Katie Couric's salary exceeds combined budgets of NPR's top news shows

Jesse Brown, a BoingBoing guest blogger, is the host of TVO's Search Engine podcast.

Michael Massing of the Columbia Journalism Review digs up some startling info that helps explain why network TV news is knee-deep in FAIL while National Public Radio thrives:

Katie Couric's annual salary is more than the entire annual budgets of NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered combined. Couric's salary comes to an estimated $15 million a year; NPR spends $6 million a year on its morning show and $5 million on its afternoon one. NPR has seventeen foreign bureaus (which costs it another $9.4 million a year); CBS has twelve. Few figures, I think, better capture the absurd financial structure of the network news. (link)

It also captures a hard reality that news folk should keep in mind as they protest the collapse of their industry: most money in journalism, isn't spent on journalism.

Thanks, Cyrus


  1. most money in journalism, isn’t spent on journalism

    Oooh, are we referring to her as a journalist now?

  2. I can’t remember the last time I watched the network evening news, but I’m thinking it’s going on 20 years or so now.

  3. You can’t fault the networks for pumping out what the majority will watch. The networks are businesses and will do what makes them the most money (hopefully) without breaking the rules.

    The problem is on the other side of the screen, if it weren’t profitable they wouldn’t make it.

  4. $15 million? That’s it?

    It takes a lot of work to come up with all those puns, and even more work to say them in a sing-songy tone.

  5. Hooray for comparisons of wildly disparate things. No conclusions drawn from this information are very helpful.

  6. Brainspore 3: NPR can only run on such a small budget because they get to save so much money on makeup.

    Yep. And dumbass special effects, like that stupid “beam-in” thing from last fall. And graphics (except on their website). And costumes.

    And, of course, they can hire people with “radio faces” and good brains instead of empty masks like Couric.

    Aldasin 4: I can’t remember the last time I watched the network evening news, but I’m thinking it’s going on 20 years or so now.

    I watch the network news! I watch John Stewart with some regularity.


  7. Yah brainspore, and also they use those canvas tote bags which are so much less expensive than the ones at Hermès.

  8. Over the last several weeks, my wife, friends, and I have come to the realization that our parents (all in their early 60s) watch a *stunning* amount of TV news. Constantly. If they’re in the room, the TV is most likely on, and it’s most likely on news. CNN and Network just as likely as local. Plus, we’ve all noticed that our parents will even watch local news when visiting us in our current city (Los Angeles) even though they live elsewhere (NY, Miami, Chicago, etc).

    Now I get that the majority of those in that age bracket aren’t going to get their news from the web, but what’s with the constant need to be updated about the same thing over and over again ad nauseum?

    Katie Couric is presumably making her salary off the Nielsen numbers generated by said parents (or the numbers the network convinced themselves she’d be able to pull in), though said parents are presumably old enough to have established brand loyalty and be less receptive to advertising (as the theory goes). So are they just behind the times? Did the network reach and miss? Or am I missing some important metric of Couric’s presence on the network?

    To be fair, my parents also listen to NPR.

    But mainly just the news.

  9. Not to defend the overpayment of “talent”, but consider the other costs involved when comparing NPR to CBS-TV.

    One important difference: radio is much cheaper to produce than TV. NPR reporters regularly call in reports live via telephone. Live video feeds often require a satellite truck. One guy in an apartment can put together an audio piece in a couple hours. A similar video piece often takes much longer, even when using advanced studio gear.

    Broadcast TV is simply more expensive than broadcast radio. Crews are bigger, equipment is heavier (you don’t haul along a set of lights when doing an audio interview).

    Indeed that’s the fun of radio reporting – you can get to a place quickly, pull together a report, and let the street sounds trigger the imagination of the listener. A wonderful medium for creative work … but it’s not the same as broadcast video.

