Sunday 19 November 2017

Guardian exiles former editor Alan Rusbridger over Scott Trust's financial problems

Alan Rusbridge - Getty Images
Alan Rusbridge - Getty Images

Christopher Williams

The Guardian has sent its former editor Alan Rusbridger into exile after the newspaper's new management team prevailed in a civil war over who is to blame for its parlous financial state.

The 62-year-old had been due to become chairman of the Scott Trust, which funds the Guardian, in the autumn.

But after a marathon Scott Trust board meeting across two days, Katharine Viner, his successor as editor, and David Pemsel, chief executive of Guardian Media Group, succeeded in a plot to block Mr Rusbridger's return.

He told colleagues: "Kath and David clearly believe they would like to plot a route into the future with a new chair and I understand their reasoning.

"I have a fantastically interesting new life in Oxford. I will miss you all."

Mr Rusbridger had become the focus of internal unrest over the parlous state of Guardian finances and a wave of 250 job cuts.

As editor he invested heavily in digital and international expansion. But last year the newspaper's operating losses ballooned to £52m and the Scott Trust’s investment fund was eroded by £95m to £743m. It prompted Ms Viner and Mr Pemsel to announce the radical restructuring.

Mr Rusbridger has defended his record as opponents sought to blame him for the situation, arguing that the investments he made were necessary to cope with the digital revolution and that all newspapers have suffered tougher times.

Today he told colleagues: "Much has changed in the year since I stepped down [as editor].

"All newspapers - and many media organisations beyond - have been battered by turbulent economic forces that were difficult to foresee last summer.

"We are all doing our journalism in the teeth of a force 12 digital hurricane. It is surely obvious to anyone that changed circumstances will demand dramatically changed solutions."

Many newspapers suffered a steeper-than-expected decline in print advertising sales as struggling supermarkets trimmed their marketing budgets. In digital media, Facebook and Google took a bigger share of revenues.

The Scott Trust said it had "reluctantly accepted [Mr Rusbridger's] decision, although it was its unanimous hope that he would stay on the board".

Dame Liz Forgan, the incumbent chairman, will stay on while an "open and transparent" search for an alternative successor is conducted.

Outside the Guardian, Mr Rusbridger remains principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and chairman of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

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