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Newly named Washington Post editor bows out after backlash


In the past few weeks, several media reports raised concerns about the incoming editor’s journalistic ethics.

The Washington Post says newly named editor Robert Winnett has decided not to take the job and will remain in Britain instead, creating another upheaval at a news outlet where a reorganisation plan has gone disastrously wrong.

The Post’s CEO and publisher, Will Lewis, announced Winnett’s decision to withdraw in a note to staff on Friday and said a recruitment firm would be hired to launch a search for a replacement immediately.

The financially struggling Post had announced Winnett would take over as editor of the core newsroom functions after the United States elections in November and had said it was setting up a “third newsroom” devoted to finding new ways for its journalism to make money.

Three weeks ago, then-Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said she would quit rather than take a demotion to head this revenue-enhancement effort. Former Wall Street Journal editor Matt Murray was brought on as her interim replacement and future leader of the “third newsroom”.

Since then, several published reports have raised questions about the journalistic ethics of Lewis and Winnett stemming from their work in England. For example, both men worked together on a series of scoops about extravagant spending by British politicians that was fed by information they had paid a data information company for — a practice frowned upon in American journalism.

The New York Times wrote that both Winnett and Lewis were involved in stories that appeared to be based on fraudulently obtained phone and business records.

It sparked a newsroom revolt at the Post. David Maraniss, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who has worked at the newspaper for four decades, said this week that he didn’t know anyone there who thought the situation with the publisher and “supposed new editor” could stand.

“The body is rejecting the transfusion,” Maraniss wrote on Facebook.

Lewis, a former Wall Street Journal publisher and vice chairman of the board of directors for The Associated Press, started at the Post this year, hired by its billionaire owner, Jeff Bezos, to stem a costly exodus of readers. The Post had said it had lost $77m last year.

In a memo to key staff members this week, Bezos assured them that journalistic standards and ethics at the newspaper would not change. “I know you’ve already heard this from Will, but I wanted to also weigh in directly,” he wrote.

“To be sure, it can’t be business as usual at The Post,” Bezos wrote. “The world is evolving rapidly and we do need to change as a business.”

In his Facebook note, Maraniss said the issue for staff members was integrity, not resistance to change.

Lewis said Friday that the recruitment firm and process for replacing Winnett would be announced soon. Winnett’s sudden hiring without any indication of an extensive search had also rankled staff members.

Lewis also said the reorganisation efforts would continue.

Winnett is staying at The Daily Telegraph in London. Telegraph editor Chris Evans said, “He’s a talented chap, and their loss is our gain,” according to The Guardian.

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