A front-page Daily Telegraph story about suicides at News UK has been described as “despicable” and “coming from a very dark place” by senior figures at other publishers.
The report has been seen by some as a tit-for-tat response to criticism in The Times of the Telegraph over claims it has allowed its news coverage to be censored by concerns about upsetting advertisers.
The Telegraph also ran a page-lead story on Saturday claiming that the headline of an article about Iraq was changed on the The Guardian homepage “amid concerns about offending Apple”, which was said to be a prominent website advertiser at the time.
The Guardian has also been highlighting the fallout from former Telegraph chief political correspondent Peter Oborne’s resignation in protest at what he described as the paper’s “fraud” against its readers.
Both of the Telegraph articles in question appeared without bylines and neither allow readers to comment online.
They come after the Telegraph pledged in a leader column on Friday that its journalists will "follow the facts without fear or favour and present the results of their work to you solely on their journalistic merits, according to their sound editorial judgment and no other consideration".
The Telegraph reported that two members of the News UK commercial department had taken their lives in within weeks of one another “amid fears staff are being put under unreasonable pressure to hit targets”.
The story said news of the deaths “come as it emerged that one of the company’s senior executives had boasted about how its commercial and editorial departments were now work closely together”. This was a reference to the launch of News UK’s “native advertising” department.
Former Telegraph marketing director Katie Vanneck-Smith, now global managing director of News Corp-owned Dow Jones, said on Twitter of the Telegraph piece: "Makes me sick. Daily Telegraph Writes 'Despicable' Report Linking Suicides At The Times To Commercial Pressure.”
Guardian.com editor Janine Gibson said on Twitter: "Silly revenge pieces about the Guardian are one thing, but that hit on the Times has come from a very dark place indeed."
Sun managing editor Stig Abell said: "Disgusting low from the Telegraph: use the death of News UK employees as part of its HSBC panic." He also said on Twitter: "Just seen that the Telegraph put their despicable story on the front page. A paper being run by the woefully inadequate."
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger wrote a Twitter message directed at Telegraph chief executive Murdoch MacLennan urging him to withdraw the story: "@MMacLennanTMG come on, Murdoch. If you guys can take down HSBC stories you can take down this, too".
When the story first appeared online, news editor of the Guido Fawkes blog, Harry Cole, quoted a “Telegraph hack” as saying: “It’s like Dr Strangelove, when the Americans decide they want to kill everyone rather than die alone.”
Then when it emerged that it was on the front page, he said on Twitter: "They've stuck it on P1. Uncontainable rage from friends at the Telegraph tonight. Dam is going to break."
Buzzfeed reported on Saturday that it had been contacted by multiple Telegraph reporters who expressed disgust and bewilderment at their newspaper’s decision to publish the story.
The Telegraph report has been accused by some of breaching guidelines by the Samaritans on reporting suicide, which were promoted by the Press Complaints Commission.
These state: "Over-simplification of the causes or perceived ‘triggers’ for a suicide can be misleading and is unlikely to reflect accurately the complexity of suicide. For example, avoid the suggestion that a single incident, such as loss of a job, relationship breakdown or bereavement, was the cause..
"Two or more people taking their own lives who, for example, share a similar background or live in a similar geographic area may be coincidence.
"Avoid implying a connection where there may be none."
The Observer described the Telegraph coverage in an editorial as "tit-for-tat suicide warfare".
It said: "In every business there’s pressure and scope for tragedy. But to equate these deaths with the decision – the commercial decision – to go easy on a big bank in trouble is gross far beyond any Fleet Street club. It demeans those who wrote it and those who ordered it. It will not be forgotten, or easily forgiven."
The Telegraph said in a statement: "We have already responded to the unfounded allegations made about the Telegraph earlier this week. We are now putting in place guidelines on how our editorial and commercial departments should work within a modern multi-media environment. This is an important step for the industry as a whole as stories about a number of different publishers which we have highlighted have made clear."