Nesbitt to take over as editor of the News Letter

Looking a fresh challenge: Mike Nesbitt has given assurances to the News Letters owners, Johnston Press. 
Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Looking a fresh challenge: Mike Nesbitt has given assurances to the News Letters owners, Johnston Press. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Outgoing Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt is to take over as editor of the News Letter, it was last night announced.

The news, which will take the political and media worlds by surprise, was made in a statement by the News Letter’s owners, Johnston Press.

Mr Nesbitt, who had a long journalistic career as a broadcaster before becoming a Victims’ Commissioner in 2008 and then entering politics two years later, will assume editorial responsibility for the world’s oldest continuously published English language newspaper.

Johnston Press hailed Mr Nesbitt’s “wide experience, knowledge of unionism and ability to lead a team”.

The Strangford MLA - who announced his resignation as UUP leader after last month’s election but will not formally stand down until next Saturday - is to take over in the editor’s chair as part of a reorganisation which sees current editor Alistair Bushe promoted to a group-wide editorial role.

Mr Nesbitt’s appointment is the second instance of a senior political figure taking over as editor of a daily newspaper.

Just a fortnight ago former Chancellor George Osborne stunned Westminster when the London Evening Standard announced that he was to take over as editor.

Last night Mr Nesbitt had not yet commented on the new position.

However, it is understood that, like Mr Osborne, he intends to remain as a political representative - in his case as MLA for Strangford - while undertaking the new role.

A source close to the politician last night indicated that he is likely to want to bring in several UUP aides, including press officer John Moore, when he takes over.

Mr Nesbitt, who has enormous broadcasting experience, is understood to be keen to get back on screen and likely to be providing political analysis on behalf of the paper. He is also understood to be keen to shake up the paper’s political coverage.

News Letter political editor Sam McBride is to take up a new role which will involve looking after the auctions and antiques page as well as the weekend gardening section.

For the last decade the News Letter has not backed any one of the unionist parties and it is understood that the outgoing Ulster Unionist leader has provided assurances to Johnston Press that he will not seek to influence the News Letter’s political coverage in favour of the UUP.

It is also understood that Mr Nesbitt will not take up his post as editor until 1 April 2018.