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Jill Abramson Becomes New York Times' First Female Top Editor

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In an unexpected move, The New York Times announced this morning that Bill Keller, executive editor since 2003, would be stepping down to write full-time, and will be replaced in September by longtime deputy Jill Abramson.

I tend not to blog much here about personnel changes in print journalism—those being of interest mainly to, well, print journalists—but it’s noteworthy that Abramson will be the paper’s first female chief in its 160 years of existence. As much as print writers like me talk about diversity in TV news (or late-night TV comedy), the fact is that at least CBS had Katie Couric and ABC has Diane Sawyer. Women have achieved a lot of power in print—see Tina Brown at TIME competitor Newsweek—but it still means something for a woman to be in charge of the country’s most influential paper. (And in fairness, a woman editor does not and has not headed up TIME.)

Abramson’s rise has to mean a lot to women who work in journalism (and to anyone who works at the New York Times). I’m not certain that it will mean much in the short term to readers of the Times, seeing as how she’s been a power at the Times for quite a while, and an influential deputy of Keller’s. (Followers of the Scooter Libby trial may recall her being called to the stand briefly to rebut testimony of Judith Miller, the Times reporter who had filed notorious stories supporting the case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.) Her managerial and editorial style is described as more aggressive than Keller’s, but again, we’ll see if that affects content much, considering that she was already a prime force in the paper’s news coverage.

At a minimum, though, her promotion is a further step toward equality in the upper levels of newsrooms—and toward the day when a story like this will be just another print-journalism personnel story.

[Update: By the way, one announcement tidbit related neither to gender nor inside baseball—Abramson is quoted in her own newspaper’s story as saying that “In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion.” Over/under on how soon Fox News picks that up?]