Page last updated at 19:38 GMT, Friday, 1 July 2005 20:38 UK

Could you read the news?

By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

Andrew Marr, the BBC's outgoing political editor, controversially suggested this week that newsreaders are paid too much money for merely "reading an autocue".

Kirsty Young
Five's Kirsty Young earns a reported £500,000 a year
His comments were supported by John Humphrys, host of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, who said reading the news "isn't work" and "requires no brain".

Are newsreaders overpaid for doing a very simple job? Or is reading the news a demanding and highly specialised skill?

When asked for his opinion, former BBC correspondent Michael Cole is unequivocal.

"If it's done well it looks very simple," he told the BBC News website. "If it's done badly everyone can tell."

"It's an easy thing to snipe at, but a good news presenter is worth his or her weight in gold."

Perceived value

In some cases, this comment can almost be taken literally.

Sir Trevor McDonald earns a reported salary of £600,000 a year for presenting ITV's late evening news bulletin four times a week.

Michael Cole
Michael Cole worked for the BBC from 1968 to 1988
Five's Kirsty Young earns a reported £500,000 a year, while even relative newcomers like the BBC's Darren Jordon and ITV's Katie Derham can command wages upwards of £100,000 per annum.

But Conor Dignam, editor of industry newspaper Broadcast, says these figures merely reflect their perceived value in the marketplace.

"Their salaries seem quite big compared to other journalists or correspondents, but ultimately the market decides," he told the BBC News website.

Authority and presence

"That's what broadcasters are prepared to fork out for them, so they're not going to take any less."

Mr Dignam also rejects Mr Humphrys' suggestion that anyone - even the newsman's four-year-old son Owen - could capably fill their role.

To present a news bulletin you have to know what you're talking about
Nigel Charters, BBC TV News
"I don't think it is a job anyone can do," he says. "It's about authority, credibility and presence.

"If it was a job anyone can do, they wouldn't be paying them these huge sums of money."

Mr Dignam's comments are echoed by Nigel Charters, managing editor of BBC TV News.

"Anyone can be trained to read an autocue, but to present a news bulletin you have to know what you're talking about," he told the BBC News website.

He also suggests that Andrew Marr was being "deliberately provocative" in his comments on what he describes as "a tricky and demanding job".

"People in this field need to have a long and thorough journalistic pedigree," he said.

"By and large, 'newbies' don't cut the mustard."


Mr Cole, now a public relations and image consultant, observes that in America such veteran anchormen as Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather have become "arbiters of the life of the nation".

Anna Ford
Anna Ford presents the One O'Clock News on BBC One
Broadcasters in the UK have reflected this gender bias, frequently pairing older male presenters with younger female ones.

Mr Dignam, however, believes things are gradually changing.

"The men do tend to be more middle-aged, but the overall profile of newsreaders has become younger," he explains.

"The drive has been to make them more viewer-friendly than the more patrician days of the 1950s."

That said, he admits physical appearance still plays an important role.

"Unattractive broadcasters don't make it as newsreaders," he says. "There is still an element of the beauty parade about it."

Your comments:

Simply reading the news, which is what twenty percent of the population do when they buy a newspaper each day, is not difficult. However, interviewing and managing debates, which requires understanding, balance, quick thinking, and tenacity, is a good deal harder. With regard to pay - neither should command a £500K salary.
Andy, Letchworth, UK

I'd sack the lot of them and replace them with a computer animated voice
John, Edinburgh

Newsreaders, with their editorial inflections and changes of tone are the reason I read the news on websites and in papers rather than watching it on TV. I'd sack the lot of them and replace them with a computer animated voice.
John, Edinburgh

I could do it - easy! All the prep I think I'd need is knowing how to pronounce the tricky foreign names. After that, it's simple!
Jack, London/Memphis

Any job looks easy when done well, but in reality all jobs have hidden complexities that do not become apparent until one is executing them.
Colin Hughes, Leamington Spa, England

You need to brush up well and have the ability to read from a moving sheet while looking very serious. That last bit is clearly quite hard hence the salary.
Neil, Brighton

Yeah, I guess those guys are right. Reading the news is not such a hard job and I think most people who can read fluently and have a good diction can read the news - there's no big deal about it.
Tunde, Jos, Nigeria

You need to be a swan... cool, calm and in control on the surface, with your brain working overtime in order to keep to time, sound authoritative and understand what you're talking about. And if you can look relaxed and sound fluent, you're on to a good thing. Yes, I can do it, but it's taken a lot of practice, two journalism courses and 10 years experience in newsrooms.
Anna, Worcester, UK

Their salaries are an insult to all real journalists.
Richard Hamer, Otley, West Yorkshire

I think Andrew Marr and John Humphrys are correct! TV newscasters hardly deviate from an autocue, and generally hold interviews with other journalists. Most of the main live interviews where knowledge of a subject is important will be dealt with by the main journalists (e.g. Jeremy Paxman, John Humphrys, Peter Sissons etc.) Also I do not recall seeing either of the three mentioned above on a holiday or other light entertainment programme!
Alan Dickson, Edinburgh, Scotland

Sack them all. Overpaid artefacts of a bygone age, the lot of them. Can't remember the last time I made the effort to watch the news on the telly. The Internet has made the 9 o'clock news totally redundant.
Bill, Gloucester, UK

It's not about intelligence; it's about how posh a school you went to. I might be bright enough to do a doctorate in physics, but I'd never make it as a newsreader because I went to a rough northern comprehensive and consequently don't speak properly.
Sarah Naylor, Nottingham, UK

