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Kaplinsky's Five News debut proves a winner

LONDON - A revamped look and a £1m salary for newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky, who last night made her debut on Five News. Stephen Foster gives his verdict.

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Natasha Kaplinsky, best known for her performances on 'Strictly Come Dancing', is being paid a million quid a year to present Five News and on her debut last night the former BBC newsreader wasn't half bad.

Someone at the Beeb, I think it was Michael Buerk, once said that anyone could read the news, coming, as it does, off an autocue.

Up to a point, but these days newsreaders have to interview their own correspondents (as opposed to the key players in the stories they're talking about, but these bods won’t talk to the media, alas) as well as read out what the re-write people have prepared for them.

Five News' seven o'clock bulletin last night was very good and certainly pulled in the viewer with more than 1m tuning in as we report elsewhere on Brand Republic.

In News you get "high" news and "low" news. The BBC is very good at high news (politics, Parliament and all the rest of it), ITN has been better at mixing the two ("low news" being what happens in the street outside your house).

Five News today led with a low news story, about some un-insured Herbert who's being driving around endangering the public and waving his fat fingers at the authorities, who don't seem able to keep this menace off the roads.

Anyway it was a good story and Natasha fronted it very well.

As she did all the other (high) stuff, Northern Rock and so on with a news agenda that was very similar to what was going out on BBC News 24.

So is she worth a million quid?

Well she's the girl next door; attractive but not eerily beautiful like Selina Scott and Anna Ford used to be, or downright naughty like new 'Newsnight' presenter Emily Maitlis can appear to the untutored eye (she's married to a banker, apparently, curses).

So is Natasha worth it?

Maybe. Five News was trying harder (and spending more) on Monday because it was Natasha's debut. And it was a very good bulletin.

But news is important and you need someone to attract the viewers. That is what that £1m buys. It buys publicity rather than advertising and it is a return to the old days.

In the old days it used to be the likes of Barbra Walters and Walter Kronkite in the US and Robert Dougall and Michael Aspel in the UK. Now ITN is betting the ranch on Sir Trevor McDonald. And there's nothing wrong with a few seasoned male 'grey hairs'.

But these guys don't always get it right. Five took a leaf out of CBS's book when it signed a massive deal in 2006 to bring Katie Couric from NBC to CBS.

On the Today Programme yesterday morning former newsreader John Humphrys tore into Chancellor Alistair Darling over Northern Rock. But all he could accuse him of was giving the nationalised Northern Rock an unfair advantage over other banks.

This will not be keeping the managers of Barclays or Lloyds or RBS awake at night. They can deal with Northern Rock. Humphrys missed the point, which is that the shareholders (most of whom are former building society customers) have had their money taken away from them.

So he generated more heat than light.

Women tend not to do this (apart from the feisty Ms Maitlis, sometimes). Which is one reason they're taking over the airwaves; they want to extract information rather than score points (plus lots of them are quite good-looking and, on radio, have sexy voices, but that’s life).

Natasha is therefore part of a trend. So good luck to her, she's made a good start.

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