Sunday Times journalist and award-winning interviewer Lynn Barber has been dropped by the newspaper, but said she will continue working as a freelance.
Barber told Press Gazette she was given a month’s notice to leave the title in early August ahead of her yearly, rolling contract coming up for renewal in October.
“There was nothing disgraceful about it,” said Barber, 74, who tweeted yesterday that she had been “sacked” from the newspaper, which she joined in 2009. “They said that my services were no longer required.”
Barber, who wrote interviews for the Sunday Times Magazine as well as features, reviews and comment pieces, said she had “never got on” with Sunday Times Magazine editor Eleanor Mills and suggested this as a possible reason behind her being let go.
Mills took over as editor in 2015, replacing Sarah Baxter who became Sunday Times deputy editor.
“I just never got on with her,” said Barber of Mills. “On the whole I have been very lucky in a very long career and had good editors – who are still friends – but I just couldn’t get it [with her] at all.
“I don’t know what she’s about really.”
Barber claimed sending in an article to Mills for the magazine was “like dropping a stone down a well – you never heard [anything]” and the first she would know if an article was to going to be published was “when the subs phoned me up to do some fact checking”.
Mills told Press Gazette she was “really surprised and sorry” to hear Barber’s claims.
She said: “From my point of view I’ve always found it a great honour and pleasure to work with Lynn who is one of the most talented writers of her generation.
“We were thrilled to win the Supplement of the Year at the [Society of Editors] Press Awards this year and really appreciate the brilliant pieces by her which were a key part of that success.
“Just to clarify we have terminated Lynn’s large and expensive contract with the magazine but are looking forward to her continuing to write for us – in fact I’ve got a brilliant piece about her and her cat in this weekend’s issue and we’ve discussed ongoing contributions.”
Press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation upheld a complaint against the Sunday Times in February over an article by Barber, published in May 2017, about her putting up a refugee in her home.
It said the story breached privacy guidelines under the Editors’ Code of Practice.
The Sunday Times described the ruling as a “cruel blow” at the time.
It also defended Barber’s article as a “a truthful, brilliant piece of writing on immigration and asylum, a subject of exceptional public interest, which riveted our readers and reached 700,000 people online”.
Barber said she “wondered if that had played a part” in her Sunday Times contract being terminated, although she said the newspaper had been “very supportive and thought it was a great article”.
The Sunday Times has hired Guardian writer Decca Aitkenhead to the new role of chief interviewer, predominantly writing for the magazine. She had been due to start last month.
Aitkenhead has been twice named Interviewer of the Year at the Society of Editor’s Press Awards – an award also won multiple times by Barber.
Said Barber: “I don’t mind being supplanted by her. As soon as I read that [Aitkenhead had been hired] I thought: ‘That’s it, I’m for the chop’.”
She said she was open to all freelance offers and could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.