Analysis

Why the appointment of Deborah Turness is a coup for the BBC

Charlotte Grant

If there is a word that springs to mind when describing the BBC’s new CEO of news and current affairs – it is “fizzing.”

Deborah Turness was my boss when I first joined ITN in 2006. A fireball of energy and creativity, she would come to the morning newsroom meeting to discuss the day’s agenda, armed with newspaper clippings, full of ideas about how to make ITV’s news coverage stand out. She was always driving home the message that ITN may be up against much bigger news beasts with more resources, but as a smaller operation we could succeed by being nimble, thinking outside the box and ultimately telling the day’s stories in the most compelling and engaging way for viewers.

Now, as the new CEO of news and current affairs at the BBC, she has arguably the most important job in British broadcast journalism. After Fran Unsworth announced her departure, there had been speculation her replacement would come from within. But in the end, the BBC broke a cycle of internal appointments and went for an external candidate – one that is used to trailblazing.

Turness brings to the role a wealth of experience. She was Editor of ITV News for nearly a decade – the first woman to hold the role. When she joined NBC News, she became the first female president of a network news division in the US. Not bad for a Brit! Her international and commercial background perhaps explains the change in title from director to CEO (and with it, a salary increase – Unsworth was on £340k and Turness will be paid £400k). The BBC says the new title is to reflect its ambition to “continue to build the BBC’s global news brand.”

As a junior, she is a boss you really want to deliver for. That kind of dedication from employees could prove crucial at a time when the BBC faces such a mighty agenda. The journey ahead for the organisation and its new recruit will be anything but easy. But with Turness’ unique blend of dynamism, business expertise and reputation for impartiality – expect an interesting ride.