Daily Post

FOI Friday: Air gun attacks, stressed out students, pauper funerals and troubled families


Bedroom tax rent arrears < Wolverhampton Express and Star

Out of 3,803 Sandwell people affected by the removal of the Government’s spare room subsidy, 2,432 have now fallen into rent arrears.

But the Labour-led council has not yet evicted anyone for falling into arrears as a result of what has become widely known as the bedroom tax.

The numbers of people in arrears and affected by the policy were revealed under the Freedom of Information Act after a request by a member of the public.

Troubled families < Brighton Argus

Nearly 1,000 problem families have been identified in Brighton and Hove since the launch of a Government scheme nearly two years ago.

The Troubled Families programme was launched as part of a scheme to get children off the streets and to help families get back into work.

According to a Freedom of Information request, the city council has identified 963 “troubled families” in Brighton and Hove and has so far “turned around” 317 of these.

Prisoners in your area < Daily Post

More than a third of all North Wales prisoners are from a single county, latest figures reveal.

There are a total of 857 from the region behind bars at prisons in England and Wales – 308 of which originate  from Flintshire.

The county also has the third highest number in Wales  – beaten only by Cardiff and Swansea.

The next highest in North Wales is Gwynedd with 163 prisoners followed by Wrexham (129), Conwy (118), Denbighshire (90) and Anglesey (49).

The figures, based on data up to December 31 last year, have been released following a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice.


Turning journalism from an art into a science … and then back again

WARNING: Long read! Summary as follows: Journalism has always been about gut instinct and hunches. Those who did best were those who guessed what audiences wanted. Digital audience data, however, means that journalism is much a science as an art now

Journalism: Craft, trade or profession? It’s a debate which comes around periodically, normally when the merits of user generated content are being considered. I’d like to throw in a fourth option.

Journalism, particularly regional journalism, actually needs to become a science. And, as a result of the rise of digital journalism, it will do.

In short, that means the end of the journalist’s hunch on what makes a good story, replaced with evidential proof of what makes a good story in the eyes of the audience.

For 150 years newspapers have been assembled based on what journalists assume will sell newspapers. That assumption is often based on the closest thing newspaper newsrooms had to audience data – print sales reports.

We all know that readers, when polled in research, claim their is too much crime reported in the paper. But we also know that nothing shifts newspapers more than a big crime story. How newsrooms have interpreted that data is where the hunch has come in. Are readers really complaining about too much crime, or just the wrong sort of crime? Do they like gangsters but not run-of-the-mill crime? I’ve read of extreme examples of crime being banned from front pages as a result.

Those hunches, those gut instincts, which all journalists making story decisions have, are based on experience. Experiences based on talking to real people. Experiences of the pat-on-the-back from the editor on a great story well done. Experience of a smile from newspaper sales.

It’s now time to reboot that gut instinct, and turn it into a gut instinct which is driven by scientific analysis of audience data. I’ve discussed this with a number of people over the last few months, and on one level it’s a scary thought. The most successful people in print journalism have been those who can tap into a sense of what drives readers to their brands, often with very little real data to hand to back up their hunch or argument. It’s a skill, a talent, an art.

Now, however, it’s possible to work out how to build an audience really easily. It doesn’t take years of practice in a newsroom, it just takes access to WordPress and Google Analytics.


FOI Friday: Teachers causing concern, prisoners on Facebook, school place fraud and teenage career criminals


Teachers on the ‘concern list’ < Basildon Echo

ALMOST 170 teaching staff are on a council list showing there are concerns about their working in schools.

They are not barred from working, but schools will be aware of the list of concerns, compiled by Essex County Council.

A total of 23 teachers and 14 other school workers have been added to the list in the past five years due to allegations of a sexual nature, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Social networks in prison < Daily Record

PRISON bosses last year shut down 80 Facebook accounts run by inmates in Scotland.

The social networking pages were updated using smartphones smuggled into jails and have been used by convicts to taunt victims or contact fellow criminals.

Officials investigated 118 allegations in 2013 that prisoners were running accounts on Facebook from behind bars, freedom of information figures released yesterday revealed.

Caught defrauding the school selection process < Camden New Journal

FIVE children in Camden were removed from school or had offers of places withdrawn after their families were caught fiddling the state admissions system, the New Journal can reveal.

In a response to a Freedom of Information request, Camden Council confirmed it had conducted 11 investigations into potentially fraudulent school place applications between 2012 and 2013. It had opened only two similar probes over the previous two years.

A “fraudulent” application was defined as using a temporary address, using a family member’s address, faking religious observance or supplying false information on application forms.


20 great storm photos which show us how journalism is changing


The recent storms – which are continuing as I write this – have dominated many local news websites and their associated newspapers. Great images have not been in short supply.

This isn’t meant to be a ’20 great images’ post, but a collection of images which tell us something about how we cover big weather stories in 2014. The sources of the pictures, the way they were captured, the way they were used and the stories they told combine to tell us one thing: Journalism is changing, and, if the storms of 2014 are anyting to go by, for the better.


