Author: davidhiggerson

Try It Tuesday: Democracy Club’s great tools for monitoring general election campaigning

The aim of Try It Tuesday – if it can be as bold as an aim – is to share a tool a week which might be useful to journalists. It might be new, it might be old but forgotten, or it might be somewhere inbetween. It’ll be something I’ve found useful though and one I’d suggest spending 10 minutes getting to know. To mark the start of the General Election campaign, here are three worth keeping an eye on, all from Democracy Club, a brilliant organisation which seeks to make politicians more accountable. The tools are ones I think journalists should contribute information too as well. 

3. Democracy Club CV


What? The aim of Democracy Club’s CV section is to publish the CVs of every candidate standing. It’s a genius idea – so many decisions are made based on someone’s CV, why shouldn’t politicians aspiring to represent us share their CV for everyone to see.

Why? It has potential to be a very useful tool for journalists – and a great source of information for the future.

The CVs can be found here



What? Yournextmp is a database of everyone standing in elections – or aims to be. It’s open source with more information being added all the time.

Why? Social media will be critical to this election, and this is a handy place to find the known social media presence of candidates, plus other information on candidates.



What? has been knocking around for a few years now and encourages people to share election leaflets which come through their doors.

Why? For journalists, it’s a great way of keeping an eye on what people are putting in their leaflets and shoving through doors. After all, the 2015 election wouldn’t be the first where a politician would have preferred election pledges and statements to be kept away from media scrutiny. Also worth digging back to 2010 to see what was promised, and what may not have been delivered.

The general election and local press: Is 2015 the dawn of a new era?


Comments made by Annabelle Dickson, the political editor of the Eastern Daily Press, that the local press could help decide 200 marginal seats at the General Election were met with the to-be-expected dose of scepticism/vitriol from commenters on Hold The Front Page last week.

But as the General Election campaign gets under way, I don’t think any local news organisation should shy away from setting itself the aim of helping decide the general election locally.

Over the last few general elections, there have been two schools of thought within political spin doctor circles about the local press. The more enlightened remember that someone who actively engages in local news daily is probably more likely to vote. The more cynical, and these tended to be in the majority, began to tell many local journalists that they could take their place in the queue, and hope to grab a question or two after everyone else. Scale of audience, in their minds, justified that.

The 2015 general election could, and should, be different.


A quote which brilliantly defines where journalism went wrong, and where it needs to get it right?

Good journalism, many would argue, is about getting information across using as few words as possible.

As statements about the future of journalism go, this one is one of the best I’ve seen, maybe ever:

“Print must not hinder our shift to digital, but we must cherish it while we choose to keep it.”

It was made by Katharine Viner, the new editor of the Guardian, and appeared in her statement to Guardian staff prepared ahead of an internal vote.


Since when was ‘politician wants to win votes’ a Tweet-worthy news story?

You know those ‘player hopes to score’ sports stories news editors always scoff at in editorial meetings?

Here’s a political version:


As statements of the bleeding obvious turned into headlines go, it’s up there with even the quietest day you’ll find on the back page of a newspaper….

Try it Tuesday: Nuzzel

The aim of Try It Tuesday – if it can be as bold as an aim – is to share a tool a week which might be useful to journalists. It might be new, it might be old but forgotten, or it might be somewhere inbetween. It’ll be something I’ve found useful though and one I’d suggest spending 10 minutes getting to know. 

2. Nuzzel


FOI: Thinking beyond the obvious when asking for data

Last week, many newspapers and other media outlets carried stories triggered by and FOI which asked for details of the crimes committed by children.

Nothing unusual in that, given how common the ‘x number of 10 year olds arrested for x’ which have been made possible by FOI over the years.

But this particular FOI – a product of a partnership between security firm ADT and the Victim Support charity – tackled the subject differently, and there’s a handy tip for all journalists in the way they did it.

The FOI request asked for the number of burglaries committed in an area, and the number which could be traced back to young people under 18.

The result was an eye-catching headline for the partnership, which is seeking to raise attention to the issue of burglaries committed by young people.

