Fleet Street is steeling itself for a new round of musical chairs following Max Hastings' surprise resignation yesterday as editor of the Daily Telegraph.
Mr Hastings, 49, told Conrad Black, chairman of and principal shareholder in the Telegraph titles, that he was stepping down from the job he had held for 10 years to take over as editor of the London Evening Standard. Stewart Steven, the Standard's editor, will retire at the end of the year.
Mr Black paid tribute to Mr Hastings in a statement: "In his time as editor, [he] had led the Daily Telegraph to an unprecedented status as a full-priced, full-service quality broadsheet, pre-eminent in its field. He has rendered particularly distinguished service in the last two years of intensified circulation competition, which the Daily Telegraph has endured satisfactorily, retaining its market leadership while continuing to publish profitably."
Mr Black added: "He strongly felt that after 10 years it was time to move on and he has accepted the editorship of a non-competing newspaper, the Evening Standard."
Although a successor to Mr Hastings will not be announced until next Wednesday, Charles Moore, editor of the Sunday Telegraph, is being heavily tipped by insiders. Dominic Lawson, in charge of the Spectator, is another leading candidate. But observers believe his lack of national newspaper editorial experience may mean he takes over the Sunday title.
Speculation that Mr Hastings may have been about to leave had been circulating for at least a year, but his resignation is believed to have surprised staff .
Stephen Grabiner, managing director of the Telegraph group, said Mr Hastings' departure had not been precipitated by any falling out; he had been head- hunted.
Although sorry to see Mr Steven leaving, senior staff at the Evening Standard were pleased with his replacement. There had been fears that in the drive to shore up circulation, the paper would be dragged downmarket. But the appointment of what one journalist described as "essentially a liberal editor" has reassured many.
Mr Hastings made his reputation at the Standard, first as editor of its Londoner's Diary gossip column and then as war correspondent in the Falklands. At the Telegraph, he is credited with helping the paper shed its crusty, staid image and holding circulation steady at more than 1 million in a vicious price war with the Times.