Reporters of the future: Only quick thinkers need apply

FOI ideas image: Yarn DeliveriesReasonably often, because of my job, I get asked what I think the skills a journalist of the future needs. Often – and this is particularly true of university academics – they immediately give me a buffet of options to choose from. Is it social media? Is it data? Is it video? What about podcasting?

My answer, sadly, doesn’t help much: Generally, it’s all of the above. But none of the above are any good if you don’t display the most important skills of all: Accuracy, curiosity and a desire to share.

When I was training on the Citizen series of free newspapers in Preston, I was lucky to be surrounded by a number of people who took the time and effort to knock a cocky 18-year-old into shape, ranging from a photographer called Rob Underdown who, over a pint, advised me on how to improve my attitude in the office to Gill Ellis, then the deputy editor, who dragged me – almost kicking and screaming – to my first Preston Council meeting. The very first reporter I learnt from on work experience, Gordon McCully, taught me the importance of great contacts and sent me out on what turned out to be the splash in the first week I was at the Chorley Citizen.

Then there were various people on newsdesks of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph and the Citizens who took the time to point things out. But perhaps the point which sticks with me most vividly came from another mentor, a chap called Harold Heys, who was appalled my appalling spelling. Harold’s a bit of legend among a generation of Lancashire journalists who passed through this newsrooms, thanks largely to his infamous spelling tests. As a 17-year-old on work experience at the Citizen, I first encountered the spelling test and managed to get accommodation wrong.

Four years later and it was still my password to access the company editorial system every day. As ways of teaching you to spell, it’s second to none, if a bit limited. As a way of driving efficiency in the newsroom, it’s less effective. Anyway, Harold drummed into me – and many others – that the most important skill a journalist should hone was accuracy.

And that’s never been truer than now, in a multimedia age where newsrooms shouldn’t be producing content for the next day’s paper, but within minutes for never-full website.


FOI Friday: Tasered animals, council zero hour contracts, overpaid NHS staff and missing library books

Back from a summer break to make even an MP envious, here’s the return of FOI Friday. Thanks to several students on the PA Training course in Newcastle for giving me a nudge by saying they enjoyed it…


1. Tasered animals < Lancashire Evening Post

Police officers had to use tasers on animals on 13 separate occasions across the county between 2010 and 2012, figures reveal.

The figures were released following a Freedom of Information request to Lancashire Constabulary.

They show that in 2010 tasers were used on animals five times, a further six times in 2011 and twice in 2012.

2. Football hooliganism back < Manchester Evening News

A shock dossier compiled by the M.E.N. reveals that the menace of football hooliganism is far from extinct.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws show police had to deal with a catalogue of booze-fuelled hooliganism at United and City games last season

3. Nurses not trusted to work without supervision < The Scotsman

MORE than a quarter of Scottish nurses placed under supervision as they cannot be trusted to be left alone are working in Lothian hospital wards, new figures have revealed.

Despite being fully qualified, there are 27 nurses in the region whose performances have been deemed so poor that bosses have had to arrange for more senior staff to watch over them.

The data, revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that seven of the staff members in “management of employee capability” programmes were working in the Royal Infirmary, the region’s main acute hospital.


FOI FRIDAY: HIV cases rise, council spending on credit cards, school transport appeals, active GMC investigations and more

FOIFRIDAYLOGOHIV cases rise sharply < < < Plymouth Herald

THE number of people who have tested positive for HIV in the city in the last five years has risen by 60 per cent, The Herald can reveal.

Figures from Derriford Hospital’s GUM Clinic, released to The Herald under a Freedom of Information Request, show that in 2008/2009 the number of people who tested positive for HIV was 28. During the last financial year, 2012/2013, that figure rose to 46.

Numbers of parents winning appeals to get help with school transport costs < < < Gloucester Citizen

UTS mean fewer parents are now entitled to get help in paying for school transport – and appeals cost Gloucestershire County Council nearly half a million pounds.

However, despite these payouts, the county council is still on target to save £1.5million on school transport by 2016.

Figures obtained in a Freedom of Information request show that in 2012-13, 89 of 113 appeals were granted, 100 of 165 appeals were granted in the previous year, and in 2010-11, 87 of 139 appeals were granted. That resulted in the council paying out £506,000 in 2012-13, although this includes money paid out for successful appeals and reviews in the previous year.

However, the number of appeals heard and the number granted fell last year.

How councils are spending money on credit cards or ‘procurement cards’ < < < Express and Star

Taxpayers have footed a bill of £7.5 million spent on council credit cards in the West Midlands in a single year – with executives using them to fund foreign trips, hotel stays and even meals at KFC.

Officers in local authorities have used them to pay for visits to Paris and Venice, a tour of Arsenal Football Club and even pay off parking tickets slapped on cars by their own council’s wardens.

An investigation by the Express & Star has revealed five councils spent a total of £7.5m in just one financial year – on almost 1,500 ‘purchase’ or ‘procurement’ cards that are used by their staff.

They have bought two patio sets costing a total of £640.38, three SpongeBob SquarePants cushions at £11.97, eight ukuleles for £159.92 and a bowler hat priced £9.99.