  10. Dear God, let the networks sink, please. Let them sink deep, deep into the ocean. I pray this, despite the fact that they provide a good portion of my income… I’ll gladly find something else to do…

  11. So what? She and her agent negotiated a contract, and she’s getting the agreed upon salary.
    I guess only movie stars, rock stars, and star athletes are allowed to make big money.
    This is some Amerika.

  12. While I realize the apples/oranges nature of the television/radio comparison, the numbers compared were Couric’s salary versus entire NPR budgets. So I think there is a substantial point being made about budget bloat in network television which goes far beyond the cost of the medium itself.

  13. This is what some of you don’t get. It doesn’t matter that video is more expensive than audio. NPR produces two excellent radio news programs for what CBS pays one person.

    One person who doesn’t do the video. One person who doesn’t do the audio. One person who doesn’t do the writing, most likely.

    Cut out all the stuff that makes them different. Have CBS do a radio show. They’re still way more expensive than NPR, because CBS has to pay that one person more than the combined budgets of NPR’s two biggest shows.

    OK, they’re primarily paying her for her face. Harder to take that out of the equation. But even so, all that stuff about how much more expensive and difficult it is to set up for video than for audio only? Not relevant.

  14. @ CliffStoll
    You missed the point. It’s not to compare cost of TV vs Radio News.

    It’s to compare cost of Katie to Radio News.

    Looking at those numbers one may consider whether Katie is good for the network’s bottom line.

    btw, is network news dying ? I thought only printed news is dying.

  15. You can’t just consider production value and content. You’ve got to consider revenue as well. Yes, she makes a lot of money. What percent of revenue is it? What percent of NPR’s revenue do they pay their main anchors? If they can pay her $15 million and make $200 million because of it, good for them.

  16. Broadcast TV is simply more expensive than broadcast radio. Crews are bigger, equipment is heavier (you don’t haul along a set of lights when doing an audio interview).

    Except we aren’t talking about those differences. We are comparing the ENTIRE cost of TWO WHOLE RADIO PRODUCTIONS vs the salary of a SINGLE INDIVIDUAL.

    So what? She and her agent negotiated a contract, and she’s getting the agreed upon salary.

    And you agree that she, alone – JUST her, not her show or advertising or anything…JUST her salary – is worth more than all of NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition” combined…their ENTIRE staffs, equipment, broadcasting cost, advertising, etc?

    Really? That’s reasonable? Or do you suppose this being another case of us being well trained to worship our masters (IE., it’s easier/more effective to pay one person insane gobs of money and let the rest of the industry fight over the table scraps while imagining they could someday achieve the same thing…rather than accept the idea that maybe everyone should be compensated instead just for the quality of work they do)

  17. Katie Couric is not a journalist. Brian Williams, Stone Philips, not journalists. They don’t, as David Simon elegantly put it “Go out and find a story”. They read copy. They read copy very well, I suppose, but that is the sum total of their job. Read copy.

    Oh yes, and softball interviews where all the prep work has been done, the questions vetted and the subjects terms set well in advance. Not journalism. Reading copy, asking prepared questions with little or no follow-up.

    I may be wrong, but aren’t these folks called “News Readers” in the UK? That term should catch on here, it’s more accurate.

    NPR breaks stories, it’s aggressive, it covers stories that are the usual “Headlines, Moral Panic, Speculation, Human Interest, Comic Relief” formula of network news. A formula that drove generation X and Y away screaming.

    All the money spent on readers and glowing sets and holograms and ham-fisted “Web 2.0” gobblety-gook doesn’t take away from the fact that these shows lack content, depth and are little more than 22 minutes of filler between local news and primetime.

    I’m 29, I get my news online from the NPR, the BBC and feed in opinion-mongering from the lifkes Rachel Maddow and The Guardian for flavor. I haven’t watched network news since I was in the hospital as a kid and was too sick to reach the remote.

  18. It’s a shame that CBS spend $15m on Couric, but don’t fork out the extra $29.95 to keep her permanently on Autotune.

  19. The problem is on the other side of the screen, if it weren’t profitable they wouldn’t make it.

    That’s not necessarily true. Several studies have suggested that most news watchers would rather see real news programs than news magazine crap. In the last few years, the entertainment industry has proven to be rather incompetent at predicting what will sell. Katie Couric’s ratings haven’t supported the idea that people are lining up to watch her.

