I don’t begrudge anyone who gets filthy rich out of journalism. If the opportunity to do so came my way I would grab the cash with both hands and spend it immediately on a solid gold top hat.
But the truth must be said that no journalist at the BBC needs to be paid more than the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister metric is seen as a crass one because Theresa May (whatever you may think of her competency) is under paid for the toughest and most important job in the country.
But the comparison is not ridiculous. Why does she do it given she could make much more cash elsewhere? Vanity, a sense of duty, hunger for power, a mild messiah complex probably all come into it. The same could be said for journalists.
The brilliant Clive Myrie (under £150,000) managed to anchor the 6pm and 10pm BBC One news bulletins last night whilst better paid colleagues George Alagiah and Huw Edwards were at home avoiding the calls of Daily Mail journalists.
If Newsnight and Panorama can recruit editors for under £150k, or just over. Then surely they can recruit presenters for the same money?
There must be dozens of football journalists who could provide inane banter on Match of the Day for less than Gary Lineker’s £1.8m. And, of course, it would be worth his while to do the job for nothing given that the high profile enables him to earn probably as much again selling fatty snacks to children for Walkers.
Would audience figures suffer? Surely we watch the news for, the news – not Huw Edwards’ dulcet tones – and we watch the football for the football, not Lineker and Shearer’s chat.
I don’t begrudge any of the brilliant BBC specialist reporters their money- especially fantastic journalist of the year Laura Kuenssberg (full list here).
But it is often journalists further down the food chain who break many of the big stories – specialist on-screen correspondents paid £60-£70,000.
If you add up the salaries of all the journalists who are paid more than £150,000 – and throw in those like One Show, Radio 5 and sports presenters who are quasi journalistic – you end up with a total of just over £15m.
If you imagine then that all those people were paid instead £150,000 a year, the saving would be just under £8m.
That’s enough money to double the size of the BBC Local Democracy Democracy Reporters project – increasing from 150 to 300 the number of journalists being recruited to hold local government to account and fill in the accountability gap left by the decline of the local press.
Given that £150,000 (more like £180,000 with the gold-plated pension) is still a decent salary I have to say that I would be sad to see the likes of John Humphrys and Andrew Marr leave the BBC if they decided to go. But I think this would be a better use of public money.