Respected alumnus brings vital approach to role at The New York Times

January 14, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — He looks quiet and unassuming, but looks are deceiving and Mike Abrams’ low-key demeanor belies his level of accomplishment and responsibility — and the respect he has earned across his world-renown company.

Abrams, who has been with The New York Times since 2004, was named the organization’s director of journalism practices and principles in November. In that role, the longtime editor helps develop the Times’ stylebook, plays a big role in recruiting editing candidates (as he has for years) and, most importantly, guides some internal operations, especially how the Times “communicates across the company about our journalism.”

Abrams brings together stakeholders with different perspectives and responsibilities every day to help ensure the Times’ success on all its platforms.

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“It’s not just the old system where it’s journalists alone in the newsroom. Now, because of the way we collaborate and the ways we innovate, you’re finding more nonjournalists working side by side with journalists,” Abrams said. “We have digital designers for visual products and engineers for how people login and access their subscriptions.

“The engineering, project development, project augmentation — all of those elements — are coming together and all of those people have different backgrounds. So, there can be a lack of communication or misunderstanding. What we’re trying to do is protect our journalism mission and ensure everyone is on the same page.”

"Now, because of the way we collaborate and the ways we innovate, you’re finding more nonjournalists working side by side with journalists. ... What we’re trying to do is protect our journalism mission and ensure everyone is on the same page.”

— Penn State alumnus Mike Abrams, 1994, director of journalism practices and principles, The New York Times

It’s neither an easy job, nor a simple one, but it’s one seemingly well suited for Abrams, who brings a calm, level-headed approach to his work.

Abrams, a State College native who earned his bachelor’s degree from Penn State in 1994 and served as editor of The Daily Collegian as an undergraduate, found journalism as a calling when he arrived on campus. He started his career as a general assignment reporter in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and worked in Pennsylvania and Virginia before joining the Times in 2004.

He’s humble regarding his latest career move and the accompanying title, but also refreshingly pragmatic. “I think it probably sounds more important than it is — although I do think there’s a lot of important work to be done,” he said.

The Times’ nearly 5,000 employees (about 1,700 of whom are journalists in the newsroom) serve more than 7 million subscribers all over the world. In recent years, subscriptions to Times’ offerings have reached record levels. People value quality journalism, and Abrams does a lot to ensure consistency and quality in his role.

In recent months, like anyone in almost any industry, that has meant embracing technology. “It has made it easier in some regards, but it’s made it hard because something that could take five minutes in a hallway might require Zoom, Google Hangout meetings and Slack discussions.”

Still, Abrams believes the Times has adapted well. “In many ways we have gotten better — from live coverage of the virus and politics to reporters writing one paragraph at a time as they work on a Hangout with colleagues in a way that approximates working in person in real time,” he said.

Accuracy remains the standard by which Abrams measures journalistic success, and his persistent, list-making approach helps him succeed in an important role. He said he’s “both optimistic and pessimistic” about the future of journalism — encouraged by more access through a seemingly ever-growing array of outlets and simultaneously worried about the value of facts.

 “The founding of our country was built on a strong press. It’s part of how our country should operate is holding power to account, chronicling things that are interesting to people, describing the world, helping us make sense of the things around us,” Abrams said.

Last Updated January 19, 2021