  20. #4 posted by aldasin, September 23, 2009 2:25 PM

    That was delightful and informative. Thanks for your contribution.

    As far as the “we’re buying it so it’s on us” thing, the people in charge of television have no idea what we want. They try really hard and come up with something someone who talks fast sold to them. The people who are watching this crap, dull-eyed, would likely watch about anything you give them. How else do you explain people continuing to watch “news” programs that are meant to entertain and shape opinions instead of present the nation with information and letting them draw their own conclusions?

  21. @17 – Agreed. I’m sure some of that $15million must come from Autotune The News commission.

    @emg72 – Have you watched the commercials on the evening news recently? At least 3/4 are prescription drug ads, targeted at the 60+ demographic.

  22. “You can’t just consider production value and content. You’ve got to consider revenue as well. Yes, she makes a lot of money. What percent of revenue is it? What percent of NPR’s revenue do they pay their main anchors? If they can pay her $15 million and make $200 million because of it, good for them.”

    This comment, however unknowingly, points to the gorilla in the room here. While I agree that it is very telling that one infotainer makes more than the combined budgets of two entire actual news organizations, no comparison of NPR to CBS can omit discussing the implications of corporate ownership of the media. The endgame for Couric is generating revenue. NPR, on the other hand, tries to report on what’s happening. In fact, NPR doesn’t really have to think about ‘revenue’ in the same way because it’s public and listener supported.

    So yeah, if Couric can generate $200 in corporate sponsored ad revenue, then she’s probably worth her salary to CBS. TV stars get paid a lot because, no matter what ‘content’ they happen to be reciting, ultimately the aim is to sell products for corporations. In that sense, NPR might not be the most relevant comparison with Couric because all they’re doing is reporting the news. Couric is more similar to the cast of the Hills than the reporters on Morning Edition.

  23. @EMG72 (10): Thank you so much for sharing (I’m not being sarcastic) — I was beginning to think my parents had gone insane with their TV news addiction. My dad introduced me to NPR when I was 13, and my parents are avid PBS supporters. But their (my mother’s especially) ongoing belief that the only news comes from the idiot box just baffles me. My mom once told me that I had become ignorant, because I wasn’t paying attention to CNN; she told me NPR was not good enough as a source for news, and that I was “missing out” on important pieces. She still thinks the Today show is a news program. My parents aren’t stupid, either; these are the type of people to argue constitutional law over breakfast. I feel like they need to understand that Katie Couric does not equal Edward R Murrow. I need Ross Perot-like charts or something…

  24. I agree that Couric’s salary is outrageous.

    But something seems odd about the reported cost of $15 million for the two NPR news shows.

    Reading the auditor’s report, NPR’s 2008 expenses were about $77 million for “News & Information”. Distribution was $15 million, Programming was $12 million, and other things (like digital media, strategy, & consumer products) brought NPR’s annual expenses to about $140,000,000 (Am I misreading this report?)


  25. Everyone, please stop watching CBS and start donating to your local NPR station. Also, most stations need volunteers to answer phones during the pledge-drives. It’s fun and rewarding. I highly recommend doing whatever you can.

  26. @#11 CliffStoll

    TV News correspondents were reporting from Iraq using camcorders, ibooks and imovie in 2004. TV news does not need to cost that much.

  27. What was Dan Rather’s salary, compared with NPR? Tom Brokow’s? Just wondering why this is a story now, when there’s a woman making those kinds of bucks. I seriously doubt the ratio is suddenly different.

