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The New Republic Hosts Media Panel

New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson and HBO ceo Richard Pepler discussed “the unexpected future of media.”

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AVOIDING THE SUBJECT: Two hours after the deadline passed for New York Times editors to step up for the buyouts sought by management, executive editor Jill Abramson appeared at a panel convened by The New Republic to ponder “the unexpected future of media.”

The elephant in the room was the speculation about layoffs at the Times to compensate for the downturn in advertising revenue. Then there was the loss of institutional knowledge and memory following the exodus of nine veteran editors, including assistant managing editors Jim Roberts and John Geddes, who took the buyouts.

The New Republic editor and moderator for the panel Frank Foer did not ask about the possible layoffs, and Abramson did not bring it up. Afterward, she avoided questions from a reporter. Abramson’s co-panelist was HBO chief executive officer Richard Pepler.

Abramson instead presented a strong defense of the Times’ strategy to charge for its journalism online. “Digitally, what we’ve found is that if your content is a unique, high-quality mix of news, and it’s intelligently presented and beautifully displayed in a way that honors the intelligence of our readers, we could ask our readers to pay,” she said. “That was two years ago, and everyone said, ‘You’ll never get anyone to pay. The news has to be free.’ We challenged that and proved a lot of people wrong.”

In September, the Times said it had 566,000 paid digital subscribers, exceeding early expectations. Still, the advertising losses — down 9 percent in the third quarter — pushed the paper to seek buyouts, and if Abramson doesn’t get 30 from non-Guild staffers, mainly, editors, she has said she’ll seek layoffs. By Friday, there were 20 buyouts, according to Politico. The Times declined comment Friday.

Abramson said the Times is also working to diversify its offerings to readers. “There are a couple of things we’re looking at expanding, like expanding coverage around certain individual people,” she said, without elaborating, though it seemed like a reference to Times star blogger Nate Silver.

Pepler and Abramson might not seem like the most natural coupling, but the two media companies have a long-standing relationship. HBO has brought to the small screen adaptations of several books written by Times reporters, most recently, “Too Big To Fail” by Andrew Ross Sorkin, and is currently working on “The Wizard of Lies” by Diana B. Henriques.

The panel, sponsored by Pfizer, came as The New Republic, under new owner Chris Hughes, was preparing to debut the redesign of its print magazine and Web site, now under creative director Dirk Barnett, on Monday. For the issue, the magazine landed an interview with Barack Obama conducted by Hughes and Foer.