With print circulations going down, and tools online making it possible for anyone, anywhere to launch a campaign, how does a local newspaper ensure its campaigns still get attention and, most importantly, get results?
Simple: They innovate. And in this age of austerity, areas outside of London have perhaps never needed a campaigning voice which can turn heads as much as they do now
A rather remarkable thing happened the other week. The Northern Echo carried a splash which included the mastheads of pretty much every other newspaper in the north east. The Journal – its traditional rival – carried the same story. And it also appeared on the front page of various other daily titles – including the Evening Gazette in Teesside and the Sunderland Echo – and took up pages in The Chronicle in Newcastle and the Shields Gazette. And as the week continued, the same story was covered in a variety of weeklies.
The reason? As reported by Hold The Front Page, the region’s newspapers are lining up together to fight for a better deal for the North East from Government. In short, they feel they are being short-changed by Westminster, and there’s a lot of evidence to support that argument. Their solution is to see more power over public sector spending devolved to the region. It’s a very sound argument, backed up by political heavyweights such as Lord Heseltine, who has already identified £70bn which should be allocated to regional Local Enterprise Partnerships.
All for one…
A fortnightly round-up of FOI-based stories which could be followed up anywhere…
POSSESSING explosives, being drunk while in charge of a child, death by reckless driving and indecent assault on a girl . . these are just some of the serious criminal convictions would-be teachers in the North have under their belt.
Hundreds of potential teachers have been applying for classroom positions across the region despite holding a range of serious criminal convictions, the Sunday Sun can reveal.
Information released by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), after the Sunday Sun made a Freedom of Information Act request, revealed the scale of convictions clocked up by teachers applying for positions in the North.
A SIX-YEAR-OLD was rushed to Sunderland Royal Hospital after overdosing on antidepressants.
The shocking revelation comes as new figures show three people a day are admitted to the city’s hospital after taking a drug overdose.
A total of 2,999 people were taken to A&E after overdosing on prescribed or non-prescribed medicine and drugs from December 2008 to December 2011.
The youngest was a six-year-old. A further five 12-year-olds were admitted after overdosing on painkillers, penicillin and anti-inflammatory drugs.
A COUNCIL grave digger has been awarded £65,000 compensation – after he fell into a burial plot he was preparing.
The cemetery worker received the payout from Birmingham City Council (BCC) after he hurt his right knee in the incident.
He is one of several local authority employees who have claimed compensation after being injured at work.
In another case a school worker was handed £100,000 after slipping on food in a dinner hall.
1. The complaints made by prisoners < < < Manchester Evening News
Inmates at Strangeways have bombarded jail bosses with thousands of often trivial official complaints in the last 12 months – including grumbles about heating, outstanding DVD orders and the quality of the food.
Records of formal inmate grievances at HMP Manchester have shown how officers are being tied up dealing with petty inconveniences. A total of almost 3,500 formal complaints were processed by Strangeways in 12 months – an average of almost 10 every day.
Details, obtained by the M.E.N. under Freedom of Information laws, show how staff had to chase up a newsagent after an inmate complained he had not received a TV listing magazine.
2. Crimes on rich streets < < < Surrey Comet
Criminals have been targeting millionaires on the exclusive St George’s Hill Estate.
In the past six months there have been eight crimes, according to a Freedom of Information request made to Surrey Police, including a suspected shotgun robbery.
The crimes include one incident of criminal damage, one non-domestic burglary, two robberies, two thefts or handling of stolen goods, one vehicle crime and one crime of violence without injury.
3. The council pension fund investing in cluster bomb firm < < < Sunderland Echo
£9MILLION pounds of council pension funds has been invested in a company that produces cluster bomb components.
A Freedom of Information request has revealed that Durham County Council has invested pension contributions in General Dynamics Corp.
The US firm is an arms manufacturer that produces parts used in cluster bombs.
Children lose school places after parents lie < < < Birmingham Mail
RECORD numbers of Birmingham children are being left devastated by the city council withdrawing their prized place at school because the youngsters’ parents lied on their application form.
The local authority has taken places off eight pupils who were due to start their new schools this month after being tipped off by the mums and dads’ neighbours.
The number has shot up from five youngsters having their place withdrawn in 2010 and three in 2009.
Dirty School kitchens < < < Liverpool Echo
A FILTHY school canteen plagued by rodents posed an “imminent risk” to Merseyside pupils’ health, a report has revealed.
Mounds of mouse droppings were discovered in the kitchens of Bedford primary in Bootle in a surprise hygiene spot-check.
Pellets were even found in a bain-marie, a hot cupboard used to keep food warm for the 220 children who are served school meals, and near to where sandwiches were prepared.
