JAMES Harding, the youngest ever editor of The Times has resigned this afternoon. His departure comes at a pivotal moment for the British press and for the publishing side of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
Harding had last week organised a meeting of British newspaper editors in order to prepare an industry response to proposals for radical reform outlined in the Leveson report. He leaves the job at the end of the month and is replaced by John Witherow, current editor of the Sunday Times.
In his leaving message to staff, Mr Harding made clear he did not wish to go, saying “it has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of The Times”.
His departure from his current job, five years to the month after he became the youngest ever editor of The Times, is part of a wider shake up of News Corp following the decision to divide the company into two.
While the highly-profitable film and entertainment division is being rebranded as Fox, the publishing arm – damaged by ongoing police investigations into phone hacking and bribery of public officials at News International – will continue under the News Corp name and be based in New York.
The publishing division, which includes the Wall Street Journal and The Australian titles, will be headed by another former Times editor Robert Thomson, under whom Harding served as business editor. Some thought he was well-placed for a new role with the company in the United States but the circumstances of his departure today suggest otherwise.
Harding will be succeeded by the long-standing editor of the Sunday Times John Witherow, who has edited the Sunday title for 18 years.
In a leaving speech to staff Harding expressed his pride in the paper’s investigations into tax avoidance and child sex grooming. He also stressed his role in modernising the outlook of a paper historically known as “The Thunderer” for its strong editorial positions.
“Where we have moved the position of the paper – on the deficit, gay marriage, industrial policy, climate change – I hope even the readers who don’t agree with our judgment will respect our thinking,” he said.
Harding has won admirers for the paper’s bravery in sometimes being very critical of its parent company News International in the handling of the hacking scandal. “In uniquely difficult circumstances I hope we have covered the story that has swirled around us with the integrity and independence that the readers of The Times expect of us,” he said.
Harding thanked Murdoch for the “great honour” he did him appointing him editor.
Mr Murdoch said: "James has been a distinguished editor for The Times, attracting talented staff to the paper and leading it through difficult times. I have great respect for him as a colleague and friend, and truly hope we can work together again."