The Letters Page where seagulls dare

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I think I might be developing a bit of an obsession for the letters pages of local newspapers.

Or maybe I was just surprised to see a letter in the Tindle-owned Cornish Times this week which had been written so as to apparently be from a seagull.

Like dog poo and bin collections, the problems caused by seagulls are popular fodder for letters pages (which in turn serve as a timely reminder of what really matters to readers).

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When press coverage of court becomes part of the punishment itself

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Every now and again, I read an article from which I conclude that the journalist writing it will never get repeat such sentences in copy again.

This week, Lincolnshire Live, the website of Trinity Mirror’s titles in Lincolnshire, carried perhaps the most remarkable court case I’ve read. Ever.

Warning: It’s not for the squeamish:

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In local journalism, sometimes some things never change

One of the many lessons I learnt from wise editors was that you could tell the strength of a newspaper by the strength of its letters page.

The logic, I guess, is simple: If people care enough about what they’ve read to write in and have their say, you’re probably doing something right. I suspect it is also a reason why those mass send-out charity appeal letters were so frowned upon by some editors I’ve worked with.

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Data journalism, robots … and predictions on where we go from here

 

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At Google’s latest Digital News Initiative conference, held in Amsterdam last week, there were plenty of ideas being discussed around what the future of news looked like.

The DNI involves Google investing millions of pounds in projects put forward by media organisations large and small from across Europe, which could help shape the future of the media and support the development of journalism in the years to come.

Britain’s Press Association was one of the biggest winners this time, securing over 700,000 Euros to fund a new news service which will generate 30,000 local news stories a month sourced from data … and written by ‘robots’.

A team of five journalists will spot stories in data sets and then use artificial intelligence to create potentially hundreds of versions for different locations – hence the notion of robots.

AI-powered (Artifical Intelligence) journalism has been bubbling for a number of years. In America, Chicago Tribune publisher Tronc plans to use AI to auto-generate up to 2,000 videos a day to support stories, news agency AP has increased its volume of earnings reports from business announcements by 10-fold using AI (with the firm saying there are fewer errors than when humans did them)and the same company is now using AI to write minor baseball league reports.

At the Washington Post, ‘robots’ are deployed to write results of some elections, and also for sport. At the LA Times, a bot automatically sends out alerts whenever an earthquake is recorded – an inadvertently alarmed people about an earthquake predication for 2025 after a bug entered the system which powered the data the LA Times relies on.

So are we at a tipping point where technology now replaces reporters in newsrooms up and down the UK? I don’t think so – especially if we embrace their potential. Here’s why:

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Greggs opening drive thrus and the perception problem caused by unbundled content

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Earlier this week, British Press trade website Press Gazette ran an article suggesting Trinity Mirror was forcing regional newsrooms to write clickbait.

Its evidence came in the form of a anonymous tip-off apparently from a journalist who said colleagues were ‘appalled’ at a ‘three-line whip’ to write an article which said Greggs – the bakers – had no plans to open a drive thru restaurant near them.

The article had appeared on multiple websites around the country, localised. Some newsrooms had pushed the story on social media, others hadn’t. The smell of a story guaranteed to go to the top of Press Gazette’s ‘most read’ was presumably as alluring as a steak bake when hungover for the team at UKPG. It certainly hooks readers in the same way that sausage roll smell does for many at lunchtime at Greggs.

The premise of the story, the three-line whip, is wrong. No such three-line whip exists. Greggs has opened a drive-thru in Greater Manchester, and as such titles around there published a story. Another title then ran a story about the fact Greggs was opening a drive-thru away from their area because they assumed local people (who probably go to Greggs or at least have a view on whether they’d go to a Greggs drive-thru) would be interested. They were.

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FOI Friday: Criminals applying to be taxi drivers, citizenship test failures and common names for crooks

FOI ideas image: Yarn Deliveries

Would be taxi drivers and their criminal convictions < Lincolnshire Live

Sex offenders who have assaulted children in the past have applied to become taxi drivers in Lincolnshire, new data has revealed.

Figures from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) show that those who applied to become cabbies between 2012/13 and 2015/16 included people with a combined total of 18 convictions for indecent assault, including 12 on children aged under 16.

A total of 869 applications from across the area between 2012/13 and 2015/16 were revealed to have previous convictions, out of 4,238 applications, with a total of 5,596 previous convictions, according to exclusive figures revealed following a Freedom of Information request.

Citizenship test pass rates < Manchester Evening News

More than half of the people taking the British citizenship test in Oldham failed last year – one of the highest proportions in the country.

Exclusive figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws show a total of 552 people took the test in Oldham in 2016. Of those, 330 – or 60% – failed.

The most common first names for criminals <  Yorkshire Post

The most common first names of criminals in West Yorkshire have been revealed by police. Men or boys named Daniel were linked to 632 local crimes last year, making it the most common criminal name across the county.

Which countries do hospital staff come from? < DevonLive

New figures have revealed a Devon hospital relies on 98 staff from the EU, which some fear could lead to a staffing crisis as the Brexit process continues.

So far no deal has been made with the EU regarding the fate of EU nationals living and working in the UK. Many health commentators are concerned about the number of NHS jobs filled by workers from the EU.

A Freedom of Information Request to Northern Devon Healthcare Trust was made by Liberal Democrat general election candidate for Torridge and West Devon, David Chalmers.

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Life is local: It’s all about the election, stupid

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Election day is one of the few days in the year when some regional newspapers can get back on to the presses for an on-day edition. But what about the day after the morning after the night before?

Election Saturday’s front pages work on many levels for the regional press. Time has been had to take stock about what’s going on and where, and what it means locally. Front pages also have a unique value online – they can grab the attention and remind people that professional journalism lies behind the links our brands share.

So where to start yesterday? How about York, where the Press led with the question many are still asking:

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