FOI FRIDAY: Unpaid dinner money, pothole costs, Border Agency fines and tots attacking teachers

FOIFRIDAYLOGO1. Tots attacking Teachers – Clydebank Post

A new twist on the story about teachers being hit by youngsters:

NURSERY staff in West Dunbartonshire have been subjected to 14 violent or physical attacks by pre-school tots – the highest figure recorded in the last five years.

Statistics obtained by the Clydebank Post under freedom of information legislation revealed that during the current term, up to the end of April, there have been 163 pupil-on-staff attacks across the entire school estate.

But while the figures relating to nurseries and special schools has jumped, the number of incidents reported in primary and secondary schools is at its lowest level for the same period.

The council points out the 14 pre-school incidents amount to only 0.6 per cent of the 2200 children attending its pre-school centres and insists it takes all matters of this kind “very seriously”.

2.Petrol station drive offs – Shropshire Star

I particularly liked the level of detail in this story – I’ve seen the ‘fuel thefts on the up’ story before, but the quotes from the petrol station managers really add context:

A Freedom of Information request made by the Shropshire Star showed that between January 1, 2012, and January 1, 2013, 102 drivers attempted to escape petrol forecourts without paying, an average of two a week.

Of those 102 offences, 12 were settled with a community resolution, four people had the crime taken into consideration with other charges and two people were charged.

Police were unable to confirm the punishment behind one of the convictions.

A West Mercia Police spokesman said: “During the period in question there were around 250 reports of people making off without payment from petrol stations in Shropshire.

“The large majority of these were found to be genuine errors where there was no intent to commit an offence and payment was made soon after.

3. Who would steal someone else’s dentures? – Ipswich Star

A set of dentures, someone’s lunch and a patient trolley are among the items stolen from Ipswich Hospital in the last five years.

A Freedom of Information request by The Star revealed that since 2009, 95 items have been reported stolen from the Heath Road trust.

Along with more traditional items – cash, wallets, laptops, mobile phones and handbags – items including a pair of dentures, somebody’s lunch, a patient trolley, tins of coffee and tea, and a desk fan were also pinched.

Hospital spokeswoman Jan Ingle said that in the last five years the number of incidents of theft had fallen.

“We are the size of a small town with around 8,000 people on site each day,” she said. “When we consider that and look at the number of thefts it is very reassuring to see that given the size of the hospital and how busy we are, the number of thefts are relatively small.

“But one theft is one too many, especially if it is from somebody who is poorly and vulnerable.”


FOI Friday: Cannabis, university spending, race crimes at the football and asbestos in council buildings

FOIFRIDAYLOGOUnpaid court fines tops £4million – Bedfordshire On Sunday

MORE than £4 million in court fines is owed to courts in Bedfordshire, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

The figures, released by Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), show that last September the amount of fines owed to the county’s courts stood at £4,286,800.

The criminal with 145 crimes to his names – Newcastle Journal

A ONE-MAN crime wave racked up 145 offences in two years, re-offending figures have revealed.

The string of crimes makes the 20-year-old male from Durham the region’s most prolific offender.

He was closely followed by a 38-year-old female and a 45-year-old male who committed 130 crimes each between January 1, 2011, to December 31, 2012, say Durham Constabulary.

In total, the top nine offenders together were responsible for 702 crimes across the force area.

Freedom of Information requests to North East police forces revealed just 19 criminals were behind more than a thousand crimes in the region over the last two years.

1000 council buildings containing Asbestos – North Wales Daily Post

SCHOOLS, leisure centres and public toilets are among more than 1,000 council-owned buildings in North Wales which contain asbestos.

A Freedom of Information request by the Daily Post has revealed that all types of the dangerous substance which is now illegal to use – are found in buildings across the region including the most hazardous material, crocidolite.

The figures showed Gwynedd to have the highest number of buildings containing asbestos with 409 in total, which included Arfon Leisure Centre in Caernarfon, Bangor Swimming Pool and Hafod Y Gest care home in Porthmadog.

Pauper funeral rise in Plymouth – Plymouth  Herald

ALMOST 100 people in Plymouth have been buried in so-called ‘paupers’ graves’.

The depressing statistic paints a harrowing picture of people in the community dying penniless and in isolation.

The figures on state-funded funerals were released to The Herald through the Freedom of Information Act.

But the reality could be much worse, since people who die in hospital are the responsibility of Plymouth Hospitals Trust.


A great back page (and the front page wasn’t bad either)

Midweek football matches can be a nightmare for daily newspapers. Even with deadlines pushed back to ensure the match report gets in, it can be a down-to-the-wire battle to get everything in before the presses roll.

So with that in mind, I loved this back page from the Daily Post in North Wales today. It’s one thing to get the content in, another to make it look as though they’ve had ages to craft a brilliantly punny headline too – especially when events happened so close to the full time whistle:

Leighton Baines backpage

Leighton Baines backpage

And while I’m at it, the front page headline was a bit of a showstopper in Chester Service Station today too:


Daily Post front page

Daily Post front page