How long does it take new public servants to get bored with FOI?

When the government decided the country’s police forces needed elected police and crime commissioners, the argument centred on the importance of accountability – we, the public, needed to know we could vote on how well the police were run.

Two years on, and with many crime commissioners now in place after winning elections which attracted turnouts as low as 15%, it would appear the idea of accountability is starting to slip – at least when it comes to Freedom of Information.

Whereas the democratic process allows you to hold someone to account just once in a period of time, FOI enables you to hold a public authority to account at a time of your choosing, on a specific subject of your choosing – something the office of the Hertfordshire police and crime commissioner clearly finds irritating.

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Why the only future for football reporting is a ‘fan first’ future

On the day after Sir Tom Finney, the Preston North End legend and a player widely regarded as one of the gentlemen of the game, died BBC Radio Five Live broadcast its Saturday sports coverage from Deepdale, the home of North End.

It was a touching tribute to one of the greats of the game who earned his reputation in a different era of football. That point was summed up when the story about a transfer which never happened was discussed on air.

Sir Tom was wanted by Palermo, the Sicilian side, in 1952 and reports suggested they were prepared to offer Preston £30,000 for his signature, pay Sir Tom much more than he was earning in Preston, throw in a villa and pay for travel between Italy and Preston for his family.

The story goes that then-chairman Nat Buck quashed the deal, saying: “If tha’ doesn’t play for us, tha’ doesn’t play for anybody.” On hearing the story, Five Live presenter Mark Pougatch made the point: “So different from today, it was a time when the administrators ran football.”

Yet in an era when player power clearly does have the upper hand in football, certainly in the top two leagues, journalists and local media can often find themselves at the mercy of excessive demands and expectations of football club administrators in guise of media management. That, in turn, runs the risk of damaging the most important relationship of all: Our relationship with fans.

From insisting all player interview requests go through the club or only making the manager available for one interview a week, to insisting that all news is broken on the club site first and or placing digital embargoes on content which don’t apply to print to ensure the clubs have online exclusives, the demands from many football clubs are little short of draconian.

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Remembering the fallen, 100 years on: How regional newspapers marked the anniversary of the First World War

A graphic used by Trinity Mirror’s regional titles on Twitter and Facebook to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War

As any photographer will tell you, the right picture will speak many more than just 1,000 words. Today was one of those days when the right picture would do just that – remembering the 100th anniversary of Britain’s entry into ‘The Great War.’

Perhaps the most special thing printed newspapers can do which their digital versions are yet to be known for is summing up an opinion, mood or moment in time with a design which lives long in the memory.

Many regional newspapers in England and Wales today demonstrated that with a remarkable collection of front pages, some of which I have put together in the gallery below:

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Why Government needs to look at itself before accusing councils of lacking transparency

Westminster – stuck in time?

Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, has a similar relationship with councils to the one former education secretary Michael Gove had with teachers.

For some reason, that keep-on-kicking approach Gove adopted with the teaching profession appears to have cost him his ministerial brief in the recent reshuffle, while Mr Pickles gets to, well, keep on kicking.

Many of the things Mr Pickles has pushed on have been welcome: The crackdown on local government propaganda newspapers, insisting councils must allow filming of meetings, and the publication of data on spending over £500. But the devil has often been in the detail of Mr Pickles’ headline-grabbing initiatives.

Several renegade councils continue to publish newspapers in spite of much hyperbole, the ability to film democracy in action is far from guaranteed and spending data is produced in many differing fashions and tells you little about what a council is actually buying. (more…)

Sharing the joy and setting the standard: The strange serendipity between UGC and professional photography

In 2012, Liverpool hosted Royal de Luxe, a French street theatre company who bring huge marionettes to town for remarkable city centre-wide performances. It was a huge hit, attracting hundreds of thousands of people to the city. Here’s one of the Liverpool Echo’s most memorable (to me) pictures of the event in 2012:

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A fantastic spectacle, and if you look at the crowds, you can see plenty of smartphones in action – but I think it’s still safe to say most people are watching it with their own eyes directly, rather than via the screen of their iphone.

Now here’s a picture from last weekend, when the Giants returned to Liverpool for a spectacle which attracted even more people (but remarkably still managed to catch the local train operators off guard!)

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FOI: Tracking how those big-money grants get spent is perhaps more important than ever

Cranes across Liverpool during the last spending boom.

With a general election within sight, it’s perhaps no surprise that after four years of belt-tightening, the Government big-money spending announcements have begun again. Away from the headline-grabbing HS3 plan to put a  super-fast railway line between Manchester and Leeds, the Government has been busy announcing big-money grants to promote growth in the local economy. This round of grants alone works out at billions of pounds across the country – so it’s a safe bet details of these grants will begin springing up in election materials, both for the Government parties and also for those local councils who have sought to get the money. But how well will the money be spent?  (more…)

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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