The appointment of the popular broadcaster in one of the BBC’s most important journalistic roles has provoked criticism that the male-dominated organisation has not chosen a woman for the role.
Davis, a former Economics Editor of both Newsnight and the BBC, may also come under pressure to replicate Paxman’s famously aggressive interview style.
But Lord Hall, Director General of the BBC, described Davis as an “outstanding journalist” as he announced the change at the launch of the BBC’s annual report yesterday. Praising Davis as “an extraordinary intelligent and clever interviewer”, he said “I think he has a wonderful presence on TV and I have no doubt he will be an extraordinary success on Newsnight”.
Asked why the BBC had not appointed a woman to the role, Lord Hall predicted that Newsnight editor Ian Katz “will be looking at the others who will come around Evan”. A trio of women – Laura Kuenssberg, Emily Maitlis and Kirsty Wark will present for two nights a week with Davis taking three slots as the lead anchor.
“How could I turn down the offer of this role on Newsnight, treading in the footsteps of some of the best television presenters in the business?” Davis said. “While it is a scary prospect, it will be an adventure and a challenge, and I hope the viewers will be happy with the result.”
Paxo's best verbal jousts
Paxo's best verbal jousts
1/3 Denis Halliday, 1998
“Aren’t you just an apologist for Saddam Hussein?” demands Paxman of the senior United Nations official following resignation of his post in Iraq
2/3 Chloe Smith, 2012
“Is this some sort of joke?” Paxman demolishes the youngest Coalition minister over a rise in fuel duty
3/3 Russell Brand, 2013
“You are a very trivial man,” says the Newsnight presenter as he tangles with the comedian over beards and revolutionary politics
Davis, 52, will take up his post in the autumn. “Evan brings a rare combination of curiosity, intelligence and mischief to his broadcasting - just the qualities I want Newsnight to be known for,” said Katz. “I've admired him from afar as a listener and viewer for years and I'm thrilled that he's joining us to help reinvent the show where he made his name in the 90s.”
Having presented the Today programme since 2008, Davis said he felt “terribly sad” to be leaving. “I have been there for over six years and those have been some of the most satisfying of my career. That programme is put together by remarkably few people, and I can’t praise them highly enough for their professionalism and companionship.” He joked that he had been “determined to outlive John Humphrys” on Today and had “failed”. The editor of Today, Jamie Angus said: “No-one has done more than Evan to define the current sound of Today.”
The appointment will mean that Humphrys, Davis and Eddie Mair of the Radio 4 Today programme – who had also been linked with the Newsnight role, hold down the senior interviewer roles at the BBC. On Twitter, there were expressions of disappointment that a woman was not given the job.
Davis, a former IFS economist, also presents The Bottom Line, a weekly business programme on Radio 4, and Dragon's Den, on BBC 2, as well as occasional documentaries.
Lord Hall also paid tribute to Paxman's “extraordinary contribution” in presenting Newsnight for 25 years before leaving the programme last month.