I never watch any of the overpaid posers. I get my news from the websites or Ceefax. Get rid of the lot of them as far as I'm concerned.
David Ireland, Stratford-on-Avon, UK

Didn't John Humphrys present the television news many years ago? If I'm right, then he would appear qualified to judge. Or is the Today programme entirely scripted too? At any rate I prefer radio because, as the cliché goes, the pictures are better!
Kevin Laurence, London

They are overpaid and not that skilled at all
Gary Enticott, Cardiff

They are overpaid and not that skilled at all. Also, why do they have to have two newsreaders and a weatherman/girl? Surely one person can do it all. It is no wonder the BBC wants to cut its staff.
Gary Enticott, Cardiff, UK

A poor newsreader stands out like a sore thumb. Some of the regional readers - new to the job - have a lot of learning to do. All the current top newsreaders started on local radio and TV and progressed because they were good. The proof of the pudding is when they have to break off and interview visitors about a number of subjects - e.g. on breakfast TV - Bill, Natasha and Dermot etc interview a number of people on a vast number of subjects and do so professionally and it seems with knowledge of their subjects.
Bob Turner, London

News becomes newsworthy because of the newsreader. Otherwise no news would be good news.
Niranjan Upadhye, Mumbai, India

I think it's a bit disingenuous to quibble about newsreaders' salaries as in reality the job is a branch of show business - regardless of their so-called journalistic pedigree. What upsets me more is how simplistic TV news actually is. So while I don't think anyone can read the news, I do think that trained actors could - without us noticing the difference.
Annabel Pearcey, London, UK

So Nigel Charters reckons "Anyone can be trained to read an autocue, but to present a news bulletin you have to know what you're talking about," does he. How does he then justify the trend towards ever younger and predominantly female presenters who seem incapable of responding to a response from a contributor and using the answer to ask a meaningful question?
Martyn Thompson, Leicester, England

Good appearance, clear speaking and confidence. I would like to try it.
Jane Topley, Sutton, Surrey

Oh, so it's what you look like rather than the talent you have? 500k a year for reading an autocue? So, someone who has the ability to take instruction through an earpiece and read an autocue can command 500k a year? Great. As a former frontline fighter pilot, it shouldn't be too difficult! Just make the cheque out to...
Stephen Marks, Cheltenham, UK

Acceptable appearance, a bit of theatre training, egocentricity, little intelligence, no imagination and no creativity - many people could do the job but I suspect most people would prefer to do something useful.
Kirk Hughey, Antony, France

It's when things start to go wrong then the professionalism of the talent starts to show
Martin, London

Having worked in live TV news I can say that it's not as easy as it seems. It's when things start to go wrong then the professionalism of the talent starts to show. Try and read something out loud while someone whispers something in your ear. You mustn't stop, pause or react, yet you must understand what's being said. Try it, I did in a studio environment, it's not that easy.
Martin, London

I would love to read the news and get paid 100k a year! I've got a PhD but I earn less than a quarter of that!
Sunil Prasannan, Cambridge, UK

Oh for goodness sake - it is just reading an autocue. It's not the serious skilled job they'd like us to think. Their salaries are way over the top and the money would be better spent on reporting more news from around the world, not just from a tiny BBC bubble.
Wendy, The Hague, The Netherlands

I think you just need a pretty face. It's easy to make it sound like you know what you're talking about - everyone has done it at some point!
Laura, Twickenham

There are many jobs which seemingly anyone could do and it's often a credit to the current incumbent that they seem that way. However, it's not so much how you do the job from day to day but how you would manage in a crisis (e.g. breaking news of international importance or, all the lights go out) or what responsibility you have in that role (otherwise known as blame).
Michael, Oxford, UK

Sitting in front of millions of viewers every morning, having to look your best - I couldn't do it!

I think everybody would like to believe that it is a simple task - but you just have to listen to the presenters' interviewing skills and live debates to know their knowledge goes much deeper than just an autocue.
Bman, Southampton

Having tried it, albeit in a mock-up Sky studio at the Millennium Dome (remember that!), I can honestly say it isn't easy, but I don't think a salary of £500,000 is really justified.
GR, Newport

I have wanted to present the BBC news for as long as I can remember and dream of being the next Anna Ford! Competition is the key to the worth of the news readers: there are a lot of people that are well-versed enough and who understand politics, science and other everyday subjects well enough to present them with clarity and conviction; however it's a very difficult career to get in to at the outset. It's so hard to work out where to start and it's surely down to a lucky break in the end. Most senior news readers are multi-talented - most people aren't!
Karina, London, UK

I agree not everyone could do it - you need a certain amount of confidence and presence to pull it off I guess, but no more than any other public speaking job earning a small fraction of what they appear to be earning. That the industry lets people get away with such exorbitant salaries for to be honest relatively unskilled jobs continues to astound me.
Simon, St Albans, UK

The comment that strikes a chord most is "ultimately the market decides". You could say the same about footballers - they are overpaid (most would agree), but no-one is forced to pay them that amount.
Richard Winfieldale, Derby, UK

Have you got any application forms? I would be happy with 50k per year and I would do every news broadcast on the channel willing to offer me a contract.
Chris Pinrah, West Midlands

Marr quits as BBC political chief
13 May 05 |  Entertainment
Newsreader plays God in musical
27 Mar 05 |  South West Wales
News awards celebrate Sir Trevor
25 Feb 05 |  Entertainment


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