Wednesday 9 June 2021 3:27 pm

Guardian chief executive steps down amid reports of boardroom clashes

The boss of the Guardian is stepping down after just 16 months in the job amid reports of clashes with the newspaper’s editor.

Annette Thomas, who took over as chief executive of publisher Guardian Media Group (GMG) last March, will leave the company at the end of June.

It comes after the Scott Trust, the £1bn fund behind the left-leaning publishing group, launched a review of the organisation’s complex governance and structures in April.

According to a Sunday Telegraph report, Thomas had clashed with Guardian editor Katharine Viner over leadership roles and how the company should be structured in the future.

While Thomas reported to the GMG board, which is in charge of the group’s commercial operations, Viner and the editorial department are answerable directly to the Scott Trust.

Relations between the pair are said to have deteriorated to such an extent that colleagues feared one of them would have to leave.

GMG chair Neil Berkett said: “In a year of lockdown, Annette has renewed and enhanced our strategy in conjunction with the editor-in-chief, a process the board has fully supported.

“The GMG board is immensely grateful to Annette for her significant achievements and for her consistent commitment to her principles and to the company’s values. We are disappointed she has chosen to leave, but we wish her well for the future.”

Chief financial and operating officer Keith Underwood will take over on an interim basis as acting chief executive.

The departure suggests the Guardian’s owners could be preparing to simplify the paper’s corporate structure and shift more focus to its editorial department.

This would reflect the title’s efforts to generate more revenue from readers rather than advertising – a strategy being pursued by other major players in the industry.

A shift to online consumption has hit print advertising revenue for newspapers in recent years, while the dominance of tech giants such as Facebook and Google has also put pressure on digital advertising.

Many newspaper groups, including the Telegraph and Reach, are now doubling down on subscriptions in a bid to adapt to the changes.

The Scott Trust was set up to ensure the future financial and editorial independence of the Guardian. 

The paper last year warned its revenue could drop by £25m as a result of the pandemic. In its 2019/2020 financial year, GMG booked a negative net operating cash flow of £29m.