One of Rupert Murdoch’s longest-serving editors, John Witherow, has stood down from the position at The Times and is to be replaced by his deputy, marking a new era for the media baron’s 238-year-old British newspaper.
Murdoch’s News UK said on Tuesday that Witherow, who has run the London-based publication since 2013 and before that its Sunday sister title since 1994, has stepped aside to become chair of Times Newspapers, which oversees both titles.
The company declined to comment on the identity of his successor, saying it would announce the appointment on Wednesday. However, people familiar with the matter said Tony Gallagher was being promoted from deputy editor to become editor of his third national title, having previously run the Daily Telegraph and The Sun.
He will seek to capitalise on The Times’s recent profitability and build on efforts to convince readers to pay £26 a month for a digital subscription.
The Times, in common with other newspapers, has faced what has sometimes threatened to be a painful transition to the online age. Yet under Witherow it found financial and editorial success alongside The Sunday Times, whose newsroom is managed separately.
Popularity of a combined smartphone app has helped the two titles reverse years of losses, when The Sun redtop supported the financial results of Murdoch’s UK newspaper business.
The relative performance has since switched, with the more upmarket titles outperforming the tabloid — shifting the power balance within News UK, whose chief executive Rebekah Brooks is a former editor of The Sun.
Gallagher, known for an especially fierce work ethic and exacting standards, is unusual in having a background at the top of both tabloid and broadsheet journalism.
He cut his teeth in national newspapers at the Daily Mail and went on to become editor of The Times’s rival the Daily Telegraph before he was removed in 2014, saying he was sacked “because I’m good”.
After a stint outside journalism as an apprentice chef at a London restaurant, he rejoined the Mail and was recruited by News UK in 2015 to be editor-in-chief of The Sun. He moved to The Times in 2020.
His challenges as editor include how to attract different types of readers and to secure more digital subscriptions at a time when inflation is prompting consumers to rein in discretionary spending. Soaring newsprint costs have put printed newspapers under additional pressure.
Staff have also questioned whether The Times and The Sunday Times could be more closely integrated after the UK government recently lifted restrictions that had been in place after Murdoch bought them in 1981. Among other constraints, the company was required to keep the publications separate.
The most recently published accounts show News UK’s two more upmarket titles produced a pre-tax profit of £34mn in the year to June 2021, when they had 364,000 digital-only subscribers. The total stood at 445,000 as of this June.
In contrast, the subsidiary that controls The Sun and Sun on Sunday posted a pre-tax loss of £51mn, in a financial hangover from the tabloid phone hacking scandal.
The phone hacking costs are indemnified by another part of Murdoch’s media operations, Fox Corporation, under an arrangement reached when Fox was split from News Corp.