News International has announced the resignation of Times editor James Harding.
In a statement the company said Harding "informed the national independent directors of The Times this morning" and that he will leave at the end of the month.
Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corporation said: "James has been a distinguished editor for The Times, attracting talented staff to the paper and leading it through difficult times. I have great respect for him as a colleague and friend, and truly hope we can work together again."
Harding, 43, was one of the youngest journalists to take charge of the paper and has been editor for the past five years.
He joined the paper from the Financial Times, opening its Shanghai Bureau and serving as bureau chief in Washington before joining The Times as business editor.
In a News Corp statement he said: "For any journalist, it is an extraordinary privilege and a point of pride to see your work appear beneath the masthead of The Times, the greatest name in newspapers in the world. I feel hugely honoured to have been given the opportunity to edit the paper and deeply grateful for the experience of working among the finest journalists in the world.
"This paper has an unrivalled history and, I am extremely confident, a long and impressive future ahead of it.”
News Corp said the directors of The Times will be now be consulted on a replacement for James, and declined to comment on speculation that he is being replaced by The Sunday Times editor John Witherow.
In his leaving speech, Harding said: "It has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of The Times. I have, therefore, agreed to stand down.
“I called Rupert this morning to offer my resignation and he accepted,” he said.
He told staff: “I would like to thanks Rupert for the great honour he did me in appointing me five years ago. And I have been supported by successive chief executive of News International who have been vigorous champions of The Times at extremely difficult times for the business.”
Harding’s departure will trigger further speculation that News International plans to integrate The Times and The Sunday Times newsrooms, following news last week that they are to merge their digital operations.
The company’s former chief executive Tom Mockridge, who also announced his departure earlier this month, indicated to staff that the two papers were likely to cooperate more closely in the future.
In October 2011 Harding told told staff up to 100 of the 700-strong editorial workforce on The Times could be axed as it looked to cut its budget by 15 per cent, while The Sunday Times also made up to 20 full-time staff redundant and lost around 30 per cent of casual staff.
Mockridge also noted before his departure that any integration would have to comply with undertakings to preserve the identities of the two titles made by Rupert Murdoch when he bought them in 1981.
News Corp is in the midst of a transition phase following the announcement that the company was splitting its newspaper business and entertainment operations into two separate companies.
Here is Harding's full statement to staff:
It has been made clear to me that News Corp would like to appoint a new editor of The Times. I have, therefore, agreed to stand down. I called Rupert this morning to offer my resignation and he accepted it.
This job is a constant privilege and I hope you will, like me, look back with a sense of achievement at the work we have done.
I am proud of the campaigns we have run on family courts, adoption and cycling, as well as the investigations we have done, among other things, into tax avoidance and child sex grooming.
I believe in our unflinching foreign coverage, driven by as fine a foreign editor as this newspaper has ever had. I bask in the reflected glory of our brilliant columnists.
Where we have moved the position of the paper – on the deficit, gay marriage, industrial policy, climate change – I hope even the readers who don’t agree with our judgement will respect our thinking.
In uniquely difficult circumstances I hope we have covered the story that has swirled around us with the integrity and independence that readers of The Times expect of us.
We have pioneered a revolution in digital that I hope will safeguard the future of newspapers beyond print. We have cut the editorial budget, but expanded what we do. Our coverage of the Jubilee and the Olympics was outstanding. And, judging by our sales figures for those amazing days – indeed, on balance, throughout the year – our readers thought so, too.
I would like to thank Rupert for the great honour he did me in appointing me five years ago. And I have been supported by successive chief executives of News International who have been vigorous champions of The Times at extremely difficult times for the business.
Anoushka Healy has managed the paper with patience, understanding, thoughtfulness and strength. And, as I have said before, most of the good things that we have done as a paper in the past few years have been Keith’s idea[deputy Keith Blackmore]. More than that, he is a man of decency, judgement, taste and an extraordinary appreciation for all types of talent, except his own.
I will be leaving at the end of the year and a new editor will be appointed in due course.
I know that for all of us it is a privilege and a point of pride to see out work appear beneath the masthead of The Times, the greatest name in newspapers in the world. This paper has an unrivalled history and, I am extremely confident, a long and impressive future ahead of it. It is also something else: a wonderful place to work, full of smart, warm, extraordinary people. I will miss it, but most of all you.