Murdoch’s newspaper cultural revolution speeds up – now Times editor Harding is chucked overboard

81-year old Rupert Murdoch is ringing the changes in his newspaper empire as he prepares to spin it off as a separate company next spring.

News International boss in the UK Tom Mockridge has already gone after losing out to Wall Street Journal boss Robert Thomson to be head of the new entity and now Times editor James Harding has resigned after five years, telling staff: “It has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of the Times. I have, therefore, agreed to stand down. I called Rupert Murdoch this morning to offer my resignation and he accepted it.”

Well I suppose he would.

Harding (left) succeeded the aforementioned Thomson as editor of The Times and, like him, came from business paper the Financial Times. The plan with both was, presumably, to challenge the FT as the business paper of choice for the UK’s tie-wearing classes and, clearly, it’s failed.

The question now is: what does Murdoch try next?

The Times may be the UK’s most celebrated paper, ‘The Thunderer’ as it used to be known although these days it’s more of a squeak, but it loses buckets of money. It’s always lost money whoever’s owned it but now it’s in the tens of millions. For years it was supported by the profitable Sunday Times but now even that’s struggling.

Murdoch and Thomson’s new newspaper company will have to make money if it’s going to attract any shareholders and that’s looking harder than ever, with the newspaper market in the UK (as in the US and Europe) in decline and posh papers performing worse than their tabloid rivals. The Times has to start making money or, at the very least, stem its losses dramatically. Otherwise Murdoch will surely try to sell it.

There is one posh paper in the UK that makes money and that’s the Barclay Brothers’ Daily Telegraph.

The Telegraph is in the news at the moment because David Cameron’s hapless director of communications Craig Oliver, a former BBC type, and one of his minions tried to persuade it to pull a story of the expenses of culture secretary Maria Miller (a former Grey Advertising executive) by reminding editor Tony Gallagher that Miller was “looking at Leveson,” the implication being that the government might bring in statutory press controls if the Telegraph (which opposes them) didn’t mind its manners.

This is staggeringly stupid and will surely result in Oliver’s resignation, maybe Miller’s too. But Gallagher, a former senior Daily Mail executive, surely told Oliver where to get off anyway. Under Gallagher the Telegraph ran the original MPs’ expenses stories which much of the rest of Fleet Street baulked at.

Many years ago Murdoch tried to persuade Paul Dacre to take the helm at The Times but Dacre chose instead to edit the (profitable) Daily Mail and is now editor-in-chief of owner Associated Newspapers. Gallagher (pictured) is cut from the same cloth as the cantankerous Dacre and is certain to be on Murdoch’s radar. Under him The Times would be much more aggressive in all respects, not least in culling large numbers of staff.

There are other candidates too of course. Will Lewis, former editor-in-chief of the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, is on the News International payroll, conducting the company’s own investigation into phone hacking and chucking a fair few hacks overboard in the process.

Rebekah Brooks, who, it’s emerged, has received a near-£11m payoff from Murdoch as she faces a welter of criminal charges, is not a contender, alas.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.