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The Guardian Is Expected To Get Its First Female Editor On Friday

Kath Viner is widely perceived to be the frontrunner ahead of the announcement, but there are unanswered questions about her backers within the paper.

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The announcement is expected on Friday afternoon after final interviews with the two remaining shortlisted candidates, reported to be Viner and Newsnight editor Ian Katz, who had a long career at The Guardian and led its reporting of secret government cables in collaboration with WikiLeaks. Viner would be the first female editor in the paper's history.

Viner won 53% of the votes in an internal staff election organised by the paper's National Union of Journalists chapel earlier this month, designed to inform the Scott Trust – The Guardian's nonprofit owner – of journalists' preferred candidate (Katz didn't stand in this hustings). It is also thought that there is widespread desire across the company to appoint a female editor.

Both Viner and Katz are understood by BuzzFeed News to have been campaigning vigorously within the organisation. But questions have been raised over the role in Viner's campaign of columnist Seumas Milne, who has been canvassing on her behalf for several months.

On 2 March, three days after the killing of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, The Guardian used its leader column to accuse Putin's regime of "weaponised relativism". It said:

The idea that there are multiple interpretations of the truth has become the founding philosophy of state disinformation in Putin's Russia, designed to confuse those who would seek out the truth with multiple expressions of distracting PR chaff. The tactic is to create as many competing narratives as possible.

Yet two days later, Milne dismissed any suggestion that the Russian state was involved in the killing and wrote in an opinion piece:

Putin has now become a cartoon villain and Russia the target of almost uniformly belligerent propaganda across the western media. Anyone who questions the dominant narrative on Ukraine – from last year's overthrow of the elected president and the role of Ukrainian far right to war crimes carried out by Kiev's forces – is dismissed as a Kremlin dupe.

Milne's apparent sympathy for the Putin regime – for example attending a meeting of the pro-Putin Valdai Discussion Club, where he chaired a Q&A session with the Russian president – has raised concerns about whether this may affect the newspaper's line if Viner becomes editor.

But a journalist currently working at the paper, who asked not to be named, said Milne's support of Viner is related to his dislike of Katz, and that Viner would be winning the contest without his help.

Viner declined to comment, but pointed BuzzFeed News towards the statement she gave to the NUJ chapel as evidence of the approach she would take to editing the paper.

Milne has not yet responded to our request for comment. Guardian News & Media has also not yet responded to our request for comment.

Gibson, the editor-in-chief of theguardian.com, was previously thought to be the frontrunner for the job but has fallen out of the race.

She built The Guardian's US operation into a credible force during a three-year stint in New York and won praise for her handling of the Edward Snowden leaks, which landed The Guardian a Pulitzer Prize, along with the Washington Post. This made it the first Pulitzer winner (ultimately) based in the UK.

What happens next to Gibson, who has been instrumental in revamping the newsroom to better serve digital readers, remains to be seen. She won 175 of the staff votes in the NUJ hustings, compared to 438 for Viner.

Sources within the paper described Gibson as outgoing editor Alan Rusbridger's favoured choice. But despite arguably being more influential and powerful within the organisation than the CEO of its parent company, Guardian News & Media, and being set to chair the board of the Scott Trust from this summer, Rusbridger has insisted he is "not playing any part" in the process to choose his successor.

In December Rusbridger announced he would leave the paper this summer after 20 years in charge, and was more recently seen getting a police caution on Hampstead Heath for unauthorised photography.

Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Patrick Smith at patrick.smith@buzzfeed.com.

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