Sun political editor Tom Newton Dunn says lobby journalists are the “hub” for gossip in Westminster and will often know more than cabinet ministers.
Newton Dunn has been political editor of the Sun since 2009, winning the politics journalism award at the 2015 British Journalism Awards for revealing the “plebgate” scandal involving former government chief whip Andrew Mitchell.
A stalwart of the Westminster scene, Newton Dunn has told the Media Masters podcast about being part of the “never ending” political conversation.
“Westminster lunches are really interesting between politicians and journalists because it’s very much a two way street,” he said.
“Senior ministers will often come to hear what you have to say. Gossip is the oil of the Westminster machine. The thing about being a political journalist is very often you may know more than a cabinet minister.
“We are the hubs for the gossip and the stories.”
Asked about the “fine line” between what he’s told “off the record” and the ethics of withholding information, Newton-Dunn said that each journalist “will have their own rules”.
“A lot of it is down to longevity,” he said. “A minister tells you something, maybe on purpose, maybe by mistake. Most times, when you talk to someone who tells you something quite interesting, they’re doing it for a good reason.
“If you go out for lunch with someone, and you tell them a bit of gossip, it’s largely because they want you to write about it. The rule that I operate by is that you really have to expect it to appear in print: it’s how it appears in print which is the most important thing.
“What you really don’t want to do with a useful source is to embarrass them or get them identified.”
Newton Dunn said he was threatened with arrest by the police unless he revealed his source for the ‘plebgate’ story.
“I told them I wouldn’t and therefore they didn’t carry out the arrest. It was all an obvious bluff,” he said. “You’ve got to protect your sources, and go to some lengths to do that.”
Newton Dunn’s phone records were secretly seized by police searching for the leak, leading to Press Gazette’s successful Save Our Sources campaign calling for a change to the law on accessing journalists’ communications.
Cutting his teeth working for the Daily Telegraph as a “tea boy” for Boris Johnson, Newton Dunn admitted that he never imagined working for a tabloid, but said that he loves writing journalism for “normal working people”.
He said: “We have an utterly brilliant team of wordsmiths called the ‘back bench’ whose job it is to write brilliant headlines and to knock copy into brilliant shape,” adding that he “detests snobbery”.
Sun readers, he said, are “the backbone of the nation”.