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Jill Abramson talks writing at Harvard

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 16: Jill Abramson, first woman to serve as Washington bureau chief, managing editor and executive editor of The New York Times speaks at 2014 Pennsylvania Conference For Women at Philadelphia Convention Center on October 16, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Pennsylvania Conference for Women)

Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Pennsylvania Conference for Women

Jill Abramson spoke at 2014 Pennsylvania Conference For Women at Philadelphia Convention Center on October 16, 2014.

Since taking a teaching job at Harvard, Jill Abramson has kept a low profile. The former editor of The New York Times (inset) made a little news when she announced, during a recent talk at BU with her ex-colleague David Carr, that she’s working on a startup with Steven Brill. Otherwise, Abramson’s been leading the quiet life of an academic. But Tuesday, she and fellow professor Steven Pinker, the celebrated psychologist-linguist with the rock-star hair, spoke at Harvard’s “Writers at Work” series, and drew a large crowd despite the deluge outside. Pinker, wearing a dark suit and black cowboy boots, began with a 20-minute talk that felt like a tutorial. Abramson, perhaps because she doesn’t — or at least didn’t — lecture for a living, was more conversational. She said she’s been generally impressed with the quality of writing turned in by her students, but “I still cross out my share of cliches.” In her Introduction to Journalism class — the inaugural class at Harvard with the word “journalism” in the title, she said — the first reading assignment wasn’t even journalism. It was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Winter Dream.” If Abramson has one word of advice for young journalists, it would be: clarity. Quoting Al Hunt, her onetime editor at the Wall Street Journal, Abramson said, “I don’t want you to build me a clock. Just tell me what time it is.”

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