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October 20, 2015updated 21 Oct 2015 3:16pm

News UK’s Dinsmore says newspapers trumped social media on general election influence

By Dominic Ponsford

Former Sun editor David Dinsmore said this morning that the last general election proved to him that newspapers trump social media in terms of influence.

And he revealed new research from YouGov which he said showed the influence newspapers have.

The Sun, Telegraph and Mail titles were all strongly pro-Conservative in the run-up to the May general election and have a combined daily print readership of around 10m.

Dinsmore, who was speaking to the Society of Editors Conference in London in his new role as News UK chief operating officer, admitted that The Sun was "a paper that had made it pretty clear where we wanted the election to end up”. He described tracker polls showing Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck in the run up to the poll as “rather frustrating”.

He also noted an election day exit poll from social media monitoring company TalkWater showed 2,500 Twitter users claimed to have voted Labour against 777 for the Tories.

He said: "Social media kept talking of a Labour victory. If you tuned into Twitter during the campaign you would have assumed it was a done deal for Ed."

Dinsmore said: “There was a period for a couple of years at the start of the Coalition Government where sentiment on Twitter definitely moved government policy. They actually believed it was representative of the country. It is not the case."

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Describing the mood in The Sun newsroom when the broadcasters’ exit poll was published predicting a Conservative victory, he said: “The news was so shocking, and the pressure building up to that moment so intense, you could actually feel the wave of emotion and reaction rush through the office…

“It had been a particularly bruising campaign. The Sun had gone all in, The Times had taken a slightly more dispassionate view.”

Dinsmore cited YouGov research published after the election which asked voters which sources they trust to deliver political news. He said the answers were as follow:

  • TV news: 56 per cent
  • Newspapers (print and digital): 50 per cent
  • Radio news: 33 per cent
  • Websites/apps of TV and radio companies: 26 per cent
  • Professional media accounts on social media: 9 per cent.

He said the research also asked adults what medium they used to reach coverage of the election.

The results were:

  • Television news: 68 per cent
  • Newspapers (print or digital): 52 per cent
  • Radio news: 33 per cent
  • Websites/apps of TV and radio companies: 26 per cent
  • News-based entertainment programmes: 19 per cent.

Dinsmore said: “Almost two in five adults say their primary source of news is the TV, however when we combine print and digital newspapers, and look at usage over the course of a month, we see TV and newspaper usage on par at around seven in ten.

“Half of all adults trust newspapers to deliver political news.

"The key statistic for me is that only nine per cent trust social media to deliver political news.”

He said: "Social tends to be a collection of people shouting."

Explaining why he thinks newspaper retain their apparent influence, he said: “I think it’s our unique mix of content that we create and share.”

He added: “I am particularly drawn to our ability to shape opinion and debate. This is our clear and common purpose and what sets us apart from other media.”

He said that “broadcast news is trusted but it lacks the ability to properly delve into stories”.

And talking about the BBC, he said: “Publicly-funded news, while a great British tradition, relies on Parliament for its funding, is never very far from a Charter or funding review, and so inevitably has to operate under the threat of political interference. 

“This means the role of newspapers remains highly distinctive.

"We sustain detailed investigations that confront the controversies that others avoid, offering the public independent, rigorous and trusted news…

“Broadcasters report the comings and goings, claims and counter-claims, the set piece proceedings  – but where’s the real story?  That’s often down to us."

Citing stories broken by The Sun which broadcasters were slow to follow up, Lord Coke and the Queen's Nazi salute, he said that newspapers "report things that broadcasters won't go near until the water is safe".

In questions, Dinsmore was asked about his company's role in the conviction of more than 30 journalists' sources after it gave confidential emails to the police.

He said: "Sources should never to go jail. The last four years is something we will talk about for years to come and there's a lot to be learned."

Asked about his relationship with chief executive Rebekah Brooks, who returned to the company last month four years after she resigned at the height of the hacking scandal, he said: "Rebekah's brought a fantastic wave of energy. Journalists are running the business which is really exciting."

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