Ahead of the Parliamentary elections in May 2010 Press Gazette published a unique and exclusive piece of research revealing the highest-rated political reporters working in the UK, voted for by their peers and the public.
We commissioned similar surveys covering business, sport, showbiz, comment, travel, food and drink, and the environment. In coming weeks we will be publishing the surveys online for the first time, beginning today with the top 50 political reporters.
The findings are based on a survey of 1,000 members of the public and a representative sample of specialist journalists working in this field.
This list does not claim to be conclusive but it is nonetheless a fascinating snapshot of who the top names are in political reporting as rated by journalists themselves and the general public.
Those surveyed were specifically asked to name reporters, rather than commentators, though not all those who made the top 50 would primarily describe themselves as reporters and not all those who voted stuck strictly to the brief.
The public survey was carried out by iCD research among a weighted sample of 1,000 people from around the UK.
There are a few surprises in the list and some surprising omissions. But as political journalists know only too well, that’s the exciting thing about democracy – you never know what the voters will decide (where someone makes it on to the top 50 list mainly through the public vote, we have put a “p” next to their name).
We also asked the public to name the news outlet they trust the most and found that the BBC was by far the favourite when it comes to political news – with broadcasters, sworn as they are to impartiality, dominating the top trust spots.
Perhaps most interestingly, our survey found that 90 per cent of voters said their general election decision would not be influenced by any particular news outlet.
1. Presenter of the Andrew Marr show, BBC1, former BBC political editor (p)
Andrew Marr is not primarily a reporter nowadays – but he still gets plenty of scoops as presenter of the Andrew Marr Show on BBC One since 2005.
He was the clear favourite when members of the public were asked to name their top political reporter – possibly reflecting his stint as BBC political editor from 2000-2005.
When asked by Press Gazette what he thinks the secret of being a great political reporter is, he says: “I think as with any kind of journalism, curiosity is essential.
“You also need a basic fair-mindedness. You have to accept that most of the people in the political game have mixed motives but part of their motives are good ones and they do want to make the world better, whether they are on the right, centre or left.
“A good journalist treats the business of politics, if not everything that happens in politics, with a certain amount of respect – which I try to do.”
Not surprisingly Marr, who is the author of a History of Modern Britain, said that “a real sense of political history” is also important for any political reporter.
“If you don’t know who Anthony Eden was, or what happened over Suez, or how the Liberal Democrats were formed, then you really shouldn’t be a political reporter.”
He adds: “You have to be interested in the DNA of politics and you have to work pretty hard and keep yourself up to speed.”
When asked to name the scoops he is most proud of Marr cites the story from 2004 when he revealed that four Cabinet ministers had gone to Tony Blair begging him not to step down as prime minister.
He also cites his revelation that the Cabinet had accepted Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, and Peter Mandelson’s second Cabinet resignation.
Asked for his tips on getting stories, he stresses the importance of good contacts.
“In politics it’s difficult because a lot of the time you will have a contact and then you will have to say something fairly horrible about them and you will lose them,” he says.
“You are constantly making and then breaking those relationships.”
He adds: “There have to be people at the top on the inside, on all sides, who will pick up the phone to you. And you have to know enough about a lot of stories to have some shrewd idea of the next thing that could happen. You have to think politically like they do.”
And the political journalists he most rates? He names current BBC political editor Nick Robinson and Times political editor Philip Webster, who he said had “a sensational range of great stories”.
Marr began his career as a reporter on The Scotsman, becoming parliamentary correspondent in 1984, political correspondent in 1986, and then political editor in the same year.
He was political editor of The Economist from 1988 to 1992, chief political commentary of The Independent from 1992 and then editor in 1996 to 1998.
Before joining the BBC he had spells as a columnist on The Express and The Observer.
2. Philip Webster, formerly Times political now editor of The Times website
As Andrew Marr’s tribute attests, Webster is one of the most respected political journalists working the Westminster beat.
After the general election in 2010 Webster stood down after a 16-year stint as the paper’s political editor, having previously been chief political correspondent. He is now editor of thetimes.co.uk.
Webster, who began his career at the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich, told Press Gazette in 2007 about his big break: “I was helped when a senior staffer at The Times noticed that I could write shorthand pretty fast and hired me, virtually on the spot, to report in Parliament.”
What his peers say: “Simply the best.”
3. Joe Murphy, Evening Standard, political editor
After a stint as political editor at The Sunday Telegraph, Murphy jumped ship to become the Evening Standard’s Whitehall editor in 2002. In 2004 he stepped up to replace longstanding political editor Charles Reiss and has been in the role ever since.
He’s been praised for his “unfaltering” dedication to the Evening Standard through its ownership upheavals when the Lebedevs took over in 2010.
4. George Parker, Financial Times, political editor
Having worked in Barnstaple as a local reporter for the Western Morning News, Parker joined the FT in 1990 to become its Lobby correspondent, aged 24.
In 1999 he became UK news editor for three years before heading up the FT’s Brussels bureau in 2002.
Parker returned to London in 2007 when he became political editor.
What his peers say: “Good sources, writes well, lacks spin or sensationalism, gets to the truth.”
