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
’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
A political journalist who doesn’t mind spin doctors. Whatever next?
1990 - Council reporter, Newbury Weekly
1998 - Political editor, Sunday Telegraph
1999 - Deputy political editor, The Times.