13 alternative tips for student journalists

See Number 11

I often get asked what advice I’d give students looking to go into journalism. I think people half expect the answer to be: “Don’t!” Of course, it’s tough, but it’s still a great profession, which is changing all the time. Here, slightly tongue-in-cheek, are 13 alternative tips for student journalists: 

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Journalists and readers: The question at the heart of the future of journalism

A crowd gather to watch a fire in Hackney in the 1930s. Times have changed!

At the heart of the future of journalism is a question all journalists will find themselves having to answer: Just how involved are you prepared to let readers become in your work?

New platforms may have be the physical manifestation of change in our industry,  but platforms come and go. What ‘the internet’ and 21st century technology has brought with it, more than anything, is the ability for people to share their own news, report their own news and decide how they want to consume news.

Amy Webb, the futurologist, speaking at the Online News Association conference in Chicago last month, picked out her 10 trends for journalism in 2015. Wearables, as you might expect, was among them. The challenge she said this would pose journalists would be to answer the question: How will people use these to consume content? The idea of ‘glance optimised headlines’ was floated – stuff people would consume on the wearable of their choice.

Amy suggested most of this was perhaps three years out. Some it still feels very The Jetsons. There are hundreds of wearables being brought to market. Yet again, they will empower our readers to decide how, and when, they consume content.

And that empowerment of the reader isn’t just about how they consume content. Increasingly, readers expect to have a greater say in what we do, how we do it and why we do it. A newsroom which isn’t listening to its readers every day, and constantly thinking of news ways to get the reader involved, is a newsroom which is destined to become irrelevant.

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FOI Friday: Nightmare roadwork roads, self service checkout crimes, cost of PFI and student disciplinary offences

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The roads dug up more than 600 times in a year < Birmingham Mail

Road repairs in Birmingham are causing traffic chaos with some routes being dug up almost every day for the past FIVE years, the Birmingham Mail can reveal.

Workmen have had to carry out maintenance on Birmingham’s Broad Street three times a week since 2009. The entertainment district – known as the Golden Mile – has been dug up an astonishing 684 times.

Yet it is not the most repaired road in the city.

Crime caused by self-service checkouts < Sunderland Echo

FORGETFUL shoppers are turning other wise law-abiding citizens into criminals after it was revealed that cash-back worth £1,260 was stolen from self-service tills in Sunderland in the last three years.

Figures obtained by the Echo via a freedom of information request to Northumbria Police, show thefts are going up year-on-year in line with the increase of popularity of automated systems in supermarkets.

But police say many people do not realise that pocketing cash accidentally left behind at self-service checkouts is theft and will be treated as such. And those caught on CCTV can often find themselves appearing in newspapers and online as part of crime appeals.

Forty-seven thefts of cashback were reported between April 2011 and March this year within Sunderland Area Command, after being left at self-service tills. Thirteen thefts were recorded in 2011/12, increasing to 16, in 2012/13 and 18 in the last financial year.

Youngest fire-arm offenders < Cambridge Evening News

A boy aged just 11 is now the youngest person in Cambridgeshire to be arrested over a firearms offences, shock data has revealed.

Information released by the Cambridgeshire force has also uncovered the youngest children arrested over drugs and sex crimes.

The youngest children arrested over sex offences are two boys aged just 10 years old.

One boy was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman and another was arrested over the rape of another boy aged under 13 years old. Both were given a reprimand and no further action was taken.

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FOI: How local journalists make a difference by sticking with a story

barb-flood-rescue-2

At certain times in the last 12 months, it will have been quite hard to avoid journalists in the West Country as news outlets from across the country followed wave after wave of floods hitting the region.

The 24-hour news cycle, the instant update world of social media and the ease of publishing online have all combined to ensure big events become ones of national focus very quickly. As a result, the thirst to lay blame can emerge more quickly, which in turn can result in big promises and pledges from those in power.

The widespread flooding in the South West resulted in big promises from the Government to get flood defences fixed, and rivers dredged to reduce the risk of a repeat this year.

Almost a year on, and it’s pretty much only the local media who are still covering a story which, for a while, led national news bulletins and dominated websites everywhere .. and as a result are the only ones left to ensure the promises made when the national media heat was at its highest are being delivered.

All of which brings me to the Western Morning News’ Freedom of Information-based story this week which revealed that, with winter approaching, almost of half of the flood defences damaged last winter have yet to be restored:

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FOI: The council and the private contractor who have created a circle of secrecy

Fireworks in Lambeth (Picture: Brixton Buzz)

More curious goings on for FOI requesters trying to get access to information when it involves a private contractor.

In Lambeth, the website Brixton Buzz has been trying to get to the bottom of how an annual local fireworks display, traditionally run by the council, will operate now they, with a private operator, are paying for access.

