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Newly named Washington Post editor decides not to take job after backlash, will stay in Britain

People walk by the One Franklin Square Building, home of The Washington Post newspaper, in downtown Washington, Feb. 21, 2019. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / The Associated Press) People walk by the One Franklin Square Building, home of The Washington Post newspaper, in downtown Washington, Feb. 21, 2019. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / The Associated Press)
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The Washington Post said Friday that newly named editor Robert Winnett has decided not to take the job and remain in Britain instead, another upheaval at a news outlet where a reorganization plan has gone disastrously wrong.

The Post’s CEO and publisher, Will Lewis, announced Winnett’s decision to withdraw in a note to staff on Friday morning, and said a recruitment firm would be hired to launch a search for a replacement immediately.

The financially struggling Post had announced Winnett would take over as editor of the core newsroom functions after November's presidential election, while it was also setting up a “third newsroom” devoted to finding new ways for its journalism to make money.

Three weeks ago, then-executive editor Sally Buzbee said that she would quit rather than take a demotion to head this revenue-enhancement effort. Former Wall Street Journal editor Matt Murray was brought on as her interim replacement and future leader of the “third newsroom.”

Since then, several published reports had raised questions about the journalistic ethics of Lewis and Winnett stemming from their work in England. For example, both men worked together in a series of scoops about extravagant spending by British politicians fueled by information that they paid a data information company for — a practice frowned upon by American journalists.

The New York Times wrote that both Winnett and Lewis were involved in stories that appeared to be based on fraudulently-obtained phone and business records.

It sparked a newsroom revolt at The Post. David Maraniss, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who has worked at the newspaper for four decades, said this week that he didn't know anyone there who thought the situation with the publisher and “supposed new editor” could stand.

“The body is rejecting the transfusion,” Maraniss wrote on Facebook.

Lewis, a former Wall Street Journal publisher and vice chairman of The Associated Press' board of directors, started at The Post earlier this year, hired by billionaire owner Jeff Bezos to stem a costly exodus of readers. The Post had said it had lost $77 million last year.

In a memo to key staff members earlier this week, Bezos assured them that journalistic standards and ethics at the newspaper would not change. “I know you've already heard this from Will, but I wanted to also weigh in directly,” he wrote.

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

In his Facebook note, Maraniss said that the issue for staff members is integrity, not resistance to change. To that end, it remains to be seen whether Lewis can gain staff support.

Lewis said Friday that the recruitment firm and process for replacing Winnett will be announced soon. Winnett's sudden hiring — without any indication of an extensive search — had also rankled staff members.

But Lewis also said that the reorganization efforts would continue.

Winnett is staying at the Telegraph in London. Telegraph editor Chris Evans told that newspaper that “he's a talented chap, and their loss is our gain,” according to the Guardian.

Associated Press correspondent Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report. David Bauder writes about media for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/dbauder.

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