Guardian chief executive Annette Thomas quits job for just 15 months ‘with £600,000 payout’

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Guardian chief Annette Thomas quits just 15 months in job ‘with £600,000 payout’ after power struggle with editor Katharine Viner over newspaper group’s future

  • Annette Thomas is leaving the company this month with an expected payout of £600k
  • Recent reports pointed to tensions between her and editor Katharine Viner
  • It is believed that Ms. Thomas and Ms. Viner clashed over the chief executive’s attempts to monetize the publication’s online audience

The Guardian Media Group (GMG) chief executive has just resigned for 15 months with an expected payout of £600,000.

Annette Thomas will leave the company this month and will be replaced on an interim basis by Chief Financial and Operations Officer Keith Underwood.

GMG is owned by the Scott Trust, the £1 billion endowment fund set up to fund the news organisation.

A recent report in the Daily Telegraph suggested tensions have risen between Ms Thomas and Guardian editor Katharine Viner over the direction of publication and the power structure within the company.

It is believed that Ms. Thomas and Ms. Viner – who was elected to her position in 2015 following an editorial poll – disagreed over the chief executive’s attempts to monetize the publication’s online audience, The times reports.

It was said that their dispute was over whether the organization could afford to invest further in journalism, with Ms Viner reportedly believing it could, and Ms Thomas advocating a more disciplined approach.

Recent reports suggested tensions had risen between Ms Thomas and Guardian editor Katharine Viner (pictured) over the direction of publication and the power structure within the company

Annette Thomas (photo) is leaving the company this month

Annette Thomas (photo) is leaving the company this month

Annette Thomas (right) will leave the company this month. Recent reports suggested there were tensions between Ms Thomas and Guardian editor Katharine Viner (left) over the direction of publication and the power structure within the company

It is believed that Ms. Thomas and Ms. Viner - who was elected to her position in 2015 following an editorial poll - disagreed over the chief executive's attempts to monetize the publication's online audience.  Pictured: The Guardian's King's Cross office

It is believed that Ms. Thomas and Ms. Viner - who was elected to her position in 2015 following an editorial poll - disagreed over the chief executive's attempts to monetize the publication's online audience.  Pictured: The Guardian's King's Cross office

It is believed that Ms. Thomas and Ms. Viner – who was elected to her position in 2015 following an editorial poll – disagreed over the chief executive’s attempts to monetize the publication’s online audience. Pictured: The Guardian’s King’s Cross office

A source blamed a clash of personalities for the dispute between the two, which reportedly “escalates minor issues into major disagreements.”

Anette Thomas: The academic who oversaw reduced the Guardian’s losses by 50%

Anette Thomas joined the company in March 2020.

Ms. Thomas, who is from the US, has a PhD in neuroscience from Yale and had spent decades in academic publications before taking up her position at GMC.

She is a non-executive Trustee Fellow of the Yale Coropration and has served on the Cambridge Assessment Board of the University Press.

Ms. Thomas, who describes herself as a “mother and feminist” in her Twitter biography, received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and biophysics from Harvard University between 1982 and 1986.

She then obtained her doctorate in philosophy, cell biology, and neuroscience from Yale for five years.

According to reports, The Guardian staff had thought she or Katharine Viner would have to leave due to disagreements over the direction of the paper.

Ms Thomas had overseen a ‘strong financial performance’ in the year 2020/21, with annual sales growth and a 50% reduction in operating losses, the Guardian news agency said.

American Ms Thomas, who has a PhD in neuroscience from Yale, had spent decades in academic publications before taking her position at GMC, while Ms Viner joined the Guardian in 1997 and worked her way up the ranks.

The source said: ‘Annette is a high-functioning businesswoman who is process driven and expects to exercise complete control. Kath is a Guardian lifer and a fully signed believer in her mission.’

Ms Thomas’s decision to quit comes two months after the Scott Trust announced a review of GMG’s governance and structures.

The outgoing boss said: “After an important year in which we created a new strategic plan and a high caliber team, which has significantly increased our focus on journalism and digital recurring reader revenue, I have decided to step down as chief executive, as current governance and structures need more time to fully evolve to support the implementation of the reader-centric strategic plan.’

According to reports, the complex structure at GMG has contributed to tensions over who is in charge and how the Guardian should operate.

Ms Thomas would favor a more cautious approach after losses stabilized by pandemic job cuts, while Ms Viner, who reports to the Scott Trust, rather than GMG, is seen pushing for reinvestment in the newsroom.

GMG Chairman Neil Berkett said: “We have a clear strategy and a strong management team.

“Despite the challenges caused by the coronavirus, Guardian and Observer journalism has never been stronger or more relevant, and our long-standing commitment to trusted reader relationships is starting to fuel our growth.

“The board will continue to support Keith Underwood, Katharine Viner and the broader management team to achieve our long-term goals.”

Katharine Viner: journalist, playwright and first female editor-in-chief at The Guardian

Katharine Viner poses during the Off-Broadway opening night of My Name Is Rachel Corrie at the Minetta Lane Theater on October 15, 2006 in New York City

Katharine Viner poses during the Off-Broadway opening night of My Name Is Rachel Corrie at the Minetta Lane Theater on October 15, 2006 in New York City

Katharine Viner poses during the Off-Broadway opening night of My Name Is Rachel Corrie at the Minetta Lane Theater on October 15, 2006 in New York City

Katharine Viner became editor-in-chief of The Guardian in June 2015 – a position she was chosen for following an editorial poll.

Growing up in Yorkshire, Ms Viner had been part of the Youth CND and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and joined the outlet as a writer in 1997, after studying English at Pembroke College, Oxford.

In 2008 she was appointed deputy editor in chief.

Ms Viner launched Guardian Australia in 2013 and was also editor of New York-based Guardian US.

In a 2002 column entitled “Feminism as Imperialism,” she had argued that then-US President George W. Bush was not “the first empire builder to wage war in the name of women.”

She had written in her anti-war article: ‘Bush has taken on the previously unknown cause of Iraqi women – actually, look at the quotes, they are women everywhere! – to justify another war.

‘Where next? China because of its anti-girls-one-child policy? India because of violent widows? Britain because of the criminally low rape conviction rate?’

She is the first woman to be editor of The Guardian in its 194-year history.

Ms Viner and actor Alan Rickman had edited the play My Name is Rachel Corrie from the correspondence of Rachel Corrie, the American activist who was killed in 2003 by a bulldozer operated by the Israeli army in Gaza.

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