Author: davidhiggerson

What’s special about today? It’s like ‘last post before Christmas’ … but for FOI

Counting the days down to Christmas in November always seems a bit premature – but when you have to factor in 20 days for something, then it starts to mark sense.

Which makes today one of the last days to get Freedom of Information requests in if you want them to aid your supply of ‘Christmas specials’ (the stories which see newsrooms through Christmas).

FOI requests have to be processed and replied to within 20 days – although there are many cases where this simply doesn’t happen.

But assuming organisations remain within the spirit of the law, 20 days from today is December 15 (or December 16, if you choose not to include today).

That leaves just about a week to get the requests, assuming they deliver useful responses, into stories which can help drive page views and fill pages throughout the Christmas period.

All of which is a very long winded way of saying: Here’s a link to the FOI Friday archive which, by my reckoning, has upwards of 800 FOI suggestions which could work for regional newsrooms.

Merry Christmas!

Two apologies to make you stop and go … err

Tufty. Certainly a red squirrel

Those who like to bash the Press tend to save particular ire for the Daily Mail and Mail On Sunday, for reasons best known to themselves.

But nobody can accuse the Mail on Sunday of not being dedicated to correcting even the smallest error:


The question at the heart of the devolution debate is still being ignored by politicians at all levels


Devolution, the running political wisdom of the day, is a good thing. And it many ways, it could be. After decades where regions – particularly those in the North – have felt short-changed by decisions taken in Westminster, it’s easy to understand why the political chattering classes believe it’s time for decisions to be made closer to the people impacted by them.

And so Greater Manchester is set to be first off the blocks with a style of devolution – a directly-elected mayor in addition to retaining 10 existing councils. He or she will, according to the Government, have significant clout over big issues such as housing strategy and transport.

Other regions are set to follow. The deal from the coalition appears to be this: Have an elected mayor across your ‘city region’ (a geographic region almost as nonsensical to many living within it as the ITV regions dictated by where TV masts are) and you can have a lot more power locally.


FOI Friday: School places, child exploitation, serial criminals and council home waits


How likely are you to get your child into a school? < Teesside Gazette

Hundreds of schoolchildren in Middlesbrough are missing out on a place at their school of preference.

Figures from a Freedom of Information request show that while places are in high demand, non of the town’s secondary schools were able to cater to every single applicant who requested a place at their school of choice.

Macmillan Academy, on Stockton Road, was by far the most popular school of choice, with 1030 applications for 220 places.

But, less than half the number of children, 44.4%, who put it down as their first choice, got to go to the academy.

Children at risk of sexual exploitation < Slough Observer

AT LEAST 28 children as young as 13 have been deemed at risk of sexual exploitation this year, The Observer can reveal.

The Observer submitted a freedom of information request asking Slough Borough Council how many children this year had been referred, or became known, to the council amid concerns that they are, or at some stage have been, at risk of sexual exploitation.

The youngest child referred was 13 years and nine months old. The figures also showed at least 23 children have been identified in previous years.

More details of the suspected exploitation could not be provided because it would have taken too long to search through records, the council said.

The 1,000 crimes committed by 50 criminals < Rossendale Free Press

Nearly 1,000 crimes have been committed by the top 50 worst in Rossendale, the Free Press can reveal.

The most habitual yob is a 37-year-old man from Bacup who has committed 87 offences – including 74 thefts from vehicles – and has been charged 20 times.

Also making the top 10 list of shame is a 19-year-old man from Rossendale who has already committed 40 offences including 18 thefts from vehicles and has been charged by police 13 times.

Campaigners and MPs have branded the figures ‘appalling’ and said the system of justice is ‘not working’, calling on the courts to impose harsher sentences for repeat offenders.

Figures released by Lancashire Police under a Freedom of Information request show that 972 offences have been committed in the Valley by the top 50 offenders.


Why businesses have just as much right to use FOI as Joe Public does

Along with the regular moans from councils about journalists using FOI to do research, it’s common to hear grumbles about businesses using it too.

The argument goes like this: “It’s appalling that businesses use FOI to find out information which helps them to do business, and get access to commercial information.”

Until now, I had a degree of sympathy for this argument. After all, if it diverts attention from ‘press should pay’ argument, then that’s good, right?


FOI: How expensive can it be to deal with clearly absurd FOI requests?

“I dunno what happened, the council just didn’t like my FOI request”

Another week, another grumble about the Freedom of Information Act from a council. In fairness to St Helens Council, they aren’t in the same league as FOI-haters such as Nottingham City Council, this councillor from Kirklees Council, and Hampshire, Pendle and Cheshire West and Chester Councils.

Their complaint about the public’s right to know, as reported in the St Helens Reporter this week, is that too often people are asking frankly ridiculous questions based on rumours they have heard.


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: 


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.


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


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.


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


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: