Seven-day merger rumoured as Times editor Harding quits
Editor says News Corp 'made it clear' he was no longer welcome at the daily paper
TIMES EDITOR James Harding's decision to quit the paper comes as News International is rumoured to be seeking to merge the title with its sister paper The Sunday Times.
Harding's sudden departure sparked reports that John Witherow, long-serving editor of The Sunday Times, will take over as editor of The Times in a new seven-day operation.
With Rupert Murdoch splitting his newspaper interests away from the more profitable film and TV part of his News Corp empire, it is more important that the titles are commercially viable and all money-saving options are being examined. The Sun is already running a seven-day operation following the closure of the News of the World.
The Times revealed that News Corp has taken legal advice on whether it could merge the two newspapers. It could require the agreement of the government because Murdoch undertook in 1981 "to preserve the separate identities of The Times and The Sunday Times".
The Guardian's media commentator Roy Greenslade said it makes commercial sense. They are both loss-making titles and "there is no reason why the production departments should not be merged".
The Daily Telegraph quotes a source within News International claiming that the newspaper group was "uniquely handicapped" by not being allowed to consider merging the titles and making them viable inn the long term.
Some, however, suggest that the main reason for Harding's sudden departure is his handling of the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World.
The Times itself points out that two days before publication of the Leveson report, Harding wrote: "The failure of News International to get to grips with what had happened at one of its newspapers suggested that the company had succumbed to that most dangerous delusion of the powerful, namely that it could play by its own set of rules."
Yesterday, Harding said: "It has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of The Times."
Former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil had a more straightforward view. He tweeted: "The Times was way too liberal/wishy-washy for Old Rupe".
Whatever the precise reason for his going, Harding is said to be receiving a pay-off of £1.3m. Not quite the £10.85m package his one-time boss, Rebekah Brooks, was awarded when she stepped down as chief executive of News International last summer.