Robert Winnett will not Join The Post as Editor

John McDonnell/The Washington Post
The Washington Post building.

Robert Winnett, the British journalist recently tapped to become editor of The Washington Post later this year, will not take the job and will remain at the Daily Telegraph in London, according to a company email sent to Post employees Friday morning.

The change of plans comes after days of turmoil surrounding The Post, triggered by the abrupt exit of executive editor Sally Buzbee on June 2 and questions about past journalistic practices of both Winnett and William Lewis, The Post’s CEO and publisher.

Lewis had announced Winnett’s hiring when Buzbee departed just 2½ weeks ago, along with plans for a “third newsroom” that would be tasked with attracting new audiences. Under the plan, former Wall Street Journal editor Matt Murray came on board to run news coverage until Winnett’s arrival, at which point Murray would have handed the reins to Winnett and run the new division in November after the election.

Murray took over June 3 and was introduced to the newsroom; Winnett, who oversees news coverage at the Telegraph as a deputy editor, had not yet met The Post staff and was almost entirely unknown in American media circles.

Lewis and Winnett have faced accusations in recent days of using unethical newsgathering practices in Britain, where they previously worked together at the Telegraph and the Sunday Times – London newsrooms that sometimes operate by different rules than their American counterparts.

Telegraph editor Chris Evans announced in a memo to his staff Friday that Winnett had pulled out of The Post job and would remain his deputy at the London paper. “I’m pleased to report that Rob Winnett has decided to stay with us,” Evans wrote. “As you all know, he’s a talented chap and their loss is our gain.”

Lewis confirmed that Winnett had withdrawn from the position, relaying the news “with regret” in a note to Post staff Friday morning.

“Rob has my greatest respect and is an incredibly talented editor and journalist,” Lewis wrote, adding that an outside firm would be used to conduct a “timely but thorough search” for a replacement.

A Post investigation published Sunday revealed Winnett’s connections to a confessed con artist turned whistleblower who has admitted to using illegal methods to gain information for stories in Britain’s Sunday Times, a paper Winnett worked at before joining the Telegraph.

The New York Times also reported that Winnett and Lewis had based some stories on stolen records, and raised new questions about a payment made to obtain information that led to a 2009 investigation into government corruption, which shook the British political establishment and led to several officials’ resignations.

Winnett did not respond to inquiries for those reports. Lewis declined to comment.

“The Washington Post sets and models the highest ethical standards in journalism to which every Post employee is expected to adhere,” a Post spokesperson said this week.

Paying sources for information is considered unethical in most American newsrooms. So is misrepresenting oneself as anything other than a journalist to obtain confidential information as part of newsgathering, a practice referred to as “blagging.” While blagging is illegal in Britain, The Post reported that legal experts have said it is defensible if the information obtained is in the public’s interest.

Lewis began as The Post’s CEO and publisher in January, inheriting what company officials said was a $77 million shortfall from the previous year, and declining readership.

In hopes of turning the business around, Lewis announced a reorganization this month that included hiring Winnett, his former protégée. As editor of the Telegraph, Lewis had hired Winnett as a senior reporter in 2007. Together, they worked on the investigative series exposing lawmakers’ widespread misuse of public funds for personal expenses. (Lewis was named Journalist of the Year at the 2010 British Press Awards for the series).

Winnett is liked by many colleagues in Britain. “The newsroom is disappointed for him but delighted for us,” said Paul Nuki, the Telegraph’s global health security editor. “Rob is great journalist, editor and friend.”

In a newsroom meeting this month, Lewis called Winnett “a world-class editor” and “a brilliant investigative journalist” who he promised “will restore an even greater degree of investigative rigor to our organization. (A Post spokeswoman declined to comment Friday on the process that led Lewis to hire him.)

The unraveling of that hiring also delays Lewis’s plans to reorganize The Post. He had intended to launch a new department this year that would function alongside the company’s opinion and traditional newsgathering sections, aiming to reach new audiences with social-media-driven and service journalism. The third newsroom will now launch sometime during the first three months of 2025, Lewis wrote in Friday’s note to staff.

Lewis added that Murray will stay on as executive editor and continue to oversee news coverage until Winnett’s replacement is hired. Murray will then oversee the third newsroom.

This month, media reports described attempts by Lewis to dissuade journalists from covering his involvement in a long-running British phone-hacking lawsuit. He has denied attempting to discourage Post journalists from covering the story, and he told staff in small meetings last week that he will not interfere with The Post’s journalism. NPR journalist David Folkenflik also shared his account of Lewis trying to persuade him to drop a story about the case in exchange for an exclusive story about The Post’s plans; Lewis called Folkenflik “an activist, not a journalist.”

Lewis worked for Rupert Murdoch’s News International to help with the corporate cleanup in the wake of the phone-hacking and police bribery scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World tabloid. (Lewis then went on to serve as the publisher of the Wall Street Journal and CEO of Dow Jones, also Murdoch-owned properties.)

An ongoing civil case related to the cleanup does not name Lewis as a defendant, but a judge has allowed plaintiffs to air allegations that Lewis and others tried to suppress information about the hacking. He has denied wrongdoing and previously said his role in the phone-hacking cleanup was to safeguard journalistic values and practices, such as protecting sources.

Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon who has owned The Post since 2013, did not respond to a request for comment Friday. He sought to reassure the newsroom this week that he remains committed to “maintaining the quality, ethics, and standards we all believe in.”

“To be sure, it can’t be business as usual at The Post,” Bezos added. “The world is evolving rapidly and we do need to change as a business.”