BBC journalists 'annoyed' at another senior job going to outsider from newspaper industry

Some BBC journalists are understood to be annoyed that BBC director of news James Harding has gone outside the corporation and made a succession of senior appointments from the world of print.

A well-placed BBC source contacted Press Gazette to voice disquiet on behalf of staff after Evening Standard editor Sarah Sands was appointed as editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.

A BBC insider told Press Gazette that the role had been advertised internally, with women in particular encouraged to apply.

The role was advertised externally as requiring “extensive experience of broadcast journalism at a senior level” and “a sound appreciation of studio production techniques” from candidates.

All of Sarah Sands’ full-time journalism experience is in print.

“I don’t think people were aware of it going external,” the source said.

“They thought the delay in hiring [a new Today editor] was down to an internal row or something, so it came as a blow that an external person got the job.

“There were a number of very talented women, including BME [black and minority ethnic] women, and people who have experience of working on that programme who went for the job – people who were seen as being really in line to get it.

“They were seen as a really good internal, diverse talent pool. But none of them were newspaper editors. That’s the crucial thing they were missing.

“There has been a lot of talk about why the BBC took so long in making the appointment. People think it’s a sham process that Harding had to go through to get the person he wanted.”

They added: “People are just annoyed that it’s more of Harding giving jobs externally and that there is this contempt for anyone who has any experience of actually doing the job of broadcasting and overlooking them for people from print media.

“He is recruiting in his own image and bringing people in from newspapers.”

Sands (pictured below), a former Sunday Telegraph and Reader’s Digest editor, is the latest in a series of drniot print media hires by former Times editor Harding following his appointment as director of BBC News and current affairs in April 2013.

Other BBC appointments from the national press under Harding include:

  • Former Independent editor Amol Rajan as media editor
  • Guardian chief political correspondent Nicholas Watt as Newsnight political editor
  • Sunday Times business editor Dominic O’Connell as Today business presenter
  • Guardian head of news Ian Katz as Newsnight editor
  • Times deputy editor Keith Blackmore as managing editor of BBC News
  • Times event manager Eleanor Scharer as Harding’s chief of staff
  • Sunday Telegraph business editor Kamal Ahmed as BBC News business editor
  • Financial Times education correspondent Chris Cook as Newsnight policy editor.

A BBC spokesperson said the process for recruiting the new Today editor was “open and competitive”, adding: “Sarah is a highly respected and hugely experienced journalist and was the stand out candidate.”

Candidates for the role are understood to have been interviewed twice.

The BBC has also made a number of high-profile internal promotions under Harding, including Laura Kuenssberg as BBC News political editor and Panorama editor Rachel Jupp.

According to the most recent BBC staff survey, completed by more than half of the workforce, only 38 per cent of those surveyed agreed with the statement: “There are fair, open processes for filling internal vacancies.”

A BBC source told Press Gazette: “He has lost the dressing room. He doesn’t have team news on his side.

“It still seems like an internal civil war between James Harding and journalists in the news team. It’s destructive for the BBC – it isn’t a good situation.”

It is understood there are also concerns among BBC staffers over what Sands’ salary will be, with fears the BBC will have to “match the salary of an editor from an oligarch-backed newspaper”.

The BBC declined to reveal what salary Sands is on, although Sands herself has revealed that she has taken a cut in pay.

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