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James Harding says he is "going to start a new media company". So who will replace him?
Image caption James Harding says he is "going to start a new media company". So who will replace him?

In an email to staff announcing his departure, James Harding covered what all departure messages must cover: his legacy.

Harding, who is - full disclosure - my ultimate boss, mentioned the emphasis on slow news, the hiring of new talent, new language services and the launch of the Reality Check brand to address the challenge of fake news. Together these add up to a substantial legacy; but Harding, like any journalist, will want to be remembered above all for the stories that were covered during his tenure.

I haven't done the job so wouldn't know, but I imagine there are some very big - and very frustrating - differences between being editor of The Times, which he was previously, and director of BBC News. The principal one is that at the BBC - a vast, public-sector organisation with many more enemies and in a much more politically toxic role - there is less time to actually edit, and much more time spent managing.

This is as it should be. The BBC spends public money, and therefore has to account for how it spends it.

Crucially, as his email to staff acknowledged, it also has to be impartial. That is an intellectual and moral challenge for all journalists - and also a vital one of course. My sense from speaking to him is that, as he says, you're told when you join the BBC that you have to leave your opinions at the door, and it would be quite interesting for him to see how those opinions have been getting on for the past five years, while he's been in New Broadcasting House.

His departure will destabilise staff in the short term, as all change does. The immediate questions are who replaces him, and what Harding does next. On the latter, I heard a while back that he quite fancied launching something, but doing so is very hard, and about as far from public service journalism as you can get.

On the former, there will now be a process to identify and appoint a successor, and I suspect that the candidates will include outsiders. After all, Harding himself came from the world of newspapers.

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