40 deaths related to superbugs < < < Teesside Gazette
MORE than 40 people have died at two Teesside hospitals over the last three years after contracting a killer superbug.
A Freedom of Information request has shown the number of patients who died at the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton, and the University Hospital of Hartlepool after contracting Clostridium Difficile (C.diff).
FOI stories this week have covered everything from the buildings council own to the hospital which admitted paying consultants to advise on how to cheer up patients. Here are 10 FOI stories which could work for you…
1. What buildings do councils own?
Here’s a clever FOI to kick things off this week. The communities secretary, Eric Pickles is keen for councils to reveal what properties they own. In Birmingham. the information is already available, thanks to an FOI. Asking the council how much it has spent on business rates in empty properties adds another dimension to the story.
2. Drowned puppies and toxic waste
Perhaps the most unusual story I’ve ever seen on a story based on an FOI request. The Hinckley Times used FOI to find out the items the borough council had been called out to clear up. Among things collected on 800 call outs to clean up dumped stuff was a bag of drowned puppies, toxic waste, dead horses and the complete contents of woman’s wardrobe, including her underwear.
3. Why councils are spying on you
FOI requests about use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 use by councils – the ability for them to spy on you if they think you’re doing something wrong – was all the rage last year. But this FOI request by the Sheffield Star proves it is worth doing again, because councils continue to use the powers. In Sheffield’s case, 30 times in the last year.
1. What public sector workers look at online
I think it’s safe to say this one could run, and run, and run. A freedom of information request to the Department for Transport revealed the top 1,000 most visited websites from Department for Transport computers. Some amusing surprises in there.
2. Alternative therapies in schools
According to a freedom of information request reported in the Birmingham Mail, schools in the city have spent £1.5million on alternative therapies for staff and pupils, including massages. The firms paid the cash was called Herriots and Millward.
3. Data Protection Act breaches in police forces
The Manchester Evening News this week revealed that a memory stick containing details of drugs informants had been stolen in a burglarly from a police officer’s house. Greater Manchester Police was so keen for the public’s help in cracking this case that it didn’t even mention it for over a week. Coincidentally, an FOI request from the Cambridge News demonstrates the value of using FOI to ask police forces for the number of Data Protection Act breaches. 12 staff were caught breaking DPA rules, including one person putting information on Facebook. If ever you’ve done the ‘lost and stolen data’ FOI, it might be worth broadening it out in future to include any DPA breaches.
Oxford University - unfamiliar territory for Welsh students?
How many going to university?
Some interesting data from the Western Mail, which used FOI to ask how many students from each of the towns in Wales had been enrolled at Oxford and Cambridge in recent years. In some parts of Wales, not a single student has attended Oxbridge for seven years.
No shows at magistrates courts
One of the more controversial cuts decisions made by the government has been the planned closure of courts. The Southport Visiter used FOI to ask how many no shows there had been at its courts, which are due to close. The answer was that 1,778 warrants had been issued for no shows since 2008. The next question is whether that figure will rise when Sefton Magistrates closes and cases are transferred further away
Gypsy clean up
Covering stories about gypsies can be difficult for regional journalists because it often leads to accusations of promoting Nimbyism. However, the Sunderland Echo added an extra dimension to its coverage of a temporary gypsy camp by asking the council how much it cost to clean up the camp. The answer was £1,700.
Looking for an FOI idea? Here are 10 which made headlines recently….
1. Wrongly released prisoners
The Liverpool ECHO used FOI to find out how many prisoners had been released from the city’s two prisons by mistake over the last few years. In total, nine were – including several who had been convicted of violent offences.
2. Compensation for teachers
Teachers in the North East have received compensation payouts totalling £400,000 in the last few years as a result of accidents in the classroom. The Sunday Sun got the information using FOI, and also asked for a breakdown of payouts. As a result it was able to report where the largest payout was made, and for what:
One teacher in South Shields, South Tyneside, was given the highest individual payout of £50,000 after they tripped over a play bed and were left with a permanent wrist injury.
Another teacher in North Yorkshire – which paid out a total of £31,775 for eight claims – was compensated after getting an electric shock from the main supply. Payouts for the 2009/10 financial year totalled £230,620 – a rise of £52,000, or 29%, on the 2007/2008 financial year.
3. Dodgy scales in Coventry
How reliable are the measures you receive in pubs and shops? The Coventry Telegraph set out to find that out using FOI – discovering the Trading Standards officers had uncovered dodgy scales and measuring equipment – eg petrol pumps, beer pumps – 128 times in the last few years.