Oli Dugmore, Head of News and Politics at JOE: In Conversation with TCS

Ryan Coppack 25 March 2021
Image Credits: Oli Dugmore

As Head of News and Politics at JOE Media, Oli Dugmore would probably agree that he’s more used to conducting interviews than being interviewed. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop him from providing some interesting insights into the current health, economic, and political crises we are living through. I spoke to Dugmore to hear about his career and to get his views on the many pressing issues of the day.

A good place to begin was to ask about his professional trajectory. It’s clear that Dugmore has been chasing the vocation of the journalist for some time. From founding a student newspaper in his school days to editing The Tab at university, and then shifting to The Sunday Times and LBC, Dugmore has accrued a significant amount of experience in the industry.

He has a casual and relaxed style, though this shouldn’t be confused with unprofessionalism. He makes the job of interviewing look easier than it is and succeeds in overcoming one of the most difficult challenges: building a rapport with interlocutors. Refraining from the pugilistic approaches of the likes of Piers Morgan, Dugmore instead prefers to take his interviewees – indeed, before Covid arrived – to eat chicken in Morley’s. His personable style tends to pay off, and many guests open up rather than backing away due to the hostility of the questioner.

I asked Dugmore about the current state and future of the journalism industry. On the broad question of the industry’s need to adapt to the rise of digital technology, Dugmore thinks that the transformation away from traditional print forms is now essentially irrevocable. “The digital world is cannibalising the media landscape”, he says. The problem with print media, he reflects, is not necessarily anything to do with the product or content itself, which is often of very high quality, but with the lack of immediacy in its delivery. Dugmore is keen to stress that he’s not implying that the younger generation is averse to consuming an in-depth and long-form current affairs production. Rather, he explains, for many today, listening to a politician talk on a podcast channel such as the Joe Rogan Experience is preferable to reading what they have to say in a full print edition of the Financial Times. The podcast form allows listeners to get a “way better understanding of someone and their own words”, he says.

Dugmore thinks that the transformation away from traditional print forms is now essentially irrevocable. “The digital world is cannibalising the media landscape”, he says.

One thing that’s immediately obvious about the politics platform at JOE is its proclivity to recruit guests from across the political spectrum. While he acknowledges the left-leaning predilections of the channel, he remarks that talking to thinkers who possess a broad range of political perspectives is “massively important”.  The reason for this is that the show is much “richer for having a plurality of guests” and for engaging in “critical argument”. Dugmore practices what he preaches, interviewing the likes of Peter Hitchens and Douglas Murray on the more conservative end of the spectrum, and then Slavoj Zizek and Paul Mason – both self-described Marxists – at the other end. Apart from prominent writers and commentators, he has also interviewed many leading politicians, including the former Conservative MP, Rory Stewart, and the current Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Rosena Allin-Khan.

Dugmore spent a number of weeks covering the US presidential election in November. I asked him for his reflections on the experience. American politics is “what we have on steroids”, he says. Recounting an episode involving him and his team being accosted in one state for simply wearing masks, he noted that the political environment was much more intense and hostile.

On the question of comparing the politics of the US and the UK, he believes the parallels between the two countries, and between Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, are fundamentally “overdrawn”, even if Johnson “dabbles in populism”.

I proceeded to quiz Dugmore about the current state of British politics. On the coronavirus pandemic, he notes that Boris Johnson’s predictable “inability to deliver bad news to people” has been one major problem throughout the crisis. But as dire as the UK performance has been, he does admit that the government possesses “feathers in the cap” such as the furlough scheme and the vaccine programme, which allow it to maintain a fairly stable position in the polls.

On the coronavirus pandemic, he notes that Boris Johnson’s predictable “inability to deliver bad news to people” has been one major problem throughout the crisis.

On the performance of Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, Dugmore wants to suspend any hasty judgements. “It’s quite early days”, he says, and “the jury is still out for him”. Rather than making any definitive or overly dismissive judgements, he remarks that he’s “prepared to see where it goes”.

A good place to conclude, and he agreed, is with some considerations about the future.  In a post-Covid world – whatever that will mean – Dugmore’s expecting a dramatic resurgence in music, sport, and comedy. “It’s gonna be chaos”, he remarks. In the short-term, however, his hopes are far more modest. He says he’ll be grateful when the pubs open.

Dugmore ultimately has faith in the younger generation “to change things for the better”. And with epoch-defining challenges such as anthropogenic climate change confronting society now and in the decades ahead, we have to hope he’s right.