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In 1971, he spent a period of time in Namibia as a volunteer teacher at St Mary's Anglican School in Ovamboland, but on being refused a permit to enter Ovamboland by the South African government he was asked by Bishop Colin Winter to remain in Windhoek to help establish a diocesan library and study centre for correspondence students.
He was sent by Reuters to the Cardiff School of Journalism, where he gained a distinction. He worked in Madrid and London for Reuters before joining The Times as a reporter. He covered the Falklands War in 1982. John Witherow sailed in HMS Invincible with the British troops involved in the Falklands War. While aboard Invincible as a Times journalist, he said, "... the atmosphere was quite extraordinary, there were hundreds of thousands of people lining the quay, waving and within the ship there was a curious mood of ebullience and aggression."
Later he covered the Iran-Iraq war, before moving to The Sunday Times. There he served in several positions, including Defence Editor, Diplomatic Editor, Foreign Editor and managing Editor of News. Witherow was made acting editor after the departure of Andrew Neil in 1994 and confirmed in the job the following year. His reputation suffered early in his editorship after the publication of false claims that Labour politician Michael Foot was a KGB agent.
Witherow became one of the longest-serving editors for one of Murdoch’s News Corporation titles, presiding over the expansion of The Sunday Times breaking powerful news stories (cash for questions; cash for honours; the Downing Street memos) and developing its three magazines. In 2010, Witherow sought to defend A. A. Gill after the TV critic had described Clare Balding as ‘a dyke on a bike’ in a review of her programme Britain by Bike. Replying to a letter of complaint from Balding, Witherow wrote, "In my view some members of the gay community need to stop regarding themselves as having a special victim status and behave like any other sensible group that is accepted by society. Not having a privileged status means, of course, one must accept occasionally being the butt of jokes. A person's sexuality should not give them a protected status." Unhappy with his response, Balding referred the issue to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). In September 2010, the PCC rejected the defence put forward by Witherow and The Sunday Times, saying that its code was "very clear that newspapers must avoid prejudicial, pejorative or irrelevant reference to an individual's sexual orientation and the reference to Balding plainly breached its terms".
He was expected to become the permanent editor of The Times at the beginning of 2013, but the independent directors rejected this option. He became acting editor of The Times newspaper January 2013. but was not permanently appointed until September 2013.
He is separated from Sarah Linton, who is an employment lawyer and a partner with the American law firm Locke Lord. He has three children: Sam, Ronny and Anna.
- The International Who's Who 2004. Europa. 2004.
- Witherow, John; Bishop, Patrick (1982). The Winter War: Falklands Conflict. Quartet Books. ISBN 0-7043-3424-0.
- Witherow, John; Sullivan, Aidan (1991). The Sunday Times War in the Gulf: A Pictorial History. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-06706-2.
- Williams, Rhys; Higgins, Andrew (23 February 1995). "The sorry tale of Agent Boot". The Independent.
- Davies, Caroline (30 July 2010). "Clare Balding complains to press watchdog over 'dyke' jibe". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 30 July 2015.
- "Clare Balding complaint over sexuality is upheld". BBC News Online. 17 September 2010. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
- Ian Burrell "James Harding steps down as editor of The Times", The Independent, 12 December 2012
- Dominic Ponsford "John Witherow made 'acting' editor of Times after independent directors show their teeth", Press Gazette, 18 January 2013
- Katherine Rushton "John Witherow named acting editor of The Times as News International eyes merger", telegraph.co.uk, 18 January 2013
- Roy Greenslade "Witherow and Ivens confirmed as editors of Times and Sunday Times", theguardian, 27 September 2013
|Editor of The Sunday Times
|Editor of The Times