  28. Don’t forget that if, tomorrow morning, CBS and NBC discovered that they could get higher ratings with a dryly-told new story on the radio, they would switch to that immediately. If they could get higher ratings with intelligent, thoughtful news reporting, they would do it in a second. #4 is correct- the power really is in our hands, and we, collectively, value Katie over NPR. Most of the people working in tv news are actually quite intelligent, decent folks who may not be as hip and astute as boing-boingers, but are still much more literate than the shit they work on. They work on it for a variety of reasons, but most of them would prefer working on actual journalism, given the chance. I know because I’ve worked with them.

  29. If you’re here to complain about Couric and haven’t pledged money to NPR recently, please slap yourself.

  30. Katie Coo
    Baby Boo
    You got swagga like a star!
    Don’t stop
    Real Talk
    We gon take it to the charts.
    You can be… Lady Gaga
    I can be… T-Pain
    We can be… Bringing on the Boogie
    Dropping rhymes like rain.
    You can be… Lady Gaga
    I can be… T-Pain
    We can be be… Bringing on the Boogie
    In floppy hats and pimp canes.

    You pay for the pimpin paraphenalie, Katie.

  31. How on earth can they do All Things Considered for $14,000 a show?! Something must be amiss with how those numbers are being generated, or interpreted here.

    I mean, never mind if it’s the best journalism in history or just meh, it seems like it ought to take a lot more money than that, between reporting budgets, equipment, people-hours, satellite time, etc.

  32. I’m taking a gender and news media class and a week worth of lecturing is titled “Is Katie Couric Important Anymore?”

    On the other hand, we talk about “News & Notes” and “Latino USA” with some reverence. Go NPR, more content for less cash!

  33. > Everyone, please stop watching CBS and start donating to your local NPR station.

    Only do this if you like NPR better than CBS. Couric makes what she does because she draws in viewers, which translates into advertising money. It’s no different than a star baseball player that puts fannies in the seats. If people stop watching the network evening news, their salaries will fall.

    As for Jesse Brown’s original point: “most money in journalism, isn’t spent on journalism”, that should be rewritten to say “most money in network news, isn’t spent on journalism”. Network news is for-profit entertainment, no different than Rush Limbaugh.

    1. Couric makes what she does because she draws in viewers, which translates into advertising money.

      Commenters keep repeating this quaintly inaccurate notion. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia: “…she has remained in third place in the nightly news time slot and as of June 2009 has under 5.5 million viewers.”

  34. #20: ‘I may be wrong, but aren’t these folks called “News Readers” in the UK? That term should catch on here, it’s more accurate.’

    Yes, they’re known as news readers in the UK (Anchors are what you get on ships!) although the days when they just read are long gone. Up until the 80’s many of the big newsreaders were actors or announcers (Moira Stewart, the last of this old school was let go by the BBC a couple of years ago) who just read out the script.

    Nowadays all newsreaders are qualified and senior journalists who do have some involvement in the production.

    However the big difference between the US and UK is that the American ‘anchors’ tend to also be managing editors of their programmes. That’s not something that happens over here

  35. The reason for the discrepancy between NPR’s and Katie Couric’s salaries can be explained by what Walter Benjamin referred to as an art work’s “aura”. Now one might think, “Well, he was talking about aesthetics and how mechanical reproduction could destroy the value of traditional fine art.”

    But really when you think of it what does CBS or any other major network produce? Not ‘News’ surely, but Entertainment. Which is itself an art form. This also explains why for those of a certain generation there is still a considerable glow from earlier days. Day when there were no alternate sources for news.

    And just as the mechanical reproduction of works of fine art lowered their value so too the easy electronic reproduction and distribution of information has cheapened traditional network news. It just takes a long time for things to work themselves out.

  36. most money in journalism, isn’t spent on journalism.

    speaking of journalism and copy and all that… unnecessary comma. sorry!

  37. And the cost of one episode of the Miami Vice TV show exceeded the annual budget of the entire Vice Department of the Miami PD.

    It seems that producing fiction is always much more expensive than reporting reality.

  38. You’ll see vastly more criticism in the press of salaries paid to star performers (in the media or sports) than you will see of the compensation of corporate officers. Couric’s salary is huge, but her impact can be measured: how many watch, how many ads do her shows sell, etc? But she has bosses that make a lot more than she makes.

