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Last Tuesday morning, two brilliant female journalists commanded two of the world’s greatest newspapers. By Wednesday evening, they were both history. Natalie Nougayrede, overthrown by a senior staff revolt, left the editor’s chair at Le Monde. And Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, was quickly shoved out, too — sacked, brushed away, her name erased from the paper’s masthead with a ruthlessness Kim Jong Il might have envied.

What on earth went wrong so brutally swiftly? French anarchy as usual did for Nougayrede after a mere 14 months at the top. Le Monde, although the journalists don’t control its ownership any longer, still basically allows the editorial team to select (and thus, in logic, effectively deselect) an editor. Nougayrede wanted to change a lot of things on the design and digital front. But no dice, and no agreement. Staff moaned about her “Putinesque tendencies.” She went. Think self-indulgence and an unfit management structure.

Jill Abramson is a still more jolting case. The New York Times, in the words of her successor, Dean Baquet, likes to see itself as “the greatest news operation in history.” Automatically, therefore, this ought to be the greatest editorial upheaval in history as the first black editor supplants the first female one amid furious tales of sexual discrimination and pay inequality.

Well, perhaps . . . Abramson can be brusque and a bit chilly, apparently, while Baquet is warm and encouraging. There are strands of stereotyping here — though, blessedly, Putin doesn’t rate a mention.

What’s much more relevant is a big issue with swilling bad feelings attached. Arthur Sulzberger Jr is the dynasty man who runs the whole show, and has done since 1992. His son, another Arthur, is a journalist with The Times as well as successor-in-waiting. Last summer, Arthur Junior-Junior was asked to look at how The Times was doing digitally. With $150 million a year in digital subscriptions, you’d say not badly: the paywall Abramson has helped cement over her years — with eight Pulitzers along the way — is a bit of triumph.

Good, but not good enough, though, was the verdict delivered this month. The old Gray Lady needed to move further and faster. And Abramson agreed. She moved to hire Janine Gibson, launch editor of Guardian U.S. quoted approvingly in Junior-Junior’s report as Baquet’s co-equal (though Janine said no). At which point, in a melee of conflicting chat about who knew what and who hit the roof-cum-fan, Sulzberger and his right-hand manager, Mark Thompson from the BBC, had to choose. They chose the emollient Baquet and shoveled Abramson into the street.

Three things matter for now. One is the hapless panic in the Sulzberger management suite. A liberal, caring-sharing paper? George Entwistle at the BBC was treated better than Jill (after 17 years of high service). Another is the weakening of Sulzberger’s own position. He chose Abramson, just as he chose a whole load of other leading lights who have had to be dumped. He looks fallible and vulnerable.

But — number three — back to that incendiary report. You can easily say The New York Times is doing OK, making money, seeing ad revenue recover a little, thinking of milking that newfound subscription base to keep shareholders happy. But Junior-Junior was right to be anxious, too. Look at the paper’s autonomous opinion section: 18 people employed to write editorials that make a tiny impact on the social media scene. Five regular Op-Ed columnists who don’t use Twitter. And now a new executive editor whose tweet rating is precisely nil.

Back to the future? No one, from Paris to Manhattan, can stop powerful people from falling out. But it helps a great deal if you can be right about what comes next.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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