Tom Newton Dunn says TalkTV is categorically “not a right-wing network” as he launches his daily 7pm programme The News Desk.
Newton Dunn, formerly political editor at The Sun for 11 years, is leading the first of TalkTV’s three evening primetime programmes and describes it as a “news programme unlike any other that currently exists in the UK”. He is executive editor as well as presenter.
The programme will comprise three parts:
- First will be news reports and analysis from News UK correspondents
- Second will be “news-making” interviews, including but not limited to politicians, with Newton Dunn promising a “firm but fair” interviewing style
- And the final third will be a discussion panel featuring regular guests with a balance of political beliefs.
For example on Mondays TalkTV political editor Kate McCann will be joined by Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and James Slack, Sun deputy editor and former Downing Street head of communications. On Thursdays, Tribune writer Grace Blakeley will appear alongside former Sky News editor-at-large Adam Boulton and Conservative MP Bim Afolami.
Newton Dunn says that although the panellists may disagree politically “the key is getting on with each other” rather than having them devolve into shouting matches.
“Fundamentally disagreeing on a whole load of things but in a respectful, engaging way,” he says, “because we worked hard at bringing people together who have chemistry, who can discuss and inform people and give them their opinions but in a kind and civilised fashion.
“If there is a hearty debate about things, which I’m sure there will be about lots of things, then that would be great. You can have that while respecting each other. Shouting and screaming at each other, that’s not what we’re going for. That’s not the tone of The News Desk.”
People are ‘definitely wrong’ about TalkTV
So what is the tone of The News Desk? Newton Dunn pledges to be “the straight guy” and present the news “in an utterly straight and unbiased way with zero political ideology”.
The programme’s task is partly to present the news before it is interpreted and commented on further by Piers Morgan at 8pm and Sharon Osbourne and her panel on The Talk at 9pm.
He says: “I think a lot of people are coming to the entire network, TalkTV, with a fair amount of preconceptions. I think everyone thinks we’re going to be right-wing and that’s probably based on, you know, perceptions of some of our titles, The Sun for example, but I think those assumptions and preconceptions are certainly wrong about the titles. They’re definitely wrong about TalkTV.
“I think we’re going to surprise a whole load of people by not being a right-wing network at all. We’re not going to be a left-wing network either I hasten to add – we’re going to be utterly interesting and engaged and completely unideological, and that’s why I think we’re going to be quite different actually, another reason why we’ll look quite different to everything else out there.”
Newton Dunn adds: “The baggage people have of TalkTV, they’ll be badly disproved on Monday – leave your baggage outside the sitting room, because we’re not a right-wing network and we’re going to surprise you.”
A lot of British TV news is ‘formulaic’
Although The News Desk is launching in a “crowded hour” up against ITV News, Channel 4 News, Nigel Farage on GB News and even The One Show on BBC One, Newton Dunn believes his show will be “distinct and different” and that there is further appetite in the UK for news programming.
“It will be a news programme unlike any other that currently exists in the UK, and that’s the point of it… We’re trying to offer something different in what’s already a pretty crowded marketplace and effectively, we’re doing the news in a fresh and engaging way. It’s a serious programme.”
He also believes many of the UK’s current news programmes are too similar: “You can tell the news and explain the news in different formats. It doesn’t just have to be: package, live, package, live… which is the formulaic way that a lot of British news is done at the moment. You can do it with lives. You can also do it with an interview, and you can do it with a panel discussion.”
He hopes therefore to pull in people who don’t currently watch early evening television because they “haven’t found a platform yet that particularly suits them”. He also notes that people don’t have to watch live but can catch up whenever they want to access the news.
“There’s a huge market out there of potential people so there is a large untapped resource of people who aren’t watching any of the other channels at the moment and, you know, this is choice. This is competition. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
“With a lot of hard work we have developed a format that we think is going to engage and going to entice them to come watch.”
Piers Morgan: Le Grand Chien et Le Petit Chien
Newton Dunn’s programme leads in to Piers Morgan’s 8pm “Uncensored” show, which itself will feature interviews and debate.
Then-editor Morgan hired Newton Dunn as a graduate trainee on the Daily Mirror in 1997 and, after the 9/11 attacks, promoted him to defence correspondent.
They have also traded political bets on Whatsapp for at least ten years, Newton Dunn reveals – insisting that he has won the majority.
Now they are both at TalkTV, they have a “healthy rivalry and entertaining banter”. Newton Dunn reveals that Morgan was so enamoured with the phrase Operation Save Big Dog coined about Boris Johnson during the Partygate scandal that he decided to be known in News UK’s The News Building as Le Grand Chien (the big dog) – and dubbed Newton Dunn Le Petit Chien (the little dog).
Newton Dunn adds: “He likes to think I’m his warm up guy. I like to think he might inherit some of my huge audience. Let’s see how we get on…”
But Newton Dunn regardless is full of compliments for his colleague.
“He definitely annoys almost as many as he entertains but he is a truly brilliant broadcaster. He has an utterly exceptional talent, which I suspect he may be the best in the world at – although Donald Trump [Morgan’s first TalkTV interviewee] might run him close – at getting himself attention and talked about. And that in the news and the entertainment business is incredibly precious.
“And he has a new and interesting take on everything and the formats he pumps his stuff out on are quite prodigious.”
First-time TV anchor
Newton Dunn is well known for his 11 years as political editor at The Sun, where he also spent five years as defence editor. He won the politics journalism prize at Press Gazette’s British Journalism Awards in 2015 for the newspaper’s vindication over Plebgate, and won scoop of the year and reporter of the year in 2008 for his reporting on the killing of a British soldier by friendly fire from a US plane and the subsequent cover-up.
For the past two years Newton Dunn has been chief political commentator at Times Radio while he has previously hosted BBC Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster and been a TV panellist on the likes of Question Time and Any Questions. But TalkTV is his first foray as a TV news presenter.
He says: “Put it this way – I’ve certainly had to learn how to present a news television programme on the hurry up, which is as daunting as it is exciting at times, but we’ve been working incredibly hard over the last few months to get this up to scratch and we think we’re there now.”
TV rival GB News famously had a rushed launch last year with technical errors but has since bounced back with improved audience figures and new jobs being created, but News UK has undergone weeks of rehearsals and pilots to avoid making the same very public mistakes.
Asked why he is a convert to broadcast after so many years on newspapers, Newton Dunn says Times Radio is proof of concept that “news is tellable in every format that we have”.
“Being able to tell the news on the television is possibly the most direct and exciting and engaging way you can do the news… television news, if you get it right, is incredibly powerful and it’s an amazing challenge to be given and I’m incredibly lucky to be given a crack at all these things really over the last 25 years or so in journalism.
“But I think that’s the point of what we’re trying to do. If you’ve got a great news story, if you’ve got great reporting talent, you should be able to deliver it across all the forums you can.
“I think people are going to tune in and be really surprised not just by our balance and our total lack of right wing-ery, but also by just how brilliant all our talent is in journalism. If you don’t pick up The Times and see the brilliant political insights or The Sun and see the brilliant exclusives you might not know just how excellent our specialists across all the titles are.”
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