It asked for a copy of the ‘overlay plan’ which set out how the event would be managed.

Details of the plans had been circulated for consultation to local organisations and good journalism resulted in Brixton Buzz getting a copy, and then sharing it on their website.

Their aim was to get the views of the community. Bear in mind the fireworks used to be free to watch and involved the local council, paid for by the local community.

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FOI: The council facing legal action if it releases a report which is clearly in the public interest

Local journalism often gets accused of letting councils off the hook by being more interested in filling pages rather than hold the powers that be to account.

When I challenge the people who make these claims, it often turns out their accusation is as lazy as the journalism they think they are deploring.

Often, those making the claims simply don’t understand how hard it can be to hold councils to account. Awkward press officers, politicians with think they have a natural gift for media management, opaque decision-making processes and a begrudging approach to FOI all make life quite hard.

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Is a newspaper’s print front page actually one of its most powerful tools for online too?

Strange as it may sound, I’m increasingly thinking that perhaps the most powerful tool in a newspaper’s push into digital is actually the printed front page.

A number of things have led me to this conclusion, but I really got thinking about this while listening to Five Live on Tuesday morning. There was a debate involving  David Clegg, political editor of the Daily Record, over whether Westminster’s leaders were going to keep to ‘the vow’ over more devolved powers to Scotland.

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Why journalism needs to get over its fear of Facebook

At the Online News Association conference in Chicago, Facebook went under the microscope, challenged almost to prove it was a force for good in journalism, rather than something to be feared.

Two main themes emerged. The first was that it is clear that Facebook probably drives far more traffic to news websites than previously thought. The Atlantic, for example, discovered that half of its unique users – coming up on in analytics as from a ‘no referral source’ – were actually coming in from the mobile app on Facebook.

Is that a bad thing? I’ll come to that.

The second concerned Facebook’s algorithm. Facebook’s Liz Heron was asked to give details about what will make sure a story works well on Facebook. Her response that journalists should just focus on good content didn’t seem to appease everyone, while there was concern about the impact of Facebook’s algorithm.

It, said some, meant many regular folk were more likely to see content related to the Ice Bucket Challenge than they were about the Ferguson shootings. In other words, does the mass audience on Facebook being presented individualised content based on what they’ve clicked on before or what their friends are clicking on, mean bad news for journalists?

My answer to that question, and the previous question is: Forget these questions and lets just deal with reality.

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FOI Friday: Absestos claims against councils, zero hour contracts, councils with millions in the bank and police encounters with men in fancy dress

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Absestos claims made against councils < Manchester Evening News

own hall bosses throughout Greater Manchester are facing a ‘ticking timebomb’ of mounting claims from people struck down with conditions linked to deadly asbestos.

Manchester council paid out almost £600,000 in damages to victims in the last year alone, an M.E.N. investigation has found.

The 2013/14 claims had to be settled using taxpayers’ money, rather than through insurance as the cases predated the 1980s when the council did not have asbestos cover.

Figures obtained under Freedom of Information requests reveal victims of asbestos-related diseases have won a total of £1.8m in damages from councils in Greater Manchester in recent years.

Councils stash millions in banks < North West Evening Mail

MILLIONS of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being stored in investments and bank accounts by councils across Cumbria.

Cumbria County Council has a portfolio of £177.7m in a range of banks, despite making sweeping cuts to front line services.

Copeland District Council holds £55.5m, Barrow Borough Council has £16m in accounts while South Lakeland District Council has £17.3m.

The figures have been revealed thanks to a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Evening Mail.

Chances of a rape conviction < WalesOnline

Alleged rape victims in Wales are among the least likely to see their cases end in a conviction.

Figures released under a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice show defendants are more likely to plead not guilty and walk free in Wales.

Barely a fifth of rape cases (22.8%) in magistrates courts in South Wales led to a conviction in 2013, one of the lowest conviction rates in England and Wales.

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When a sentiment works better than a headline on social media

Getting the tone right on social media, especially when dealing with a sensitive story can be tricky – and one of the most obvious examples of digital journalism not just being what we’ve always done, but on a different platform. 

I could write hundreds of words trying to articulate the dangers trying to deal with a vocal audience while sharing a sensitive story, especially one which involves a lot of background work which readers wouldn’t normally see. I could, but I won’t – because this Facebook post this afternoon from the Lancashire Evening Post shows how to get perhaps the most sensitive of stories just right – the funeral of someone who has been killed:

 

getting it right on social

This post was fraught with risks – people accusing the LEP of being callous for filming a funeral (because they wouldn’t have known they had permission) or complaints that the LEP was intruding into family grief if they’d tried to use a standard news line in the Facebook post.

Instead, the LEP got the message across that they’d been invited, and showed respect to the family by saying thanks to them for it as well – thus displaying the sort of engagement which helps make news brands more than just bystanders in their community.