Why local journalists need to make sure substance wins out over style in the General Election

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Parliament – how connected with the real world is it?

With a general election only 10 months away, attempts to set the battlegrounds are coming thick and fast from those with the most to gain from next May’s vote – the Westminster politicians themselves.

The Conservative Party is determined that the election debate focuses on the economy, an area polls continually show the Tories pull ahead on. Labour, up until now, has pushed a ‘cost of living crisis’ argument, one which will probably carry significant sway regardless of what economic indicators tell us.

And Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader, has also tried to steer the pre-election debate away from image, promising he won’t seek to lead a campaign on low-substance photo opportunities alone, but on issues which matter to the electorate:

What do we really need in our leaders?

And the answer doesn’t actually start with the politicians and how we look.

That’s the thing about photo-op politics: it is about us and not about you.

 

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FOI Friday: Begging arrests, restorative justice and the many languages spoken in schools

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Rise in arrests for begging < London Evening Standard

A homeless charity says an increase of almost 90 per cent in arrests in London for begging is allowing more drug addicts to get treatment.

Statistics released by the Metropolitan Police under the Freedom of Information Act show 730 people were arrested on the city’s streets for begging in 2013/14, up from 385 in 2011/12.

The increase has coincided with  targeted police campaigns in central London over begging, including  moving on and arresting eastern  European rough sleepers.

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Mapped: Front pages inspired by the Tour de France in England

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THE Tour De France’s Grand Depart was big news last week – showing off parts of the UK at their very best to a global audience of millions.

Once in a lifetime events are the sort of challenges newsrooms everywhere love rising to, so, a week after the Tour, he’s a selection of the front pages the Tour generated as it passed through Yorkshire, spent moments in Greater Manchester, and an afternoon between Cambridge and London.

You can either view them on the maps below by clicking the icons, or look at a gallery at the foot of this post.

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What Staffordshire County Council’s breakdown of FOI applicants tells us about the authority

The Staffordshire Hoard was a huge find in a field near Lichfield. Staffordshire County Council is less keen on the information treasure hunters daring to use FOI to hold it to account

Staffordshire County Council’s decision to ‘name and shame’ organisations costing it money through Freedom of Information requests has prompted a lot of criticism.

My main bugbear is that, in the scheme of council spending, the cost of handling FOI requests remains tiny, as illustrated brilliantly by the Daily Mirror’s Ampp3d data journalism website here.

Staffordshire County Council’s actions have also concerned the Information Commissioner, with fears that the ‘name and shame’ approach is designed to put people off applying for information this way in the future. Well, that’s one way to reduce council service costs – how long until children receiving free school meals can expect their picture pinned up outside the canteen? An outrageous suggestion of course, but the principle is the same.

Paul Bradshaw makes a very good point that the roll of dishonour published by Staffordshire prompts many questions, and also fails to reveal what people were asking for. In other words, why they were having to use FOI.

Staffordshire argues the list – which appears to be based on the assumption that the minimum FOI cost is £50, which is a flaky position to start from – is designed to show ‘wrongful’ use of FOI. That’s a very subjective position for a publicly-funded authority to take.

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FOI Friday: What gets stolen from shops, dangerous animals in Chester, zero hour council contracts and finds by police diving teams

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What is being stolen in shoplifting incidents? < Exeter Express and Echo

A £22,500 shotgun has been stolen from an Exeter store and was never returned, it has been revealed today.

The vintage weapon was stolen in March this year according to new information about shoplifting in the region from Devon and Cornwall Police.

The spreadsheet documenting every incident of shoplifting in Devon and Cornwall for the last three years was released by the force under the Freedom of Information Act.

Devon and Cornwall Police said a Hussey and Hussey, double-barreled gun, was removed from the Exeter store “by unknown means” between March 4-10.

Sexual misconduct in South Yorkshire Police < Doncaster Free Press

Nine South Yorkshire police officers have been disciplined following allegations of sexual misconduct made by colleagues.

Allegations were made between 2010 and March this year, according to details released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Dangerous animals on the prowl – allegedly < Chester Chronicle

Cheshire is one of the most dangerous places to live according to 999 calls – that is if you are scared of tigers, pumas, panthers and lynxes.

A tiger has been spotted prowling along the banks of the River Dee, a lynx with paw prints as big as a “human hand” killing sheep, cats and chickens, and a large wild cat terrified a caller who was sure it was at large in Tarporley town centre.

Details of the 999 calls, revealed to The Chronicle through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, show that Cheshire has one of the highest rates of big cat sightings in the country – with nine sightings reported to Cheshire Constabulary between 2011-April 2014.

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Removing all trace of appearing in a vox pop … or why using the ‘right to be forgotten’ is an own goal

You can hide in Google …. but you can still be found

What sort of person contacts Google to make the most of the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling which entitles people to demand the search engine remove any results about themselves which they think are ‘outdated’ or ‘irrelevant.’?

