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Robert Winnett will not become editor of the Washington Post
Robert Winnett will not become editor of the Washington Post

Robert Winnett, the British journalist who was recently nominated as this year’s editor at The Washington Post, will not accept the post and will remain at the Daily Telegraph in London, according to an email the company sent to Post employees on Friday morning.

The change of plan came after days of turbulence surrounding the post office, triggered by the abrupt Departure of editor-in-chief Sally Buzbee on June 2 and questions about the past journalistic practices of Winnett and William Lewis, CEO and publisher of the Post.

Lewis had announced Winnett’s hiring when Buzbee left just two and a half weeks ago, along with plans for a “third newsroom” tasked with attracting new readers. As part of that plan, former Wall Street Journal publisher Matt Murray came on board to lead news coverage until Winnett’s arrival, at which point Murray was to have handed the reins to Winnett and led the new department in November after the election.

Murray, 58, took over on June 3 and was introduced to the newsroom; Winnett, 47, who is in charge of reporting at the Telegraph, had never met the Post’s staff and was almost unknown in American media circles.

Lewis and Winnett both face allegations of unethical news-gathering practices in Britain. They previously worked together at the Telegraph and the Sunday Times, London newsrooms that sometimes have different rules to their American counterparts.

Telegraph editor Chris Evans announced in a memo to staff on Friday that Winnett had left his job at the Post Office and would remain deputy editor of the London newspaper. “I am delighted to announce that Rob Winnett has decided to stay with us,” Evans wrote. “As you all know, he is a talented guy and their loss is our gain.”

Lewis confirmed that Winnett had resigned from his post and delivered the news “with regret” in a message to Postal Service employees Friday morning.

“Rob has my utmost respect and is an incredibly talented editor and journalist,” Lewis wrote. “We will soon announce both the recruiting firm and the process we will use to ensure a timely but thorough search for this important leadership position.”

Since Lewis announced that Winnett would take over as head of The Washington Post, reports have emerged raising questions about the reporting methods the two men used early in their careers.

A Post investigation published Sunday revealed Winnett’s ties to a confessed conman and whistleblower who admitted to using illegal methods to obtain information for articles in Britain’s Sunday Times, a newspaper where Winnett worked before joining the Telegraph.

The New York Times also reported that some of Winnett and Lewis’ stories were based on stolen documents, raising new questions about a pay-to-get-information scheme that led to a 2009 government corruption investigation that rocked the British political establishment and led to the resignation of several officials.

Winnett did not respond to requests for comment on these reports. Lewis declined to comment.

“The Washington Post sets and embodies the highest ethical standards in journalism, to which every Post employee must adhere,” a Post spokesman said this week.

In most American newsrooms, it is considered unethical to pay sources for information. The same goes for misrepresenting yourself as someone other than a journalist in order to obtain confidential information as part of the newsgathering process. This practice is known as “blagging.” While blagging is illegal in the UK, legal experts have ruled it acceptable if the information obtained is in the public interest, according to The Post.

Lewis was Winnett’s mentor for two decades and brought him to the Telegraph in 2007.

At an editorial meeting this month, Lewis called Winnett a “world-class editor” and “brilliant investigative journalist” who, he promised, “will return our organization to an even higher level of investigative rigor.”

The unrest at the top of the Post’s newsroom is also delaying Lewis’ plans to reorganize the Post this year. This includes the creation of a third newsroom alongside the opinion and traditional newsrooms, which use social media and service journalism to reach new audiences. The third newsroom will now launch sometime in the first three months of 2025, Lewis wrote in his message to staff on Friday.

Murray will remain as managing editor until Winnett’s successor is hired, and will then take over as head of the third newsroom.

Earlier this month, media reports described attempts by Lewis to dissuade journalists from covering his involvement in a long-running British court case over phone-tapping. Lewis has denied trying to dissuade Post journalists from covering the story. NPR journalist David Folkenflik also shared his account of how Lewis tried to persuade him to drop a story about the case in exchange for an exclusive story about the Post’s plans; Lewis called Folkenflik “an activist, not a journalist.”

Lewis worked for Rupert Murdoch’s News International, where he helped turn the company around after the wiretapping and bribery scandal that led to the closure of the tabloid News of the World. Lewis later served as editor of the Wall Street Journal and CEO of Dow Jones, also owned by Murdoch.

An ongoing civil case related to the purge does not name Lewis as a defendant, but a judge has allowed plaintiffs to pursue allegations that Lewis and others attempted to suppress information about the hacking. Lewis has denied any wrongdoing and previously said his role in the phone hacking purge was to uphold journalistic values ​​and practices, such as protecting sources.

Jeff Bezos, owner of the Post, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. The billionaire and Amazon founder bought the paper in 2013. He hired Lewis in November, filling the vacancy left by longtime publisher and CEO Fred Ryan.

Lewis began his job in January after the Post reported a $77 million deficit and declining readership compared to the previous year, company officials said.

Bezos tried to reassure the newsroom earlier this week that he remains committed to “maintaining the quality, ethics and standards that we all believe in.”

“Of course, things cannot continue as before at the Post Office,” he added. “The world is developing rapidly and we have to change as a company.”

Will Sommer contributed to this report.

By Everly