EXCLUSIVE: The BBC’s head of digital journalism has quit after just four months, prompting further internal anxiety about the UK broadcaster’s plans to merge its international and domestic news channels.
Saeed Ahmed has left the BBC after joining from NPR last October. He was based in Washington D.C. and was tasked with overseeing the UK broadcaster’s digital news content aimed at U.S. audiences.
America is seen as a potential growth territory for the BBC as it looks to export and monetise its brand of impartial British news around the world.
In an email to staff, Stuart Millar, the BBC’s digital executive news editor, said: “I’m sorry to announce that Saeed Ahmed has decided to leave his role as US head of digital journalism to take up a senior position with another news organisation. This is with immediate effect.
“While I’m disappointed to see Saeed go so soon after joining, I know we have a great digital team in the US and I’m excited to push forward with the ambitious plans we have to deliver for North American audiences.”
Ahmed was playing an important role in merging the BBC’s news channels before his abrupt departure. Sources said he sat on the interview board that will decide on the combined channel’s new presenter lineup, sparking fears that his exit could disrupt hiring decisions. The BBC declined to comment, but there is confidence the recruitment process will be unaffected.
Around 15 presenters are interviewing for six positions, one of which is based in Washington D.C. People familiar with the process said interviews had to take place on Zoom because of Ahmed’s involvement.
Presenters are being asked to complete “humiliating” screen tests as part of the process, even though many boast decades of experience anchoring rolling news coverage on the BBC.
The BBC is planning to launch the merged channel in April and considers it a central part of plans to cut costs and reinvent its television news output for an increasingly digital audience.
The plan is unpopular with staff, however, with around 70 jobs on the line. Detractors believe a merged channel will weaken the BBC’s news offering in the UK, where the broadcaster is funded by the public.
Naja Nielsen, BBC News’s digital director, is overseeing the changes. She hailed Ahmed’s appointment in October, saying he had pioneered “new ways of engaging audiences and bringing stories to life across a range of digital platforms.”
Ahmed worked at NPR for more than a year. Prior to this, he spent more than 13 years at CNN, where he rose to assistant managing editor of digital.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.