The editor of The Sun is to return to his old school this week as part of a charm offensive by the tabloid’s publisher, News UK, emphasising its long-term commitment to journalism in the wake of the damaging phone-hacking scandal.
David Dinsmore, 45, will go back to his alma mater, the Perthshire boarding school Strathallan, to talk to sixth-formers on Thursday about the future of the news business. Other Sun journalists have also agreed to visit their former schools.
The initiative forms part of a concerted effort by News UK to clean up its reputation after a traumatic period that saw the closure of the News of the World and the arrests of numerous Sun journalists during the ongoing Operation Elveden inquiry into bribery of public officials.
Mr Dinsmore said schoolchildren “always” asked him about the company’s recent high-profile problems and he was happy to respond. “I will always answer the questions because I think it’s interesting to discuss it.”
The school visits idea follows a campaign by i, which encouraged people from different sectors of work to return to their state schools as role models.
Delegations of News UK journalists and executives have addressed groups of schoolchildren in Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff and Dublin. Issues discussed have included sessions on “youth disengagement and the media” and “the responsibilities of a free press”.
Young people are encouraged to use a corporate website that encourages them to take part in a competition in celebrity reporting and offers “top tips” from senior journalists on writing stories and building contacts. It is also includes a section on legal matters, stressing “all journalists must act in accordance with the law and regulation”.
The company owned by Rupert Murdoch is investing in a News Academy for young people as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility programme. It will also host a summer school for young people in August.
Speaking to i, Mr Dinsmore said the News UK initiative was also designed to find potential recruits. “It’s a way of introducing people to the skills involved and how they can then get into the paper,” he said.
His visit to Strathallan, where his 16-year-old daughter Kirsty is a pupil and will be among his audience, follows his earlier participation in a News Academy event in Cardiff.
Another difficult issue for Mr Dinsmore to discuss at school next Thursday, however, might be The Sun’s coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy, after this month’s poignant 25th anniversary memorial events.
Mr Dinsmore said that The Sun had changed its stance from its notorious claim that Liverpool fans were themselves culpable for the disaster. “We… want to get to the truth of the matter because this does seem to be more and more about the police. Clearly the way in which it was reported was wrong.”
He said he would continue to seek dialogue with the families of victims, despite an ongoing hostility to the paper from Hillsborough support groups. “Nothing would please me more than to have a reconciliation and I’m always interested in any avenues that open up to do that.”
He added: “The important thing for the paper now is to keep reporting the story as it is. We certainly don’t have any agenda on Hillsborough apart from telling the story as straight as possible.”