What was behind James Harding’s shock departure?

The announcement of James Harding’s resignation as editor of The Times is another shock in a year of turmoil for the UK print media. 

I’m interested to dig deeper behind the motives leading to his departure, the second senior exit in as many weeks. Harding was a respected and likeable figure in the UK print media, who admitted in his leaving speech that 

‘it has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of The Times [and] I have therefore agreed to stand down’. The ejecting of a respected and extremely successful leader from within the complexities of the Murdoch empires is more than likely to have had something less amicable behind it.

Many people seem to think that Harding’s departure is something to do with an NI plan to merge the Times and The Sunday Times and have them both run by John Witherow. But that’s far from certain. Tom Mockridge isn’t even out of the door yet, so it’s way too early to be a purely ‘new regime’ move; it’s just not that sort of company. If true, it could mean that Harding’s resignation is paving the way for a new leader at the head of the merged paper. 

I suspect that Harding was regarded as having been disloyal to Murcoch and Brooks over the hacking scandal (The Times’ coverage was notably non-partisan once it started covering the story), and that his card was marked at that point as ‘not one of us’. Plus, he’s been quite instinctively pro-Leveson in all the post-inquiry negotiations with all the newspaper editors – another black mark. It all seems quite personal to me. 

The trigger may have been Robert Thomson’s elevation as CEO of the global newspaper business, as Harding’s sacking was rumoured at that point. Harding dramatically resigned before he could be superseded – which for me, clearly points to bad blood. There has more than likely been a significant amount of in-fighting behind the scenes in recent weeks.  And it may not be over yet. I look forward to hearing about his replacement
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