Using the crowd to hold those in power to account

My first experience of life as a daily newspaper reporter was in Accrington, the town best-known for being referenced by the very Scouse lads in the milk advert of the 1980s.

That was in 2000. Back then, one of the big issues facing the town was the decline of retail in the town centre. From the Accrington office of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, where two reporters were based in a tiny first-floor room with cracked plaster on the walls and a chain-link ladder to throw out of the window in lieu of a fire escape, it certainly felt like a town in decline.


What can the regional press take from the New York Times’ ‘digital first’ editorial meetings? More than you might think…

Warning: UK regional press journalist writing about one of the big beasts in global journalism is packed with risks. But here goes.

The news that the New York Times intends to change its legendary ‘page one meeting’ to focus more on digital has become big news in media circles.

The weekend interest stems from a report on the Poynter Institute last week, based on an internal memo sent out by Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the NYT. Instead of pitching stories for A1 – aka the front page – departments will instead pitch to get on “Dean’s list” – the handful of stories which will “get the very best play on all our digital platforms.”

The idea appears to have been kicking around for some time. Nieman Lab reported last summer that changes were on the way, after picking up on details from an Insider blog available only to New York Times subscribers. The seminal NYT innovations report, leaked last summer and widely disseminated across the media industry, also suggested too much print emphasis was placed on the front page of the print edition.

There are three themes which come out of this news which I think are relevant to newsrooms across the world, regardless of their shape or size.

The first is perhaps the most obvious:


FOI: The council boss who threatened to sue a hospital

Good work from the Chester Chronicle in uncovering a remarkable spat between a local council and a local hospital.

The Chronicle used FOI to obtain letters between Cheshire West and Chester Council and the Countess of Chester Hospital following a spat between the two bodies.

As Chester West and Cheshire has long been one of the cheerleaders for reducing the strength of FOI legislation, it won’t come as any surprise to hear it was the NHS Trust which has been revealing the information.

The row broke out after the hospital lost a sexual health contract to a neighbouring NHS Trust. Councils are responsible for public health these days, so Cheshire West was the body doing the awarding of this contract.


FOI FRIDAY: Clown crimes, daily A&E visitors, attacks on buses and pauper funerals


Sexual exploitation within a police force < Birmingham Mail

Three West Midlands Police officers abused their position of authority by sexually exploiting underage children in the last two years.

The predators in uniform were sacked or resigned after being convicted at court for targeting a 15-year-old and two 14-year-olds.

Meanwhile, other officers from the force have been dismissed or disciplined for a range of offences or conduct relating to sexual exploitation of members of the public.

The shocking details were revealed after a Freedom of Information request by the Mail to the force.

The problem with clowns < Liverpool Echo

Disguised with colourful wigs and white face paint, the Echo today reveals how crooks dressed as clowns carried out bogus charity collections, vandalised property and even armed robbery.

Police on Merseyside dealt with 14 incidents involving people posing as clowns in the past two years – and most were no laughing matter.

One of the red-nosed crimes was caught on camera, when a robber dressed as a clown walked into a Walton shop in July to demand cash.

Attacks on buses < Cambridge News

sleeping girl was groped on a Cambridge school bus and is among victims of sex attacks and violent abuse while travelling on public transport.

Hair pulling, throat grabbing, torrents of verbal abuse, racist onslaughts using the ‘n-word’ and sex attacks have been reported to Cambridgeshire police after the incidents happened on buses in the county, new data has revealed.

There has been a total of just 21 such incidents reported to the force since 2012 but documents obtained by the News detailing what happened make for disturbing reading. And police have issued advice on what to do in a dangerous situation on a bus.

Visiting hospital every other day < Liverpool Echo

A 45-YEAR-OLD man went to A&E at the Royal Liverpool Hospital more than 150 times last year.

The patient racked up a total of 164 casualty attendances between January and December 4, according to records obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

This means he was attending A&E once every two days on average.

A second patient – an 84-year-old woman – visited A&E at the hospital 140 times over the same period, while a third patient – a 55-year-old man – clocked up 102 visits.


Seeing a football club ban as a challenge, not a restriction

I’m sure I’m not the only person who was party to a conversation debating how long it would take Rangers to start banning dissenting voices in the media once Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United, effectively took over the club.

The answer, as it turns out, is not very long. The Daily Record is currently banned from Ibrox for, as the Record rightly puts it, telling the truth.

In the article breaking news about the ban, the Record made it clear it saw the ban as a challenge:

UNPOPULAR Light Blues chief executive Derek Llambias tries to stop us getting the big stories. Good luck with that, Del.


The day a newsroom showed a strong opinion and an understanding of social media can carry just as much weight as a campaigning front page

Until today, it could have been argued that a newspaper’s most powerful tool when seeking to make a point which grabbed attention was the the printed front page. Indeed, I suggested as much last October.

And while it will remain a powerful weapon for newsrooms to deploy when they stand up and fight for their readers, the Birmingham Mail did something rather remarkable today.

