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May 13, 2016updated 25 May 2016 9:15am

Alan Rusbridger falls on his sword rather than chair Scott Trust opposed by editor and chief executive

By Dominic Ponsford

 

Former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has decided not return as chairman of the Scott Trust.

He was due to succeed to the job in September after stepping down after 20 years as editor in May last year. But he has  bowed to pressure from his successor Katharine Viner and Guardian Media Group chief executive who appear to have opposed him returning to the role.

In recent weeks senior Guardian figures have briefed against Rusbridger laying the blame for Guardian News and Media’s £80m losses over the last year at his door.

Others have pointed out that the losses have only escalated since he stepped down. In the year to April last year, Guardian News and Media made on operating loss of £19.1m which, at the time, was seen as sustainable.

The Scott Trust met today to discuss Rusbridger’s future. Press Gazette understands that no vote was taken, but that Rusbridger took the decision himself to withdraw from the job.

In a letter to former colleagues he said: “I wanted to let you know I will not be returning to chair the Scott Trust later this year.

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“Many of you will know what the Scott Trust has meant to me and for Guardian journalism. It is so unique that not many people – externally, or, sometimes, even internally – truly appreciate the crucial role it has had over many years in nurturing, resourcing and protecting what we do.

“When, in late 2014, the Scott Trust appointed me to succeed Liz [Dame Liz Forgan] as chair I was beyond honoured.  But much has changed in the year since I stepped down. All newspapers – and many media organisations beyond – have been battered by turbulent and economic forces that were difficult to foresee last summer.”

In what might be seen as a reference to the anonymous comments made by senior Guardian figures about Rusbridger’s stewardship of The Guardian as a business he said: “On my appointment to the Scott Trust job in November 2014 the chair of GMG, Neil Berkett, was kind enough to say publicly: ‘Alan has set the standard for journalistic leadership in the digital age. His appointment to lead The Scott Trust coincides with rapidly rising readership, continued innovation and secure finances at the Guardian. His successor will inherit a global media organisation in very strong health and with clear prospects for further growth.”

His letter adds: “The difference between that assessment and the way things look now is a measure of how much the world has changed.

“I have been on the Trust long enough to understand its role. We currently do our journalism in the teeth of a force twelve digital hurricane. It is surely obvious to anyone that changed circumstances will demand dramatically changed solutions.

“Kath and David clearly believe they would like to plot a route into the future with a new chair and I understand their reasoning. I have a fantastically interesting new life in Oxford. I will miss you all.

“You have been the most wonderful colleagues and we achieved really amazing things together. I continue to read with immense admiration the journalism the Guardian and Observer produce.  It’s all the more enjoyable for having played no part in it.

“Thanks to all of you who have quietly emailed support in the past few weeks. And very best wishes to all as we negotiate the storms currently affecting pretty much everyone in our industry.  We will come through….”

Last week a well-placed Guardian source voiced disquiet at the way senior figures in the company were briefing against Rusbridger.

They said: “It’s shameless. The GMG board are letting this happen to cover up their own shortcomings.”

The Scott Trust said in a statement that it has “reluctantly accepted his decision, although it was its unanimous hope that he would stay on the board”.

Current chair Liz Forgan said: “Alan Rusbridger’s contribution to the Guardian over 20 years as editor-in-chief is immeasurable. He has been the creative leader of this place and an inspiration to generations of journalists. His decision reflects his enormous integrity and his dedication to the Guardian”.

She remains as chair while “The Scott Trust embarks on an open and transparent process to appoint her successor”.

Rusbridger’s departure comes as Guardian News and Media executives are currently rethinking the “open journalism” model he espoused and considers charging for some online content.

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