the video below, Ms. Abramson dressed in a leather blazer, told him she was spending her first SXSW trip meeting individually with people from Twitter and Apple, going to some sessions, and, hopefully, seeing some music. Mr. Bercovici asked which acts she was hoping to catch.
“One of the concerts that I’m hoping to go to tonight may get packed so I have to keep mum about it,” she demurred.
“You’re going to Jay-Z,” he said. “Say ‘Hi’ to him for me.”
“I’ll send him your love,” she replied.
Later that night, Jay-Z sent his love to Ms. Abramson and The New York Times, as well as The New Yorker, New York magazine, and The New York Post, whose logos flashed when he performed “Empire State of Mind” in miniature tribute to his hometown media, according to the Times’ Lexi Mainland.
The Observer wasn’t there to take take it personally.