Times editor steps down to become chairman in Murdoch reshuffle

John Witherow
John Witherow

John Witherow has stepped down as editor of The Times to become chairman of the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper as it attempts to carve out a digital future.

The former Sunday Times editor, who took charge of The Times in 2013, is exiting the role after being ill for most of the year.

Tony Gallagher, the deputy editor, is reportedly poised to take over after running the newspaper during Mr Witherow's absence.

The new editor will be announced on Wednesday, according to News UK, the holding company for The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and radio stations including Virgin, as well as TalkTV.

Mr Witherow said the future of The Times was bright thanks to the support and investment of Mr Murdoch, who successfully persuaded the government to lift restrictions that prevented the news brand from sharing resources with its sister title, the Sunday Times.

In a statement, Mr Witherow added: "Throughout my career as an editor, I have always been aware that I have had the heavy responsibility of preserving the reputation and success of these brands so they can continue to succeed for future generations.

"I believe that The Times is an authoritative, credible, responsible and trusted part of the nation’s cultural heritage and it has been my honour to be the editor."

The editorial independence of The Times and The Sunday Times was protected by rules established by Margaret Thatcher's government, but were torn up by the former culture secretary Nadine Dorries last year to allow Mr Murdoch to cut costs and pursue digital growth.

The move was designed to allow the titles to make savings by sharing journalists and merging editorial teams. Features, pictures and the money desk, as well subbing and production are among the operations targeted by the plan.

News UK made the appeal to lift the restrictions in the summer of last year when the newspaper was grappling with a slide in circulation and advertising sales.

However, the latest accounts from Times Newspapers Ltd revealed pre-tax profits have more than tripled to £34m for the year to June 27, 2021, while turnover increased by 5pc to £327m.

Growth was driven by a rebound in digital advertising sales and a rise in subscriptions, despite an ongoing pressure from falls in print advertising and newspaper sales.

The number of digital subscribers to the Times and The Sunday Times grew by 31,000 to 367,000 over the period, representing 63pc of its total subscribers at 586,000.

On Mr Witherow's departure, Mr Murdoch said: "John is one of the great editors of his generation and he can look back on an outstanding career.

"His leadership of both The Sunday Times and latterly of The Times has taken each paper from strength to strength, breaking stories that have resonance around the world."

As part of the shake-up, it has been rumoured that Emma Tucker, the editor of The Sunday Times, has been asked by Mr Murdoch to become editor of The Wall Street Journal.