Soon Alan Rusbridger will be looking through this window from the other side. Photo: Muir Vidler/New Statesman
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Staff ballot for next editor is causing untold angst at the Guardian

The staff at the Guardian get a chance to vote on who they think the next editor should be. But how can they do that when they don't know who all the candidates are?

Word reaches the Mole of yesterday's NUJ chapel meeting at the Guardian to discuss the staff ballot on the next editor, due to take place later this month. The ballot is causing much angst in Kings Cross, due to the fact that democracy often produces inconvenient results - i.e. the Scott Trust is worried that the staff won't agree with their choice for an heir to Alan Rusbridger.

The word among the comrades was that headhunters approached the BBC's Robert Peston as an external candidate, although no one knows whether he showed any interest. 

Internally, the contest is between Janine Gibson, recently returned to London after winning a Pulitzer for the US web operation, and Katharine Viner, who replaced her in America after setting up a Guardian outpost Down Under. (Gibson was described by Michael Wolff in GQ as "rather a Fleet Street character - messy, crude, unread and gossipy to an invariably trouble-making end", although he declined to mention that she sacked him as a columnist, which may colour his judgement). Comment supremo Jonathan Freedland has not applied, although the architect of the Guardian website's redesign, Wolfgang Blau, may have thrown his hat into the ring.

The key point from yesterday's meeting was that the staff ballot will be open to regular freelancers - anyone who earns more than half their salary from Guardian commissions. That means a lot more votes from contributors to, say, Weekend Magazine, the Review pages and G2. And which of the candidates came up through features rather than news? Viner. 

The other great unspoken in the room yesterday was the King Across the Water - Newsnight's Ian Katz. "What if the editor of, say . . . Newsround applied?" said staff, hypothetically. Would he - OR SHE - be part of the ballot? No one knows if former Guardian lifer Katz has applied for the job, but it would certainly undermine his position at the BBC if word got out he wanted to jump ship.

When the ballot was held last time, there were four candidates, but all were from the Guardian. The voting system, aptly for the Guardian, is slightly confusing - it's single transferable vote, meaning the candidates with the lowest support in each round is knocked out and their voters' second choices are given to the remaining contenders. Last time - as many of the hacks present remembered - Rusbridger won by a landslide in the first round. 

The big problem this time is what to do if there is an external candidate who doesn't want to publicise their application. Is it fair if they're not on the ballot? What's the point of the staff voting if the Scott Trust could appoint someone who was never even put to a public vote? Such questions were left undecided, although there was talk of an emergency chapel meeting if the staff vote and board decision were not the same. 

After a few rousing renditions of the Red Flag and a hearty quinoa buffet, the meeting broke up. The hustings will take place at the end of the month - but who knows whether all the candidates will be there, or just the internal ones?

I'm a mole, innit.

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