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Former New York Times executive editor visits Kepler's Books for radio interview

Jill Abramson discusses future of news, plagiarism allegations

Radio host Angie Coiro (left) interviews Jill Abramson, former executive editor of the New York Times and author of the new book "Merchants of Truth," at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park on Wednesday, Feb. 27. (Photo by Kate Bradshaw.)

A large audience turned out at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park on Feb. 27 to listen to Angie Coiro, who runs the radio program "In Deep with Angie Coiro," interview former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson.

Abramson was executive editor from 2011 to 2014, according to her bio on the New York Times website. Before that, she was managing editor there from 2003 to 2011, and the first woman to be chief of the publication's Washington bureau, a title she held from 2000 to 2003. She previously worked at the Wall Street Journal.

Coiro wasted no time in jumping into the big question: What is Abramson's response to the plagiarism allegations she faces in her new book, "Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts"?

On Feb. 6, Michael Moynihan, a correspondent on Vice News Tonight, pointed via Twitter to several spots in the book where Abramson appeared to have paraphrased from various sources without -- or without correctly -- attributing the source. She told Coiro some of these passages had been attributed in the footnotes of her book, while two of them were "bad screw-ups" and have been corrected in the e-book version.

In a written statement responding to plagiarism allegations published in the Washington Post Feb. 7, she said, "The notes don’t match up with the right pages in a few cases and this was unintentional and will be promptly corrected. The language is too close in some cases and should have been cited as quotations in the text. This, too, will be fixed."

The book, as described by Abramson and Coiro, tells the stories of four publications: the Washington Post, the New York Times, Vice and Buzzfeed. Abramson uses the publications as case studies, observing how the long-standing newspapers have addressed the challenges they've faced adjusting to the digital age, and how the digital-first publications have tackled the challenges they've faced in developing their news departments.

Abramson and Coiro also talked about Abramson's journalism work and insights more broadly. Abramson shared a story about deciding with New York Times Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. to publish an October 2012 story by David Barboza about the family finances of China’s outgoing premier, Wen Jiabao, after being warned that doing so would have serious consequences. The New York Times has been blocked in China ever since.

In response to a question about best practices for financial stability that local papers could pick up from publications like the New York Times and Washington Post, Abramson said she's not optimistic for the future of local and regional newspapers. Advertising revenues across news publications are shrinking, and at the big publications she profiles, she said, readers have helped to fill in that gap by providing revenue from subscriptions. She said subscription rates have benefited from a "Trump bump" during and after the election of President Trump, in response to interest in news coverage about him and because of his anti-media rhetoric.

"He was a ratings bonanza and still is," she explained.

However, when it comes to local and regional publications, many have already had to cut so much that they are not considered "essential" to the communities they serve anymore, she explained. Investigative reporting, she added, is very costly and few publications have the resources to devote to it.

The full interview will be available online here.

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