James Harding’s resignation and the Times’ future

There was silence in much of the Times’ offices December 12, as journalists, Times readers, and indeed media industry observers reacted to news that was unexpected.

There was silence in much of the Times’ offices December 12, as journalists, Times readers, and indeed media industry observers reacted to news that was unexpected. James Harding, the youngest editor of The Times who had held the position for five years, had telephoned News Corporation chief executive Rupert Murdoch to tender his resignation, departing at the end of December with a new appointee being made in due course.

Harding said he had been honoured to hold the position. “I would like to thank Rupert for the great honour he did me in appointing me five years ago. And I have been supported by successive chief executives of News International who have been vigorous champions of the Times at extremely difficult times for the business,” Harding said according to speech remarks reported in The Guardian. “I am proud of the campaigns we have run on family courts, adoption and cycling, as well as the investigations we have done, among other things, into tax avoidance and child sex grooming. I believe in our unflinching foreign coverage, driven by as fine a foreign editor as this newspaper has ever had. I bask in the reflected glory of our brilliant columnists.”

Harding added that he was hopeful the decisions he made would help safeguard the future of newspapers. “We have cut the editorial budget, but expanded what we do,” Harding said. “Our coverage of the Jubilee and the Olympics was outstanding. And, judging by our sales figures for those amazing days, indeed, on balance, throughout the year, readers thought so, too.”

It is not clear the exact reasons for Harding’s immediate departure, but he implied in his speech that the decision to resign was not all his. In his speech, he indicated that it was made clear to him that News Corp wanted a new editor at the paper. Questions are likely to be raised with regards to the nature of the announcement.

After the announcement, Harding’s colleagues tweeted reactions to the news. “Absolutely gutted at the resignation of our editor, James Harding, whose love of news is contagious and who has been awesome to work for,” tweeted Deborah Haynes, the paper’s defence editor, while the food columnist Emma Bartley said staff had been sad to hear of the resignation. “All Times staff [very] sad at announcement of James Harding’s resignation as Editor. A true champion of quality journalism…and a good guy.”

Yet, it has been said that Harding’s removal of the position was done so a merger between The Times and the Sunday Times can move forward. According to a report from The Daily Telegraph, informal discussions have been made by News International with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the government body which oversees mergers, to see if the papers could merge into one seven day operation. News International cannot merge both papers without the approval of the government, per a legal agreement Murdoch signed in 1981.

A spokesperson for News International did not respond to a request seeking comment. A spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said no formal proposal has been made. “No formal approach has been made to the Department,” the spokesperson said. “If one is made it will be considered in the appropriate manner.”

While the future of The Times as a newspaper is uncertain considering the conversations and Harding’s resignation, one thing is for certain. Harding has left a unique legacy. “I know that for all of us it is a privilege and a point of pride to see our work appear beneath the masthead of the Times, the greatest name in newspapers in the world,” Harding said. “This paper has an unrivalled history and, I am extremely confident, a long and impressive future ahead of it. It is also something else: a wonderful place to work, full of smart, warm, extraordinary people. I will miss it, but most of all you.”