Heroes of the hour Jeremy Paxman and John Witherow go head to head for a swashbuckling debate on media past, present and future
In the red corner is Jeremy Paxman, legendary Rottweiler of Newsnight, nationally acclaimed for his robust, incisive and occasionally eye-wateringly rude maulings of high-profile studio guests from every strata of our society.
In the blue corner is Times editor John Witherow, himself no stranger to straight-talking. Renowned for his ferocious intelligence and habit of taking no prisoners, he brings with him all the might and majesty of The Thunderer.
This is the first time the two have jousted in a public arena, and the meeting is being anticipated with glee by industry watchers. Journalist and novelist Rachel Johnson has hailed it as: ‘The big one – two of journalism’s most distinguished and feared silverbacks in a fight to the death, live on stage. I’d almost prefer to see Paxo v Witherow on stage than Ross Poldark teaching Mr Darcy a lesson he’ll never forget in wet white shirts in a lake. And tight breeches of course.’
Breeches aside, the theme of today’s clash on the ITV Stage at Princess Anne at 3pm is ‘the business of news’, a discussion of the past, present and future of news media. The session is billed as exploring how the news industry has changed and how the role of professional journalism is developing and reacting to the fast-paced media world of 2015.
It promises to be an unforgettable hour as the two men recall the stories, interviews and high-profile leaders they have encountered throughout their long careers. Between them, they have covered every significant news story of the last 35 years, from the political – with both a lower and upper case ‘p’ – to the latest in popular gossip from the boardroom to the school gate.
Both came early to conflict: Witherow covered the Falklands War for The Times in 1982, sailing on HMS Invincible; Paxman reported on the troubles from Belfast for BBC Radio in the 70s. So today’s confrontation, even if opinions differ, should be small beer in comparison.
Don’t expect to see John Witherow being Paxo’ed – it could just as easily be the other way around. Do expect an erudite, entertaining and possibly explosive meeting of two brilliant minds on subject matter they know better than almost anyone in the business.