It’s best summed up in this tweet from the Press Association:


The serendipity of print which makes it so powerful to readers is about to become really important online too

chronicle1The story of the disabled pensioner attacked outside his home and too terrified to go home as a result became national news after a local well-wisher decided to raise some money for him – and ended up with over £300,000.

The story sums up the strength of the regional press (despite what the wonks at the BBC may think) but also the challenge the regional press as it adapts (or most of it does) to a digital future.

Here’s why.

The serendipity of print


One weekend, two photos and a reminder why the best pictures are the ones of the crowd

On a Saturday afternoon at 3pm, all eyes tend to be on the pitch, watching the 22 players battle it out for three points, marshalled by three men in black.

But two pictures caught my eye over the weekend which served as a reminder that it’s perhaps just as important to keep an eye on the thousands – maybe tens of thousands – in the stands.

In a world where every goal, tackle and red card is shown around the globe in seconds – either legally or illegally – the job of the reporter has changed. For the regional press, so long THE source of information on the football club, the role has changed too.

Getting closer to the fans is more important than ever before, and that means making them part of the coverage. It doesn’t mean being led by the extreme voices or reacting to every allegation of bias, because that way lies madness.


FOI Friday: Booze and benefits, not-so-free Christmas parking, councils fining for spitting and more…


Council makes parking money despite offering free parking < Eastern Daily Press

North Norfolk District Council has defended its publicity attempts after it emerged that it collected more than £3,600 in its pay-and-display machines during a “free parking” weekend.

The Conservative-run council, which has pledged to donate the sum to local foodbanks, has been criticised by the North Norfolk Labour Party which said motorists had been confused over the Christmas weekend and the sum collected made a mockery of the scheme.

The people claiming benefits because of booze (Sheffield Star)

Hundreds of people in Doncaster are claiming disability benefits because they drink too much alcohol.

A total of 240 people in the borough claimed one of several forms of disability benefit – and cited alcohol misuse as the main reason, according to Government figures.

The figures represent one claimant in 61 in the borough.

The revelation comes after it was revealed that one man had been given extra cash by Doncaster Council to help pay for his drinking.

Children involved in police stop and searches < Greenock Telegraph

Figures released under Freedom of Information laws reveal the scale of the controversial Police Scotland policy in the area.

During 2014 a total of 68 children aged 12 and under were stopped and searched by officers.

Ten were girls and 58 were boys, including the nine-year-old — the youngest person in the area to be searched.

A further 2,190 13 to 16-year-olds were also searched by officers last year.

… and in Northampton too (Northampton Chronicle & Echo)

Police officers used their stop and search powers on a 10 year old, new figures reveal.

A Freedom of information request by the Chronicle & Echo has revealed that a 10 year old and two 11 year olds were stopped on separate occasions in 2013 and 2014, all on suspicion of having stolen goods.


How can the BBC get it so wrong on the local press?


Senior managers at the BBC aren’t stupid. They will have known the reaction their suggestion that the ‘decline’ of the regional press means the BBC has to be better at local news will have had. Given the organisation has been trying to work more closely with the regional press, and be a better neighbour, in recent months, the question for me is why they chose to produce such a misguided and ill-informed representation of the regional press.

Within the regional press, we’re often guilty of raising an angry fist at the BBC, and assuming everyone who works at the Beeb is the same. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In the past few months, I’ve worked with a number of journalists who are as passionate about local journalism as anyone else, and who really believe that the Beeb and regional media can achieve more for society if we all work together. And who are working very hard for the BBC to be a better neighbour.

But as an organisation, the BBC has a significant problem with the regional press. It’s almost an abusive relationship. Many parts of the BBC, particularly local newsrooms, are utterly dependent on the regional press to give it an overview of what is happening in ‘regions’ chosen based on reach of mast rather than any sense of community. Yet these same newsrooms never miss an opportunity to give the regional press a very hard kick.

One interesting aspect I find within the BBC is the difference in attitude of its legacy media teams and the online teams. BBC Sport online links out to the local press all the time, and has a strong relationship with many local newsrooms as a result. BBC News online  – particularly those working on the local news services – also work very hard to work collaboratively, and I hope this can continue. But when BBC North West Tonight couldn’t bring itself to say ‘Manchester Evening News’ when covering the £1.5m the Manchester Evening News raised overnight for the Manchester Dogs Home, you see there’s a big gulf in attitude between different parts of the Beeb. BBC News online had no such qualms.

Like newspapers which wouldn’t reference their websites in print, parts of the BBC seem to believe they can pretend the regional press doesn’t exist. Unless there’s a chance to give us a kick.

From a 400-word online article and debate with Roy Greenslade on Radio Wales about the Western Mail’s decision to stop selling the newspaper via newspaper sellers on the street to Radio Merseyside’s clumsy suggestion that the Liverpool Echo was moving lock, stock and barrel to Manchester (it wasn’t, the paper is now printed there), the BBC has form for turning every commercial decision made by the regional press into a headline-leading news story.