Telegraph’s Winnett Pulls Out of Washington Post Editor Role

(Bloomberg) -- Robert Winnett, who was slated to become the next editor of the Washington Post, will not be taking up the position after media reports emerged about his involvement in ethically questionable journalistic practices in the UK.

Most Read from Bloomberg

Winnett will continue in his role as deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, according to statements from both publications. The Post will immediately launch a search for a new editor, it said. Matt Murray will remain in his executive editor role until after the US presidential election in November.

“It is with regret that I share with you that Robert Winnett has withdrawn from the position of editor at The Washington Post,” William Lewis, the Post’s chief executive officer and publisher said in a statement Friday morning. “Rob has my greatest respect and is an incredibly talented editor and journalist.”

Winnett’s withdrawal comes amid a turbulent time at the Washington Post, one of the most prominent and prestigious newspapers in the US. Lewis tapped Winnett just under three weeks ago as part of a major newsroom reorganization. The two had worked together at the Sunday Times in the early 2000s and Lewis had hired Winnett in 2007 as a senior reporter for the Daily Telegraph, where he was then editor.

The Post’s Executive Editor, Sally Buzbee, abruptly stepped down on June 2 after clashing with Lewis over his plans to overhaul the business into three sections, effectively sidelining her into a new division focused on “service and social media journalism.”

But tensions between Buzbee and Lewis had already been brewing for weeks over planned coverage of a judge’s ruling in a phone-hacking lawsuit in the UK that would have named Lewis, the New York Times reported. The Times and Washington Post have reported extensively in recent weeks on both men’s alleged involvement in using fraudulently obtained phone and company records in newspaper articles at the Sunday Times, including paying sources for information, practices that are not allowed at most major US publications.

“I’m pleased to report that Rob Winnett has decided to stay with us,” Chris Evans, editor of the Daily Telegraph, said in an email to staff. “As you all know, he’s a talented chap and their loss is our gain.”

Jeff Bezos, the Inc. founder, bought the Post eleven years ago for $250 million at a time when the paper was desperately in need of financial support after suffering a 44% drop in revenue over the preceding six years. Under his ownership, Bezos helped the Post become a profitable business in 2016, and for the succeeding two years, according to CNN. He also expanded the newspaper’s reach, taking it from a local print paper to a global digital brand, hiring hundreds of journalists along the way. But even Bezos couldn’t shield the Post from the forces of the internet, and the shift in advertising, on the media business.

Bezos appointed Lewis publisher and CEO last November with a mandate to reinvigorate the Post again, which has been wrestling with steep readership declines and a $77 million annual deficit.

On Tuesday, Bezos sent an email to staff at the Post, confirming his commitment to journalistic standards and ethics.

“To be sure, it can’t be business as usual at the Post,” he said. “The world is evolving rapidly and we do need to change as a business.” He also acknowledged that “our standards at the Post have always been very high. That can’t change — and it won’t. You have my full commitment on maintaining the quality, ethics, and standards we all believe in.”

But many journalists at the Post are in open revolt over the situation at the paper and are waiting to hear more from Bezos, according to various media reports.

“Trust in media is a huge issue, and I think it’s very important for journalists to try to rebuild trust that has been eroded,” said Caroline Hendrie, executive director of the Society of Professional Journalists. “The Washington Post, it’s my hometown paper, and I’ve seen a remarkable change under Jeff Bezos. Since he’s been able to invest in the news organization, it’s been a remarkable rebound, and it would be tragic to see those gains reversed.”

--With assistance from Julian Harris.

(Updates with earlier statement from Post owner Jeff Bezos and comment from media expert.)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.