Division over `Observer' editor choice

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Deep divisions have opened up over the appointment of a new editor to the Observer newspaper, with senior staff lobbying hard to block the leading candidate, Andrew Jaspan, currently editor of the Scotsman.

Although the final decision - to come on Tuesday - lies with the Scott Trust, owners of the paper, it is influenced heavily by a seven-man selection committee, consisting of trustees, management and journalists. It is understood that after nearly three weeks of deliberation, a majority of the committee led by Peter Preston, editor-in-chief of the Guardian and Observer, and Jim Markwick, the group managing director, has come out in favour of Mr Jaspan. According to well-placed sources, the two men see MrJaspan as "a cost-cutter not afraid to shake things up". But critics on the staff see him as an operator, not a visionary. Two committee members, Anthony Sampson, a former Observer journalist and Scott trustee, and Hugo Young, chairman of the trust, arethought to favour Ian Jack, currently editor of the Independent on Sunday. They are keen to see the Observer reinforced as a separate title with a distinctive identity. The committee is expected to meet again over the weekend.

One source at the Observer said the building was "aflame" at the suggestion that Mr Jaspan would take over. Senior staff have lobbied Mr Young by fax and phone, expressing grave doubts about Mr Jaspan's suitability. He is credited with rescuing Scotland on Sunday before taking up his current post.

Mr Jaspan told staff at the Scotsman that no job offer had been made, while Mr Jack said last night: "I've never put myself forward as a candidate, but informal approaches to me have been made."