Jill Abramson: ‘I can now speak my mind; it’s very liberating’

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David Carr talked with Jill Abramson at a WBUR event last night. I’m listening to the conversation now and posting excerpts.

On the Ebola coverage

Jill Abramson: It’s been, I think, disgraceful in many respects. I have to roll my eyes when, like today, I’m reading all these stories about “the panic.” Well, who helped cause the panic? I mean, please!

David Carr: When you say that, are you saying there is an overreaction, or there should be an overreaction?

JA: No, there is an overreaction.

DC: But people are scared.

JA: People are scared in part because of the ceaseless, ominous cable and other coverage, which stokes their fears. Two people are sick and one person has died. That’s what’s happened – in the United States. Obviously I’m not talking about coverage of the disease in West Africa. ….I’m talking about the coverage about, IT’S COMING HERE!

Our unreliable government

DC: We’ve come to believe that our government doesn’t know what it’s doing almost never, and we don’t trust them – we don’t trust them to handle it. The president has a really bold grand plan to insure everybody and the thing rolls out and … it doesn’t work./CONTINUES

JA: Yeah, and now the computers are working and lots of people are signing up, and where’s all the big coverage of that story?

[Smattering of applause]

JA: See, I can now speak my mind. It’s very liberating.

On teaching

DC: Is it fun to be back in the classroom?

JA: Totally fun. But I went to Harvard as an undergraduate, and as silly as this is going to sound, sometimes I’m walking around the campus and I’m not sure if I’m 20 or 60. I mean, I know I’m 60, but inside my head I can just feel exactly the way I did when I was agonizing over whether to remain a Medieval History and Literature major.

DC: How did that turn out?

JA: I switched.

DC: And the world benefited, clearly.

DC: I’m always, when I’m campus – any campus – I’m terrified someobody’s going to jump out and say – because it took me seven years to get out of college — that they’re going to say, “You know what? There’s a hold on your transcript. you never graduated.”

Today’s students

DC: The thing that has been stunning to me is the level of seriousness that my students are bringing to the work at hand. There’s a lot to worry about in the world – maybe some of it overhyped – but I think worrying about this next generation is waste of time. I think they’ve got it going on. [Carr teaches journalism at Boston University.]

NYT & BuzzFeed

DC: During your tenure, BuzzFeed starting up, right? –

JA: Well, as you recall, people at the Times were a little grumbly when I decided at the 2012 convention that we would do a joint project with BuzzFeed to livestream the convention, people were like, WHAT? THE NEW YORK TIMES IS GOING TO…?!

On Ben Bradlee

A sad thing while you and I are meeting here is that Ben Bradlee is so very ill and near death, and he in my book is the most consequential editor of my lifetime. …I think he made the Washington Post into an incredibly interesting and electric national publication of consequence. …I think he got such a kick out of being the editor of the Post, and made it fun for everybody.

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