The Victim Support press release states:

Nottinghamshire, Greater Manchester and London had the highest proportion of burglaries committed by juvenile offenders. Where an offender had been identified those police forces found under-18s were involved in 43 per cent, 41 per cent and 37 per cent of break-ins respectively.

The police force area with the lowest percentage of burglaries by under-18s was Wiltshire, at just three per cent, followed by Norfolk (9.8 per cent), Thames Valley (13.9 per cent) and Durham (14 per cent).

A great example of looking beyond the obvious headline possibilities when thinking up what to ask for when submitting an FOI. An absolute number can carry a great headline, but a well-crafted comparison can take a story in an entirely different direction.

The perils of automation: Inadvertently asking readers if they want to buy a graphic on a sex offenders story

Ah, the joys of automation. Those who boldly predicted the future years ago said everything would be done by robots by now.

Luckily, we’re not there yet, although when it comes to journalism, some companies are giving it a jolly good try. As as the example on the link shows, it will have a place within journalism in the years ahead.

But there’s no denying that automation of process is often heralded as a good thing. And it can be. And I’m sure when the Leamington Observer decided it was important to promote its buy a photo service under every picture online, it did so with the best of intentions … driving picture sales revenue.

But automation also runs the risk of this:


FOI Friday: Council credit cards, mental health beds crisis, schools with asbestos and 50 Shades of Grey…

FOI ideas image: Yarn Deliveries

So, what are councils using credit cards for at the moment? < Bristol Post

Taxpayers in Bristol have been footing the bill for council workers to stay in expensive hotels, eat at posh restaurants and buy designer clothes, the Bristol Post has learned.

Almost £680,000 was spent on Bristol City Council payment cards last year, with thousands of pounds spent on fast food, cinema trips, iTunes downloads and orders from online retailer Amazon.

Figures obtained by the Post under Freedom of Information rules show that in 2014, an average of £1,860 a day was spent on council procurement cards, which are used by council workers to pay for expenses like travel, office supplies and catering.

Mentally ill patients held in prison cells because no hospital beds are available < Swindon Advertiser

A SWINDON patient had to spend almost two days in a police cell under the Mental Health Act because there was nowhere else for them to go.

Figures released after a Freedom of Information request show that in the past two years almost 200 people have been held in Wiltshire Police cells because there was no suitable healthcare provision.

The longest holding period was 37 and a half hours, while a 16-year-old was detained for eight hours.

Ninety-four people were detained in Swindon and Wiltshire in 2013 and in 2014 the figure was 95.

How many schools contain asbestos? < Nelson Leader

Teaching leaders claim lives are being put at risk after it was revealed more than 90% of Lancashire schools contain asbestos.

Figures obtained after a Freedom of Information request reveal as many as 41 schools in the Burnley and Padiham area could be classed as being “at risk”, as well as a further 38 in Pendle and 22 in the Ribble Valley.


Try it Tuesday: PinAlerts

Ok, here goes. There are loads of great tools out there to help journalists do their job. So many in fact that it can be overwhelming.

So, in a moment of blatant theft of an idea picked up from USA Today at the ONA Mobile conference in London earlier this month (USA Today has Mobile Monday and Social Tuesday), I’m going to try, er, Try It Tuesday.

The idea is supposed to be a simple. One tool a week which I find useful, and which I hope other journalists will too.

Some may be new, some might be old, some might be ones we’ve forgotten in the race to try the new shiny thing everyone is talking about. But hopefully all will have in common the fact they are worth spending 10 minutes playing with after you’ve read about them.

Journalism for many years was about getting trained, becoming a senior and continuing to get better at the job. Digital journalism means learning all the time, with those who find the time to experiment with new tools, in my opinion, more likely to be successful in the future.

So here’s the first:




What? Pinalerts is an email alert service for people wanting to keep tabs on how often a URL is posted on Pinterest, the social network still tipped as ‘the next big thing.’

Why?  Several reports have claimed Pinterest has more users than Twitter now, with engagement time on the service more than rivalling other social networks. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, however, it’s not easy to drive audience from Pinterest if you’re the one doing the pinning. However, seeing the content people are pinning from your site is handy both in terms of knowing what could be popular among users, and also to keep an eye on what people are saying.