Why James Harding had to quit as Times editor

13 December 2012

Given that James Harding is generally regarded as the best editor of The Times to have worked under Rupert Murdoch, what happened yesterday? Mr Steerpike has been making some inquiries. It emerges that Murdoch had not been on speaking terms with Harding since summer last year, and latterly did not even bother to see him on his irregular visits to his Wapping HQ. It is not clear why proprietor has fallen out with editor, though huge losses, falling circulation and too pinkish/independent an editorial line are the usual reasons for Murdoch turning against his editors — and The Times had been “guilty” of all three.

Twice this year News International CEO Tom Mockridge has been dispatched by Old Rupe to fire the editor only to be stopped at the last minute. Insiders say that The Times accounts had been looking steadily better of the last year, as the fruits of its cost-cutting exercise fed through into the P&L sheet. Then, suddenly, the accounts looked a lot worse. Suspiciously worse. Mockridge apparently laid into Harding at a management meeting — leaving at least some of those present thinking that the presentation of the figures had been skewed against Harding

But why would Murdoch need an excuse? What explains the untypical hesitation? Under the agreements he gave Parliament when he bought The Times in 1981, Murdoch theoretically does not have the power to hire or fire the editor. That belongs — theoretically, it is worth saying again — to a board of supposedly independent trustees. They’ve never played much of a role in the 30 years Murdoch has owned the paper and are usually a bunch of Establishment worthies. But in today’s post-Leveson world it’s something he would have to square before the axe can fall.

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  • rndtechnologies786


  • Don Reed

    Appreciate what you have. You could be like us, stuck with Pinch, the Clown Prince of American journalism.

  • mark

    newspaper models are being re-imagined and lets face it, NC hasn’t really been a trailblazer in an age of premium micropublishing. death by a thousand cuts and harding is part of this haemorrhaging

  • A Common Reader

    I’m a Times subscriber but am pretty dissatisfied with it. The alternatives are unfortunately no better so as far as I’m concerned it’s the best of a bad job. But this latest event makes me think I’ll cancel and keep my £26 a month for something that doesn’t add to Murdoch’s coffers.

  • Jen

    I have no idea how Harding can be thought to have been the best editor of The Times. The quality of writing plumeted when he took over the paper. He introduced new tiers of middle management who held meetings but made few editorial decisions that had any clout. It became like a news magazine. He hated descent in his editorial conferences and was stubborn to the point of idiotic. He did not have a gut instinct about news. Like so many business journalists, he did not understand news. The legacy he leaves behind can be seen in yesterday’s paper. It is astonishing that The Times ran a spread on his editorship. It shows that the paper has lost touch with its readership and thought it (or him) had become the story.
    In reality he introduced a climate of psychophancy and toadying. That was the way to get ahead on the paper. And that was the reasons its sales fell. His perfomance in Leveson was remarkable and showed how he claims he took his eye of the ball on the Nightjack (alleged) hacking story.

    • Latimer Alder

      There is a huge tendency among journos and their associated hangers-on to believe that they themselves are more important than the news they report.

      They’re not…..

      PS – if you wish to criticise this guy – who I had never heard of before he went..and cared even less – for the quality of writing, you might want to spellcheck your contribution first.

      ‘Dissent’ not ‘descent’

      ‘Sycophancy’ has no initial ‘P’

      ‘Plummeted’ not ‘plumeted’

  • Shafuska

    What’s this thing of “pink” papers? Meaning that it’s not bigoted? If that’s the case, we need more people like Harding.

  • anyfool

    This man had to go because he was taking the paper down a road somewhat akin to the Observer, Guardian and heading into New Statesman territory which if you look at there feeble circulation figures you can see why Murdoch removed him, after all in the private sector the buck actually stops with the boss.
    Over the last 15 years the writers have gone soft and it is hard to think of a memorable column or cutting edge editorial recently. no wonder the staff are supposed to be upset at the departure of this dripping wet flannel.

    • mikewaller

      The trouble is that no writers with reasonable levels of intelligence and integrity can right the kind of garbage that characterizes, for example, the Mail and Murdoch’s own Fox News. Unfortunately the audience they serve seems to offer the one growth area.

      “No name and no pack-drill”, but there are, of course, one or two contributors here that definitely fit the Murdoch profile should he come looking.

      One other thing, congratulations to Steerpike for at last bringing forth a good piece of journalism.

  • fitz fitzgerald

    … the Times is apparently sliding rapidly towards Omega point.

  • Rockin Ron

    The Times standard of writing has gone downhill rapdily. There is little quality opinion or well constucted articles. It just looks thrown together, a rag bag of varying opinions hoping to catch a variety of readers.

  • God

    The tight wads at Times charge for reading its rag online. Enough said.

    • johnfaganwilliams

      You really are an idiot aren’t you? If all news is “free” who pays the journalists? If the answer to that is “nobody” then we won’t any news _ you will of course remember the definition of news “something that someone somewhere doesn’t want published” just a load of govt bollocks and PR spin. Enough said!!!!!

      • monsieur_charlie

        I thought it was mainly paid for by advertising revenue, in the same way that, for instance, Google is. Anyway, it’s mostly rubbish. Even when they can get the names, places and times right, it’s usually recognised only by the slant put on it by lickspittle management sucking up to the proprietors interests. However, you can get some advantage from it by being selective as to the journalist.

    • mcclane

      The Telegraph is now also charging, if you’re abroad & have read 20 articles. If it works abroad it’ll work for UK readers. And more expensively.

    • Walter Ellis

      I am launching a campaign against the phrase “enough said,” which is repeated by posters all over the place who have no real argument to offer but rely on the supposedly irrefutable nature of their assertions. Enough said.

  • Vulture

    Whenever I have read the Times recently it has read like an alternative version of The Guardian. We have too many pink papers as ity is.

  • jet

    Anyone who knows how News Int works would tell you that your article is misinformed. Revenue would be in the remit of the Managing Editor rather than the Editor

    • mikewaller

      That, surely, is the difference between high quality pluralistic journalism and a propaganda sheet. If the latter is what you are looking for, I recommend the Daily Mail.

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