  39. #44- Sure Couric is in third place, but third place in relation to some of the most watched nightly TV programs. The whole point of her show is to sell advertisements, and she does. She would sell ads if only 1 million people watched her show. The only difference is that she would not be making as much money.

    Why is this a quaintly inaccurate notion? Why else is she on the air except to generate ad money? Not doing it well doesn’t mean she’s not doing it at all.

  40. @noen I think the part you want from Benjamin is this (substitute news industry for film industry):

    The film responds to the shriveling of the aura with an artificial build-up of the “personality” outside the studio. The cult of the movie star, fostered by the money of the film industry, preserves not the unique aura of the person but the “spell of the personality,” the phony spell of a commodity…Under these circumstances the film industry is trying hard to spur the interest of the masses through illusion-promoting spectacles and dubious speculations.

  41. @9: You joke, but there is a long waiting list for Hermes Birkin bags. They start at $10,000. (Although that does include a nice lifetime repair policy)

  42. Reporting the news…………
    What news? Most of these people force feed the population with sanatized dribble.And the masses love it. Where the lead story is wheather Paris or Lindsay are wearing their panties. Forget about the thousands dead and wounded in two ongoing wars, or the economy in a toilet,national debt looking at 10 trillion. Bring on the dog and pony show and give it a $200 haircut with make-up.
    And of course $15 million to read off a tele prompter and try and smile in the right places.
    They should give the money to Jon Stewart and pay Katie a couple hundred a week to fetch coffee donuts.

  43. It would be !!! if people who make this much money could have the option of making a tax deductible contribution to (their local city/ home town) for paying salaries of certain depts (ie. murals, arts, recreation) in order to prevent those programs from being cut.

    KaRi from Long Beach, CA

    PS I also think we should LOCALIZE taxes for better accountability. (Those in good tax standing get to designate where their tax payments go…)

  44. Once again a BB blogger is rolling like a orgasmic pig in shit at the opportunity to revel in the demise of any non-internet media!

    “TV, fuck ’em,” (ok, I agree)

    “Newpapers having financial trouble, I hope they fucking all lose their jobs and become destitute beggars!” (i disagree)

    “It also captures a hard reality that news folk should keep in mind as they protest the collapse of their industry: most money in journalism, isn’t spent on journalism.”

    Well you know what, blogs and internet sites feed and opinionate based on the minute amount of facts actually reported by real human feet on the ground actually investigating and reporting on new facts discovered by an intimate knowledge with the who/what/where/when/why – and not just on the “i think”

  45. It’s funny, Ian. For the life of me, I can’t find another source for the first two quotes you are attributing to Jesse.

    [Citation Needed]

  46. Katie Couric is a newsclown (h/t PKD). Newsreaders once looked like they understood the news they were reading and some even seemdd to engage in it. Viewers picked their news according to who was reading it. After awhile, it became clear that audiences went for the appearance of trustworthiness, authority or for good looks or even irritainment value. So they’re all newsclowns now.

    Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are successful because they’re funny *and* they know and care about the news they’re mocking. The BBC has “Have I got News For You” and “Mock The Week,” both comedic reviews of the past week’s news. They’re both very good but not as badly needed as The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. The UK does have mediocre news on the other channels. The have Sky, for instance.

    NPR auditions its newsreaders too, just like any other radio station. I still remember what Mara Liasson (sp?) sounds like from when I listened to NPR over 10 years ago (she’s on TV now but I hardly ever see her).

    If the huge salary of Katie Couric indicates anything, it’s that of the size of the mature TV “news” industry and where it feels its money is best spent.

    If you want to see news presented more cost-effectively, catch Euronews sometime. They don’t even use newsclowns; just voiceovers and footage mostly, with some segments of in-depth analysis.

  47. As others have pointed out, the problem is not TV versus radio. The problem is that CBS could clearly be putting out GOOD QUALITY NEWS with solid reporting, because NPR does it and their entire budget is less than CBS is paying this one person. But instead they put out crap.

