Journalism is facing an exodus of editors-in-chief.
Since Wednesday (May 31), three high-profile editors, two of whom were chief editors, have announced their departures. Gideon Lichfield, the Wired editor-in-chief of two years, is leaving in September or as soon as his replacement is ready to start, he said in a company note. Zach Seward, the co-founder and chief editor of business news site Quartz, also published his departure note on Wednesday. After 11 years at the company, he will exit on June 9. Cameron Barr, The Washington Post’s senior managing editor, is relinquishing his position at the end of the month, the paper announced yesterday (June 1). Barr has worked in this role since 2021 but began at the Post as a general assignment reporter in 2004.
The trend didn’t just begin. Jason Anders and Neal Lipschutz, The Wall Street Journal’s two deputy editors-in-chief who report to the top editor, are leaving as well, the publication announced last month. The Journal’s Kristina O’Neill, editor-in-chief of the magazine and Nicole Carroll of USA Today have also recently resigned.
This latest round of exits shines a light on the issues many publications are facing and how the industry’s leadership is addressing them. Many publications have laid off employees and cut costs in the last year, as a result of a slowed advertising market. News sites rely on advertising and subscriptions to earn revenue, so this downturn directly impacts their bottom lines. In addition to competing with social media and entertainment companies for advertising dollars, they are also having to compete for user attention.
What does it mean to be a former editor-in-chief?
The editors are leaving for a variety of personal and professional reasons that most kept vague and some didn’t disclose at all. Lichfield will likely spend time reporting and writing on sociopolitical issues, he said. Barr will write essays and memoirs, and he will take on consulting projects. Lipschutz is retiring, Carroll is running a startup aiding local news at Arizona State University and Seward, admittedly, is figuring it out.
After working in the top editorial position of a newsroom, many departed editors-in-chief don’t take on the same role at another publication. Many of the exiting executives advanced to the role after decades at their publications, giving them insight into the news site’s audience, content and culture they might not have elsewhere. There are some exceptions, though. Lichfield, the head of Wired, formerly worked as editor-in-chief of the MIT Technology Review. Norman Pearlstine, who most recently worked in the top editorial position of the Los Angeles Times, formerly served as the editor-in-chief of Time.
Some former editors-in-chief return to being reporters or columnists. The Boston Globe’s Brian McGrory and Tina Brown, of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, both worked as columnists after giving up their top editorial roles. Brown went on to found The Daily Beast, where she became chief editor again. Graydon Carter, top editor at Vanity Fair for 25 years, launched Air Mail, a weekly newsletter in 2019 where he is again an editor. Carter also worked as the editor of the New York Observer, this site’s forerunner, from 1991 to 1992.
It also isn’t uncommon for former head editors to leave journalism altogether. Eva Chen, the Lucky Magazine editor from 2013 to 2015, joined Instagram as the director of fashion partnerships where she has worked since. Michele Promaulayko of Women’s Health and Cosmopolitan advises healthy lifestyle brands, according to her personal website.
What did the departing editors do in their roles?
Gideon Lichfield, Wired
Prior to his short stint at Wired, Lichfield worked at The Economist for 16 years beginning in 1996, first in correspondent roles and then in editor positions. He co-founded Quartz in 2012 and worked as global news editor and then senior editor for a total of five years. Lichfield spent three years as the top editor of the MIT Technology Review and then two years at Wired.
While at Wired, he led a weekly podcast called “Have a Nice Future” alongside senior writer Lauren Goode. Episodes include discussions on the implications of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. He will continue making the podcast until at least November, he said in his departure note.
Under Lichfield, Wired launched a new homepage and merged the U.S. and U.K. editions of the website, according to a note from the former editor. He also pioneered a shift in coverage towards the role technology plays in global challenges and the people involved, rather than coverage about technology alone, he wrote in the note.
Zach Seward, Quartz
Seward’s departure means all of its founders will have left the publication. Most recently editor-in-chief, he has also worked as chief executive officer, chief product office and executive editor over 11 years. Before Quartz, he was an editor at the Journal and at Nieman Journalism Lab. He also worked as a reporter at the Journal for one year.
He became CEO of Quartz in 2019 following the departure of co-founder Kevin Delaney. He then bought the company from Uzabase, a Japanese firm, for an undisclosed amount in 2020. During his almost-three years as CEO, he restructured the company and then sold it to G/O Media, a holding company that operates Gizmodo, Jezebel, The Onion and other sites. He transitioned to editor-in-chief after the acquisition, where he held the role for one year.
Cameron Barr, The Washington Post
Barr had been at the Post since 2004, working his way through reporting and editing positions to become a managing editor in 2015 and then senior managing editor in 2021. He previously worked at The Christian Science Monitor, a Boston-based nonprofit paper, for 14 years.
He was one of the longest-serving managing editors at the Post, the paper wrote in an article. As managing editor, he oversaw the daily reporting of the publication. While at the Post, he also helped manage teams that won 12 Pulitzer Prizes, the Post wrote.