Ouch! Career in the media? Forget it, says Paxman

His fearsome scorn makes politicians quake, but now the 'Newsnight' presenter is lashing out at the trade that made him

Jeremy Paxman, the combative grand inquisitor who leaves politicians quaking, has turned his ire on the profession that has made him a wealthy household name.

In a broadside on the media, he has branded the industry "underpaid and oversubscribed", and advises that those tempted to join the trade should do something "worthwhile" with their lives. Otherwise, he warns, they may be washed up by the time they reach their 40s. It will be seen as a swipe at the TV industry's obsession with youthful looking presenters such as Natasha Kaplinsky.

Paxman's comments are being circulated to Oxford and Cambridge University undergraduates in a careers handbook, a slot that was filled last year by the more encouraging words of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. The Newsnight presenter was unrepentant about his views yesterday. "What is the point of pursuing a career in the media?

"People would be much better pursuing a worthwhile or entrepreneurial or other form of activity," he told The Independent on Sunday.

"There is no shortage of people who would eat their own grandmother to get into the media, so what a career handbook is doing encouraging people when they haven't considered it previously, I just don't know."

Paxman is renowned for his no-nonsense style as he interviews guests on Newsnight, famously asking Michael Howard the same question 12 times.

He adopted that same clear-cut approach when asked by the Oxford and Cambridge Careers Handbook to contribute to its latest edition in a section on media jobs. The University Challenge host and Cambridge graduate fired off a stinging email response that read: "I have to say I can see absolutely no point at all in a handbook which 'gives any prominence to a career in the media'. The trade is, by and large, underpaid, oversubscribed, and has no longevity in it at all.

"Television is increasingly dominated by production companies set up by superannuated Marxists and kept afloat by young people willing to work for no pay. Some household-name newspapers are no better. For heaven's sake steer the students of Oxbridge away from the media; there are far too many people clamouring to get in.

"If they're successful, most will find themselves producing garbage for cynics who think the only way to advance is to pander to the lowest common denominator. Too late they will realise they have no career prospects beyond the age of 40 or so. Why don't you 'give prominence to' something useful? Like brain surgery, cancer care, or manufacturing something that someone might want to buy?"

Paxman told the IoS he did not wish to elaborate further as to the identities of the "superannuated Marxists".

However, he said he was trying to make a serious point. "A career in the media has become incredibly sought-after for, as far as I can see, no particularly good reason."

Others working in news did not share his cynicism about the media's purpose.

The ITV news presenter Andrea Catherwood said: "When you are trying to explain what is happening at the Albania-Kosovo border as refugees come flooding over with these incredible personal stories, it makes you feel as though the media has a crucial role.

"Of course, the media isn't brain surgery and we're not comparing it to that. There are clearly plenty of people that do jobs that are far more worthwhile - surgeons, doctors, teachers. If things go wrong in the newsroom, at the end of the day it is just the news. But I've been to all sorts of places - Afghanistan, Iraq - and it is a privilege to witness history being made and to impart what you are seeing in an impartial way to the audience at home."

Mark Calvert, editor of Five News, said: "I can think of no better way to earn a living whether it is in newspapers or TV news or radio than to spend each and every day thinking about and talking about the stuff that makes the world go round.

"Far from discouraging bright, young graduates to get involved, I'd actively encourage them. I'd rather have the pick of a thousand young eager graduates than just a handful of people.

"It's a bit rich that he said there were no career prospects beyond the age of 40 - here's a man in his 50s still at the top of his game. If you are good at what you do you can have a long and fulfilling career," he added.