5. Adam Boulton, Sky News, political editor
Boulton’s big break came in 1982 as a stringer for the IPS Inter Press newswire service reporting on the Falklands conflict from Washington DC.
A year later he joined TV-am to help launch Breakfast TV, and it was there in 1987 that he infamously doorstepped the Queen live on air while reporting in Vancouver.
He joined Sky News ahead of its launch in 1989 to set up the political department. He’s been at the channel ever since and won the Royal Television Society’s Judges’ Award in 2001.
What his peers say: “Despite the technical constraints of TV Adam finds time to chase the big stories and has excellent contacts. He always reports with integrity and panache.”
6. Nick Robinson, BBC political editor
Robinson started at the BBC as a trainee producer in 1986. He worked on Brass Tacks, Newsround and Crimewatch before a stint as assistant producer of On the Record before becoming deputy editor of Panorama.
He became a political correspondent in 1996 before launching Late Night Live and fronting Weekend Breakfast on BBC Radio Five Live. In 1999 he was made chief political correspondent on News 24 before leaving in 2002 to become political editor at ITV News.
He returned to the BBC as political editor in 2005.
7. Simon Walters, Mail on Sunday, political editor
After beginning his career at the Slough Evening Mail, a stint at Press Association led Simon Walters to a political reporter job at The Sun in 1986.
He worked his way up Sunday Express as political editor in 1996. In 1999 he became deputy editor of the paper before leaving a year later to become political editor at the Mail on Sunday.
8. Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, political editor
Wintour secured an internship at the New Statesmen after leaving university before becoming labour correspondent on The Guardian through the miners’ strike and the end of Margaret Thatcher’s time at No 10.
In 1996 he became political editor of The Observer. He returned to The Guardian in 1999 as chief political correspondent before becoming political editor in 2006.
He says: “Some think it’s a mystifying job, reporting what politicians say, have done and will do. It’s about people’s opinions and their acts.”
What his peers say: “Fearless and reliable.”
9. Paul Waugh, editor of PoliticsHome.com
Paul Waugh was deputy political editor at The Independent before he moved to the Evening Standard in 2004 as Whitehall editor, and was later promoted to deputy political editor.
Five months after our survey he was appointed editor of PoliticsHome.com.
10. Jeremy Paxman (p), Newsnight, BBC
Jeremy Paxman is the only one of our top 10 political journalists to have stayed with the same news organisation his whole career.
He joined the BBC on a graduate trainee programme in 1972 and worked at Radio Brighton before moving to Belfast to report on the troubles.
He had stints on BBC current affairs programme Tonight, on Panorama and the Six O’clock News before becoming a Newsnight presenter in 1989.
Paxman made his name with a forthright interviewing style which in 1997 saw him ask then Home Secretary Michael Howard the same question 12 times.
11-50: Note that some titles may have changed since the survey was carried out in 2010
11 Sam Coates, chief political correspondent, The Times
12 Norman Smith, political correspondent, BBC News
13 Andrew Grice, political editor, The Independent
14 Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, The Guardian
15 Francis Elliott, deputy political editor, The Times
16 Jean Eaglesham, chief political correspondent, Financial Times
17 Nigel Morris, deputy political editor, The Independent
18 Michael White, assistant editor (politics), The Guardian
19 Patrick Hennessy, political editor, Sunday Telegraph
20 Andrew Porter, political editor, The Daily Telegraph
21 James Chapman, political editor, Daily Mail
22 Robert Winnett, deputy political editor, The Daily Telegraph
23 James Forsyth, political editor, The Spectator
24 James Landale, deputy political editor, BBC
25 Jon Snow, presenter, Channel 4 News
26 Bob Roberts, political editor, Daily Mirror
27 David Hencke, former Westminster correspondent for The Guardian, now of Tribune
28 Alex Barker, political correspondent, Financial Times
29 Michael Crick, political editor, Newsnight, BBC (now political correspondent at Channel 4 News)
30 John Rentoul, chief political commentator, Independent on Sunday
31 Benedict Brogan, deputy editor, The Daily Telegraph
32 Andrew Rawnsley, associate editor, The Observer
33 David Grossman, political correspondent, Newsnight
34 Rob Evans, reporter, The Guardian
35 Trevor Kavanagh, associate editor (politics) The Sun
36 Rachel Sylvester, columnist, The Times
37 John Pienaar, chief political correspondent, Radio 5live
38 James Lyons, political correspondent, The Daily Mirror
39 Allegra Stratton, political correspondent, The Guardian
40 Toby Helm, Whitehall editor, The Observer
41 Kevin Schofield, political correspondent, The Sun
42 Alex Forrest, political correspondent, ITV News
43 Joey Jones, Sky News political correspondent
44 John Humphrys (p), presenter/interviewer, Today, BBC Radio 4
45 Andrew Neil (p), presenter/interviewer, The Daily Politics, BBC
46 Jim Pickard, Westminster correspondent, Financial Times
47 Tom Bradby, ITN political editor
48 Brendan Carlin, political correspondent, Mail on Sunday
49 Mehdi Hasan, senior editor, politics, New Statesman (now at Huffington Post)
50 Paul Rowley, regional political correspondent, BBC