The move comes after parent company Johnston Press announced it was closing the Sunderland print plant with the loss of up to 81 jobs and moving most of its work to Sheffield.
As a result of the closure, it is understood that senior editorial staff at the Echo and other titles in the region have been told they may be forced to bring forward their deadlines.
Rob’s departure after a decade at the helm of the Echo was announced to staff this morning in a brief statement by North East Press managing director Stuart Birkett.
It read: “Rob Lawson, editorial director of Northeast Press Ltd and editor of the Sunderland Echo has decided to leave the company to pursue outside business opportunities.
“Rob has made an outstanding contribution to Northeast Press, and latterly the Group in his role as chairman of the Editorial Review Group, and we wish him well for the future.”
Stuart added that a further announcement would be made in due course regarding the vacant role. Deputy editor Richard Ord has made been acting editor of the Echo in the interim.
Reacting to the news on Twitter, Rob’s former Newcastle Evening Chronicle opposite number Paul Robertson said he was a “great editor” who would be a “big loss to the industry.”
Rob tweeted in response: “Tough decision to take, but I feel the time is right to go!”
Sunderland-born Rob joined the Echo as editor in August 2002, having previously been editor of the Shields Gazette.
The news of his departure this morning followed the announcement of plans to close the Sunderland press hall with the loss of up to 81 jobs and transfer most of its work to Dinnington, near Sheffield.
Titles currently printed at the plant in Pennywell include the Echo, the Gazette and the Hartlepool Mail, along with a series of sister weeklies.
Chief operating officer Danny Cammiade said: “A strategic review has been undertaken of the Johnston Press print capacity. As a result of this review it is proposed to close Sunderland Web and transfer the majority of printing to Sheffield Web, with some external contract print support.
“We have, therefore, commenced consultation to TUPE transfer staff to Sheffield Web, in Dinnington. Should this proposal go ahead up to 81 roles would be affected.
“The Pennywell Northeast Press Ltd site would remain the base for nearly 300 editorial, commercial and support. It is anticipated any changes to printing would take effect towards the end of October 2012 following a full and meaningful consultation process.”
Sunderland is now set to become the third JP print plant to be axed this year following the earlier closures of the Leeds and Peterborough operations.
It means the company will have just two remaining print plants in England – at Dinnington, near Sheffield, and Portsmouth where 16 jobs are currently under threat due to a reduction in workload.
The Peterborough plant was closed in June with the loss of 35 jobs while the axeing of the Leeds printing centre in March saw 25 jobs go.
The Leeds closure subsequently led to the scrapping of several district editions of the Yorkshire Post.