    There aren’t any Cronkites or Brinkleys on network TV anymore. Just talking heads reading paid-for drivel.

  48. I promised myself I wouldn’t say anything bad about Katie for a year after the Palin interviews saved the future of humanity. It’s just about up, though, so…

  49. I love the comments that say “the networks aren’t at fault because this is what the invisible hand of the market wants”. So now we’ve gone from “the devil made me/us do it” to “the invisible hand of the market made me/us do it”.

    Here’s the thing, if we (the public) don’t hold these idiots to a higher standard than pretty meat-puppets reading news tid-bits between commercials, then we will have received exactly what we asked for.

    Yep, that’s right, WE are the ‘invisible hand’. Start slapping.

  50. where is the money going? its not going to looks or journalism. take a cue from fox and recruit some blonde eye candy…

    mmmm megyn kelly…

  51. I agree that the disparity is astonishing and unfair, but I just can’t get mad at Katie Couric, for one simple reason:

    If it weren’t for her interview, we might very well have Vice President Palin today.

    You might have forgotten, but the McCain campaign kept Palin so far away from anyone who even MIGHT be slightly hostile that she was a veritable unknown to the vast majority of the American people. People gave her the benefit of the doubt.

    Until the Katie Couric interviews, and the SNL mockery of them. As far as I’m concerned, that $15m was well-spent. Cheap at twice the price.

  52. Wouldn’t it make more sense to compare Katie to the equivalent PBS news show– maybe something like NEWSHOUR with Jim Lehrer?

  53. Katie may be in 3rd place, but she delivers a slightly larger audience in 5 hours a week than NPR gets for their entire 24 hour / 7 day schedule. You may value those 168 hours of NPR programming over Katie’s 5 hours (I certainly do), but CBS is a business and they are getting more than their monies worth from her.

  54. I find it immensely depressing that 62 comments in I can’t find one even slightly critical comment about NPR. Come on now, they’re spreading newspeak (“enhanced interrogation”, anyone?) and ignoring crises of democracy that don’t effect US imperial interests (Honduras anyone?) just like a good propaganda agent should. Yes they’re not the networks. But make sure to take your National Pentagon Radio programming with the healthy skepticism any thinking person should give to state media, especially after years under a very conservative, highly politicized Clinton/Bush board.

    Mark Fiore did a nice flash piece about this a few years ago, and,from http://arran.wordpress.com/the-cpb-board/ :

    “The Board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has a lot to say about programming decisions at PBS. They run it. And that Board has been packed with conservatives. Clinton started it but – of course – Bush took it to absurd extremes. At this point, there isn’t a single identifiable liberal left on the Board and only one member who isn’t instantly identifiable as a conservative. And most of them aren’t exactly rational conservatives. They’re Newt Gingrich acolytes trained in right-wing think-tanks and conservative propaganda broadcasting – the VOA and Radio Marti.

    I thought better of you mutants. Oh well.

    Wonder how much it costs Democracy Now to put out a show? Or Free Speech Radio News?

  55. “most money in journalism, isn’t spent on journalism”

    Pratically none of it is. There’s almost nothing resembling real journalism in the mainstream media anymore.

  56. The NY Times is mainstream. The NY Times produces real journalism. The NY Times journalists deserve to get paid for their work. I do not want the NY Times to go out of business.

    My local paper is mainstream. My local paper produces real journalism (that I have ZERO chance of finding elsewhere, as I live in a small 1 paper community). My local reporters deserve to get paid for their work. I do not want my local paper to go out of business.

  57. Yes, she and other TV personalities and sports starts make all this money for our ENTERTAINMENT!!!!! But god forbid a police officer or firefighter who put their lives on the line everytime they go to work, makes over $100,000. It is also not fair that these men and women get above average health benefits after working until retirement in these highly dangerous and unhealthful enviroments. Makes you wonder where our priorities lie.

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