The Glasgow-born editor of the Sun newspaper has one of the biggest jobs in the industry, but he and his colleagues are on something of a mission, travelling around Britain in an attempt to build bridges after a series of damaging scandals hit the titles in the stable of News UK, the British arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
The initiative has taken Dinsmore back to his alma mater, Strathallan boarding school in Perthshire, where he spent part of the day fielding questions from sixth-formers. Among the students was his daughter Kirsty.
Safely out of the 16-year-old’s reach in the Blythswood’s upstairs bar, Dinsmore recounts airing photos of his daughter – aged ten and modelling various football kits – in front of all of her classmates. “I managed to humiliate her,” he says with an impish grin.
Though he doesn’t say it in so many words, Dinsmore is keen to present a different side to the business of tabloid journalism in an effort to counterbalance a difficult period. As we spoke he was preparing to address the latest in a series of Albion dinners organised by the Marketing Society Scotland and says it is time to champion the important role of print media, and be proud of the work it undertakes.
“We have done a very good job as an industry in talking ourselves down, probably for about the last 15 years,” he says. “We need to change that.”
One common stereotype is that of the gruff, demanding editor barking out commands while rejecting nearly every story on offer as second-rate. It’s an image that could barely be more at odds with the affable demeanour of Dinsmore, who has been described by colleagues as “annoyingly cheerful”.
He says: “People have this image of editors, particularly tabloid editors, as having two horns and a forked tail.”
The charm offensive led by Dinsmore – who began his career with the company in 1991 and also had a stint at the top of the Scottish edition of the tabloid – is a central pillar in the group’s efforts to rebuild its credentials as a socially responsible organisation. It comes in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that forced the closure of the Sun’s sister title, the News of the World, in 2011. Subsequent investigations under Operation Elveden led to the arrests of a number of Sun journalists on accusations of bribery of public officials.
The treatment of his colleagues clearly disturbs Dinsmore, who loses a shade of his good humour when discussing the police raids on the homes of his co-workers. There are also suggestions of a lack of solidarity in the professional ranks, as other media organisations largely distanced themselves from the unpalatable events at his company.
Despite all of that, News UK’s concerted public relations efforts are not solely aimed at repairing the company’s image. Dinsmore believes they will also help the group tap into a new pool of journalistic talent.
In that vein, Strathallan certainly has a track record. Dinsmore’s class at school included a number of other journalistic names, including Rick Fulton, the Daily Record showbiz editor, and Tim Reid, political correspondent for the BBC. DJ and radio presenter Jim Gellatly was also in Dinsmore’s year at Strathallan.
Dinsmore says he is always interested in listening to the views of young people, most of whom are unabashed in quizzing him about the company’s high-profile difficulties. This was less the case this time around at Strathallan, where the students focused more on the “process” and “business” of news, but Dinsmore did have to field questions on Scottish independence.
He refuses to divulge his personal opinion on the matter. As for whether the Sun will eventually take an editorial line, the answer is “wait and see”.
“There is an awful long way to go, and it is an exceptionally divisive issue,” he notes. “A lot of thought has to go into positioning on an issue like this.”
His career has taken him in and out of Scotland. As of the last 18 months he has been resident in London, but tends to make it back to Scotland about once every couple of months for at least a “flying visit thing”. It is during these return journeys that he gets a fresh view of his home land.
“The thing that really strikes me is what a divided country Scotland is,” he says. “There is a real east-west divide, there is a real north-south divide, and there is also this strong religious divide in the west of Scotland that you just kind of take for granted if you grow up here, but it doesn’t exist in other places. We have now added another division with Yes/No.”
Whatever the wider uncertainties, Dinsmore is unflinching in his faith in the popularity of the Sun, which sells more than two million copies daily. Add in the stories that are reproduced online and he reckons more people are consuming its material than ever before.
His conviction allows him to firmly fend off widespread – and growing – criticism of the red-top’s daily Page 3 girl with the sweeping observation that none of the campaigners against topless women actually buy the paper. He also claims that focus groups among readers confirm continuing support for the controversial feature.
“I have always said that it is here for as long as the readers want it,” he says in the prosaic manner of one who has had this conversation a few too many times.
But there is another legacy issue that Dinsmore has inherited that gives him genuine pause for thought. That is the paper’s notorious coverage of Hillsborough, with the paper claiming that Liverpool fans themselves were to blame for the disaster.
“It was a terrible mistake,” he says. “I would love to find a solution to it – I would love to find some reconciliation.”
Job: Editor, the Sun
Born: Glasgow, 1968
Education: Strathallan School; general management at Columbia Business School, New York
First job: Painting fence posts and other odds jobs at West of Scotland Football Club
Ambition while at school: To be a journalist
Car: I don’t own a car, we sold it when we moved back to London
Kindle or book? Kindle for novels, but a book for textbooks
Can’t live without: My phone
Favourite place: London
What makes you angry? I get frustrated that I can’t do everything I want to do immediately. The other thing that upsets me is rash generalisations – preconceptions and misconceptions – about the Sun, and journalists in general.
Best thing about your job: Doing something for which we will be famous the next day