This week, publishers began to find out who was making the most of the opportunity served up by a European court ruling. According to the Guardian, 70,000 such requests have been received so far, and whether they are are true, accurate or fair articles doesn’t enter into the equation thanks to the Google ruling.

Google has notified websites of links it will no longer be able to show ‘for certain searches’ on its European search pages – and the first bunch of links I’ve seen this week make cover a wide range of issues – and where more than one person is involved in a story, we don’t know who has triggered the complaint.

Not surprisingly, there were a whole bunch of links to stories of people who were either on the wrong side of the law, or being exposed as being such by the newspaper.

The most random one, though, was the story of ‘parking rage’ being a regular occurrence in a Buckinghamshire village. No-one’s court appearance was reported, no-one’s embarrassing exploits shared with the world. Just the concerns of people who didn’t like the way people were falling out over parking. It appears to be a

There has been a lot of concern about this ruling, and I saw one comment which likened it to ‘burning the books in the library.’ That’s not quite the case, because there is nothing in the ruling compelling publishers to remove stories people want to disappeared off the internet.

Many of the newsrooms I work with have had calls from people demanding content be removed from online archives ‘because I now have a right to be forgotten.’ That’s wishful thinking on their part … they have a right to be removed from Google in Europe, that’s all.

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More local people visited local news websites in local election week than voted. What does that mean for local journalism and accountability?

Labour celebrates a near red-wash in Manchester. But with more people reading a local news websites in a week than turning out to vote, is anyone really winning? Picture: Manchester Evening News

In Manchester at the local elections, 115,000 turned out to vote. In the 10 days around the election, more people than that within Manchester visited the Manchester Evening News website.

In Birmingham, it was a similar story on the Birmingham Mail website – more people from within Birmingham visited the Mail website than appear to have turned out to vote.

I mention this for two reasons. It debunks the myth the detractors of the regional press put about that brands that have served their communities for over 100 years are irrelevant in the digital age.

But perhaps more importantly, it shows the power returning to journalists to hold public authorities to account for the greater good.

Many of my colleagues were pleasantly surprised by the level of interest in the local elections on the websites I work with. There could be a number of reasons for this. It could be that the determination by the Westminster parties to run the elections as a referendum on current national party politics performance meant fewer outlets focused on local matters. The predicted rise of UKIP could have been a factor.

Or it could be more  mundane – most councils now release the results of their elections the day after voting closes, rather than overnight. Websites in towns and cities with next day counts saw, in my experience, more people viewing the results than those that didn’t.

At the Revival of Local Journalism conference, held by the BBC at MediaCity last week, the importance of public authorities being held to account was raised time and again.

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If he looks like Luis Suarez and bites like Luis Suarez … a CCTV still destined to go viral

 

Luis Suarez ‘copycat’ incidents have been all over the national press today, perhaps blowing the ‘footballers aren’t paid to be role models’ argument out of the water once and for all.

But spare a thought for the man police are seeking in relation to a biting incident in Manchester which occurred four months ago.

He has the misfortune to bare a passing resemblance to said biting footballer … and as a result, what should have been a bog standard police appeal has suddenly gained much more momentum:

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FOI Friday: Babies missing from care homes, absent pupil fines, stalking laws and sexting complaints

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Schools starting to make use of fines for absent pupils < Harrogate Advertiser

An investigation by the Advertiser series has found that nearly eight times more fines were issued in North Yorkshire, year on year, in the first quarter of the new rules.

Countywide, there were 95 fines issued from September to December, compared to 12 the previous year.

And for the Harrogate district there were 18 fines issued – compared to zero the previous year.

A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council said: “From last September, schools have not been able by law to allow pupils to be absent from school during term time unless they receive an application in advance from a parent that the child lives with, and there are exceptional circumstances relating to the application. It is completely at the headteacher’s discretion to decide what are exceptional circumstances.”

Are the police making use of new stalking laws? < WalesOnline

The number of suspected stalkers detained by police in South Wales is “disappointing”, a leading charity has said.

The Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service said the nine arrests made by South Wales Police since stalking became a crime in November 2012 should be much higher.

The data, released under Freedom of Information laws, reveal that the force made seven arrests between April 2013 and March this year on suspicion of a stalking offence.

Since April, two people have been arrested.

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Social media: How knowing how Jeff effs gives you a competitive advantage on social media

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Using social media properly means that a last minute dash to the story won’t happen to you.

Swearing. Your parents might have told it’s not big or clever … but when it comes to getting the most out of Twitter, a tactical use of f***, f***ing or s**t could take you a very long way. Joanna Geary, head of news partnerships at Twitter, proved two things when she spoke at the Revival of Local Journalism conference in MediaCity on Wednesday. The first was that the best way to keep a conference audience awake as they enter their post-lunch sleepy phase is to say the thing they least expect. The second was that to get the most out of Twitter, you have to understand the people you are following and how they use Twitter. Which is why a clever Tweetdeck column with a selection of choice words set up as the filter can be the difference between you spotting that first reference to a big story, and just being part of the pack: (more…)