British editor backs out of top Washington Post job

 British journalist Robert Winnett will no longer join the Washington Post as editor and instead remain at the Daily Telegraph in London, after controversy at the US newspaper over his appointment.

Telegraph editor Chris Evans told staff the news in an email seen by the BBC, writing that Winnett, the Telegraph's deputy editor, is "a talented chap and their loss is our gain".

Winnett's decision follows weeks of anger in the Washington Post newsroom over leadership changes put in place by publisher Sir Will Lewis, another Briton, and the former Telegraph editor.

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times have published investigations into Sir Will and Winnett, and their alleged past practices at UK newspapers.

The criticism includes Sir Will, when he was editor of the Telegraph when Winnett's team at the paper exposed the MP expenses scandal, paying £110,000 for a disk containing the expenses files. Sir Will told the Leveson Inquiry the paper had taken care to ensure it was not in breach of the law.

However the payment has attracted criticism in the US media.

Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos has been trying to reinvigorate the storied paper, which has shed readership and endured financial losses.

As part of that effort, he appointed Sir Will, who became the Post's publisher and CEO in January.

Earlier this month, Sally Buzbee - the first woman to lead the Post as editor - abruptly announced her departure amid a hastily announced plan to restructure the newsroom.

Sir Will had told staff he intended to split the newsroom into three separate divisions run by editors who report to him - a core news-reporting division, an opinion section, and a new division focused on service and social media journalism intended to attract interest from a broader audience.

Buzbee - who was to be put in charge of that new division - is said to have disagreed with the plan.

The New York Times also reported that she had clashed with Sir Will prior to her exit over whether to publish a story about the long-running phone hacking scandal at UK tabloid newspapers and a related civil case brought by Prince Harry.

Sir Will reportedly told Buzbee he did not believe the case merited the Post's coverage, but she chose to publish the article - which mentioned Sir Will by name - anyway.

A spokesperson for Lewis has denied he pressured her.

In 2020 the ex-general manager of News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of the News of the World and the Sun, was accused of aiding the concealment and destruction of millions of emails relating to phone hacking at the papers.

Mr Lewis said at the time the allegations against him were "completely untrue".

Matt Murray, a former Wall Street Journal editor, has been named as her temporary replacement through the November presidential election.

Sir Will had announced Winnett's hiring as Buzbee's permanent replacement less than three weeks ago.

In a note "with regret" to Post staff on Friday, he wrote: “Rob has my greatest respect and is an incredibly talented editor and journalist.

"The leadership at The Telegraph Media Group is reaffirming his continued role as deputy editor.”

He said that Murray will now continue in the role "until after the US elections and also carry forward planning and leading the third newsroom".

Sir Will added that a search would now begin for the editor who will lead "core coverage".

Anyone familiar with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos knows he isn't reluctant to terminate projects that aren't succeeding. In 2015, Amazon discontinued its Fire smartphone after announcing a $170 million writedown due to unsold devices. In 2019, Bezos finalized his divorce from his wife of 25 years. By 2022, Amazon had closed all 68 of its brick-and-mortar bookstores and retail shops. In 2023, the company also ended its Amazon Smile program, which allowed customers to direct a portion of their purchases to charity. Earlier this year, Bezos announced his move from Washington State to Florida after nearly 30 years of residence.

"Embrace failures" is part of Amazon's "Day 1 culture," which includes "high-velocity decision-making." This philosophy involves recognizing when something isn't working and making the decision to stop rather than indefinitely hoping it will improve.

Although I haven't discussed it with Bezos, it appears from the outside that The Washington Post, which he purchased for $250 million in 2013, is approaching the same status as the Fire phone and other discontinued ventures. The newspaper is reportedly losing about $77 million a year, which harms Bezos's reputation rather than enhancing it. The Post's coverage of Israel is notably hostile, akin to Al Jazeera's. The Washington Free Beacon found that at least six members of the Post's foreign desk previously worked for the Qatari-funded outlet that now shelters Hamas leaders. Republicans and some centrists dislike the paper's anti-Trump bias. Even Bezos, with his libertarian leanings and pro-America stance, must wonder why readers would pay for the Post’s left-wing perspectives when similar views are available for free from NPR.

The Post staff is currently uneasy about a British former Wall Street Journal executive’s plan to bring in editors from the Wall Street Journal and the Telegraph. The stated concern is the British press's use of "stolen" documents, but this seems like a pretext coming from a newspaper that published the Pentagon Papers. The real worry is likely that new management might moderate the Post’s left-wing tilt. Regardless, Bezos is facing criticism from his own staff, who question his loyalty to the institution. Veteran editor and reporter David Maraniss commented on Facebook, "Jeff Bezos owns the Post but he is not of and for the Post."

If Bezos can sell for $500 million or $1 billion, he can claim he doubled or quadrupled his initial investment over a decade, collected several Pulitzer Prizes, and helped counter President Trump. Given that Amazon has paused the construction of its Arlington, Virginia second headquarters, Bezos may decide the Washington Post isn’t worth owning during a potential second term of Trump's presidency.


So, who might buy the Post if Bezos sells? Here are some possibilities:


- **The Atlantic:** Atlantic editor Jeff Goldberg and Washington Post alumni have staffed the organization, backed by Apple heiress Laurene Powell Jobs. The Atlantic shares intellectual and demographic ties with what the Washington Post could represent at its best.


- **Politico/Axel Springer:** Politico global editor-in-chief John F. Harris spent 21 years at the Washington Post. Axel Springer purchased Politico in 2021 for about $1 billion and might be interested in consolidating its dominance in Beltway-business news.


- **Jeff Zucker:** Former CNN and NBC executive Jeff Zucker could use the Post as a platform for a comeback and a potential rematch with Trump.


- **Axios/Jim VandeHei/Mike Allen:** Axios cofounders are former Washington Post staff and might find returning as owner-managers appealing despite the Post’s unions and complainers.


- **Graham Holdings:** The Graham family has sentimental ties to the newspaper and might consider taking it back at the same price Bezos paid in 2013.


- **Melinda French Gates:** Gates has a philanthropic interest in women’s issues and connections to Warren Buffett, who had ties to the Washington Post Company.


- **Newhouse/Remnick:** New Yorker editor David Remnick has prior Post experience, and the Newhouse family could be tempted to buy at the right price.


- **Jared Kushner:** President Trump’s son-in-law owns the New York Observer and has potential Persian Gulf investor backing, though it would likely be a money-losing endeavor.


- **Miriam Adelson:** Widow of Sheldon Adelson, she owns other newspapers but is an unlikely buyer due to likely pro-Trump bias concerns.


- **The New York Times Company:** It’s improbable Bezos would sell to the Times, given the Post’s competition and the Times' already dominant position in left-leaning news.


Does it matter who owns the Washington Post or if it remains in business? During its prime, the paper's Watergate coverage influenced significant political events, and its editorial page featured influential voices. However, in the age of the internet, individual journalists' reputations often surpass those of legacy newspapers. Despite its waning influence, the Washington Post remains one of the top national newspapers based in the political capital. For $250 million or even $500 million, it  

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