The move appears to narrow the field of possible buyers for The Telegraph and opens up questions over the future of TNM, a social-first news outlet founded by Lewis and former BBC business editor Kamal Ahmed to serve young audiences.
Who is Sir William Lewis, the new chief executive of The Washington Post?
Previously editor of The Telegraph and then an executive at News UK and Dow Jones, according to the Washington Post Lewis was selected by Post proprietor Jeff Bezos because he spent the start of his career “first and foremost as a journalist – and then switched to say that great journalism needs great business”.
During his time as Dow Jones chief executive from 2014 to 2020, flagship title The Wall Street Journal increased its digital subscriber numbers from 700,000 to more than two million, according to The New York Times. News Corp reported in its most recent quarterly earnings release that that figure had grown to 3.4 million by the end of June 2023, which would make the WSJ the second most-subscribed-to English language edigital news publisher in the world on Press Gazette’s 100k Club ranking.
Lewis will join The Washington Post on 2 January, amid a period of turbulence for the DC-based newspaper. The Post benefitted markedly from the so-called “Trump bump“, tripling its paid digital subscriber count over the course of the Trump presidency to three million according to Axios. But since then subscribers have dropped to 2.5m with 240 redundancies announce last month, according to the New York Times.
The appointment of London-born Lewis to lead the Post mirrors that of former BBC director-general and NYT chief executive Mark Thompson as the boss of CNN in August. Like Lewis, Thompson has been tasked by his new employer with shaping a major US legacy media brand into something which can profitably serve audiences their news digitally.
As a journalist, Lewis notably edited The Daily Telegraph from 2005 to 2010 when it acquired the documents that led to the MPs’ expenses scandal. The paper paid some £110,000 for the leak, which ultimately led to the resignation of several members of government and the Speaker of the House of Commons. Earlier, as a reporter for the Financial Times, Lewis broke the news of the merger of Exxon and Mobil in 1999.
Less positively, Lewis is remembered by some at News UK for his role in the aftermath of the phone-hacking scandal. As an executive member of News Corp’s Management and Standards Committee, Lewis was involved in disclosing information to the Metropolitan Police which resulted in the prosecution of numerous journalists at the company, as well as their sources.
Lewis told Washington Post reporters in an interview marking his appointment that he had not “sold out” journalists at the company, but declined to discuss the episode in full, saying: “I took a view very early on that I’m never going to talk about it. And it’s either right or wrong that I’ve done that.”
Lewis told the Post he had a junior position on the MSC tasked with ensuring journalistic principles were respected and said: “I did whatever I could to preserve journalistic integrity.”
Lewis recently received a knighthood in Boris Johnson‘s resignation honours list, where he was described as a political adviser to the former prime minister. Johnson told The Washington Post over the weekend: “Will Lewis is an outstanding editor with a very sharp business brain. There is no one better at organising a day-by-day campaign to bring new information into the public domain. And he is therefore a great fit with The Washington Post.”
Johnson also described Lewis as a fellow Brexiteer, something Lewis denied to his new employees.
Lewis told the Washington Post: “No, I wouldn’t say it’s true. He has no idea what my views of Brexit are.”
What happens now to Lewis bid for The Daily Telegraph
Lewis told Bloomberg as recently as September that he had the funding lined up to acquire The Telegraph, although he declined to say where from. The Sunday Telegraph itself reported over the weekend that Lewis is now “expected to drop out” of the race for the broadsheet, and that discussions between Lewis and Bezos began when Lewis pitched the Amazon founder on a potential investment in The Telegraph.
His withdrawal from the race would still leave several major figures in the auction, including Daily Mail publisher DMGT, Politico and Insider proprietor Axel Springer and GB News and Unherd investor Sir Paul Marshall.
Meanwhile, Lewis looks set to leave The News Movement, which formally launched late last year. Publishing primarily in a short-form, vertical video format, TNM’s business model was originally pitched around helping other newsrooms to produce youth-focused, social-first content. Early partners included National World and the Associated Press, in whose offices TNM’s London staff are based.
Staffed by 46 people in December 2022, The Sunday Telegraph reports that recruiters “have been seeking a Gen Z candidate to lead the venture”.
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