MEDIA PROFILE: Ruining the image of the hack - Tom Baldwin, deputy political editor, The Times

The legend of the Sunday newspaper political journalist is that of a hard-drinking hack of the old school, working his contacts to steal a march on the daily papers, meeting them in shady pubs to ply them with booze and ferret out a story. So when I speak to Tom Baldwin, who is to become the Times’ deputy political editor in a couple of months’ time, it is no surprise to find him flat on his back.

The legend of the Sunday newspaper political journalist is that of

a hard-drinking hack of the old school, working his contacts to steal a

march on the daily papers, meeting them in shady pubs to ply them with

booze and ferret out a story. So when I speak to Tom Baldwin, who is to

become the Times’ deputy political editor in a couple of months’ time,

it is no surprise to find him flat on his back.



As it turns out, this is because he has damaged his back and is waiting

for a doctor. It had nothing to do with alcohol.



You will have heard of Tom Baldwin if you have been paying attention to

current affairs recently. As the political editor of the Sunday

Telegraph, he was the man who ran with the leaked copy of the Macpherson

report of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. It is an injunction of which he

was proud.



’This Government is so obsessed with media control that it was good to

upset their carefully laid media strategy for unveiling that report,’ he

says. ’It was frustrating at the same time, though, because we had to

scrap the second edition and couldn’t give all the details of the report

that we had dug out.’



It is Baldwin’s strength at this sort of story that first impressed the

Times. ’Tom is regarded as one of the best story-getters around,’ says

his new boss, Phil Webster, the Times’ political editor. ’We were

delighted when we heard he was available. These days, our Saturday and

Monday editions are increasingly regarded in the same way as a Sunday

paper in terms of size and stories. We hope he will be coming up with

the same kind of stories for the Saturday paper as he has done for the

Sunday Telegraph. He has a tough reputation to live up to.’



Baldwin describes his new role as taking some of the strengths of a

Sunday journalist to the paper: he watches which direction the daily

lobby pack is heading, then runs the opposite way.



He’s looking forward to leaving the Sunday Telegraph, as he has found

the weekend beat hard work. ’Some people view this move as a promotion

and others see it as a demotion,’ he says. ’I see it as a chance to get

my life back. On a Sunday paper, the political editor works a 36-hour

shift every weekend, starting on Friday morning and working through to

Saturday night,’ he adds. Indeed, Baldwin has sacrificed his social life

to political journalism since he took his first job as council reporter

on the Newbury Weekly which meant spending his evenings in a council

chamber listening to Liberal Democrats debating.



It hasn’t soured him, though. He even has a good word for spin doctors.

’It is true that this Government has a great desire to control the news

agenda,’ he says. ’Alastair Campbell is currently boycotting the Sunday

lobby completely. On the other hand, journalists can be too obsessed

with political PR people. Spin doctors can be useful. Most of the time,

they give you a 30-page document written in Government-speak and will

tell you where the interesting bit is. That’s actually very

helpful.’



A political journalist who doesn’t mind spin doctors. Whatever next?



HIGHLIGHTS



1990 - Council reporter, Newbury Weekly



1998 - Political editor, Sunday Telegraph



1999 - Deputy political editor, The Times.



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