David Dinsmore: Newspapers Are Essential to Politics

News UK chief operating officer David Dinsmore has spoken of the importance of newspapers to politics and their ability to “shape opinion and debate” in a way that no other media can.

Speaking at the Society of Editors annual conference this week, Mr Dinsmore made a powerful argument for the continued relevance of newspapers, pointing towards the lack of trust in the “vacuum” of social media.  

Mr Dinsmore said: “Over the course of a month, seven out of ten British adults use newspapers and their associated websites as a source of news. Half of all adults trust newspapers to deliver political news.

“The key statistic for me is that only 9 per cent trust social media. As we’ve already seen, social media tends to be a collection of people shouting – and most of them screaming into a vacuum. Everything either needs to begin or end with a trusted, established media brand either breaking the story or confirming or denying the rumour.

“Newspapers outperform TV broadcast news across nine content areas. In particular comment & opinion and editorial and in-depth analysis. I am particularly drawn to our ability to shape opinion and debate. This is our clear and common purpose and what sets us apart from other media.”

Citing the example of the Sunday Times exposé of the blood scandal in athletics, said: “I’ve been profoundly struck over recent months by the enduring relevance and impact of our journalism. This story reached a potential global audience of over 2 billion people in 109 countries, with the United States of America supplying 21 per cent of the audience.

“That’s an enormous relevance and impact. This shows the power of newspapers. As our research shows, broadcast news is trusted but it lacks the ability to properly delve into stories. And with a legal requirement to be unbiased, comment and opinion is not a feature of our TV news.

“This means the role of newspapers remains highly distinctive. We sustain detailed investigations that confront the controversies that others avoid, offering the public independent, rigorous and trusted news. We offer comment and opinion worth listening to, with real authority and insight.

Mr Dinsmore cited four reasons why he believes newspapers are critical to politics: their ability to create a factually accurate record of events, prompt debate, expose corruption, and bring humour to events

He said: “We should remind ourselves that strong democracies need strong media, able to keep the public informed about the actions of their government, and others, and the decisions they take in our name.

“It especially needs a press, free from political control. Professional journalism is not about being cheerleaders for politics. But in providing a sustained focus on public life, we provide valuable space to politicians whose legitimacy depends on their ability to engage a sceptical and often disinterested electorate.

“Politics is too important to be left to the spin-doctors of party press releases. It needs detailed analysis and courageous debate, something that newspapers do particularly well.

“This is not to claim newspapers have a monopoly on political truth.  Politics is stronger when there is a spectrum of opinions. Newspapers remain the home of journalism that makes you think.  We have the credibility, the skill and the nerve to set the agenda and pose the important questions.

“And if we keep that in mind, I believe newspapers will continue to have a major relevance and impact for many years to come. We need to remind people what makes us special.  Remind them how our journalism makes a positive impact.  And remind them what would be lost if we were not around.

“Let’s make that the focus of what we are trying to preserve, because it is a good thing to do – it truly is a job worth doing – and because it’s a pretty good foundation for our commercial success too.”