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FOI Friday: Prisoner complaints, police redundancies, thefts from bars, dangerous dogs and ‘kebab crimes’

FOI ideas image: Yarn Deliveries

‘Kebab crimes’ in Scarborough < Scarborough News

There’s a saying that a pint and a fight are the ingredients to a great British night out, but an investigation has unearthed the shocking crimes committed in Scarborough’s pizza shops and curry houses by rowdy revellers after they’ve sank one too many.

Scarborough’s ‘kebab crimes’ include bloody beatings, callous charity box thefts and staff being racially abused.

And in one incident, a woman was attacked with a doner kebab.

Our probe found out that 19 crimes were committed in takeaways, restaurants and chippys over the past 12 months.
CCTV and a heavy late-night police presence have helped officers nab the majority of offenders, but North Yorkshire Police have now revealed details of the takeaway offenders still on the loose.

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When it comes to accountability, politicians are proving that actions speak louder than words

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Politicians always talk fine words when it comes to accountability. They want to be accountable. They want a strong, free Press to hold them to account. They want to be accountable to their electorate. But be it nationally or locally, when it comes to politicians and accountability, actions speak louder than words.

I wrote the other week about the police and crime commissioner in Humberside who, when challenged by the Grimsby Telegraph about a decline in the number of officers on duty based on information provided by a police source, chose to threaten the Official Secrets Act rather than deal with the issue at hand.

And today the Birmingham Mail reports that investigations editor Jeanette Oldham has been banned from asking questions of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in Birmingham, and must now submit all her questions via the Freedom of Information Act.

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Why audience targets can be good for journalism

Journalists want people to read what we’ve written. Audience targets can help make sure we’re reaching as many people as possible

The issue of audience targets became a hot potato this week – and I can see why. But the reaction that seeking to write content which will be popular means we at the same time have to throw away our journalistic principles is one I think is wide of the mark.

I’ve written before that journalism is a combination of art and science in the digital age – and the correct use of audience data to drive decision making is surely part of that. So do targets damage the quality of local journalism? I don’t think so. I think they can actually make journalism better for the local community.

However, Roy Greenslade and The Times have reached their conclusions, as have many on Holdthefrontpage. But lets look at what makes a local news brand relevant in the 21st century. Greenslade calls audience targets clickbait payments. And if all you said was ‘here, hit this number, we don’t care how’ then he might be right.

But at the risk of letting the facts get in the way of a good headline, there are a number of aspects being overlooked here: (more…)

Covering stories about dog poo in a new way…

It’s an eternal truth known to local journalists throughout the UK and, indeed, through the decades: Few stories attract as much interest as ones about dog poo.

Indeed, a quick search of ‘dog fouling’ in Google News – and I would hope that’s a search which has only been conducted once today on Google News – yielded many local news stories about the issue.

In Bourne, Lincolnshire, the local council is supporting one man’s crusade against mucky dog owners (because we all know it’s not the dogs to blame). In the Shetlands, the local council has described fouling as ‘absolutely disgusting’ and launched new patrols to ‘clamp down’ on it. In Portsmouth, a new dog fouling ‘hot spot’ has been identified. In East Anglia, St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath councils have come under fire for not issue a single dog fouling penalty notice in recent years.

The Ipswich Star even launched a campaign on the issue, which resulted in the number of reports of dog fouling tripling (one assumes this is just because more people are reporting the problem, not that the paper’s campaign has led to the council) while the Cornishman reported on an ex-policeman risking court after refusing to pay his fouling fine.  In Edinburgh, the council is considering offering lottery tickets to people seen picking up after their pooches – because clearly it being the right thing to do simply isn’t enough of an incentive. 

And that’s just going back a few days on Google News.

But if there was to be an award for the best attempt to breathe new life into coverage of dog fouling in a local paper (and lets be honest, if clearing up after your pup gets you a lottery ticket, surely this is worth an award), then surely it should go the Dover Express:

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Why journalists everywhere should be paying attention to #tellali

Monday morning brought with it one of the most interesting newspaper front pages of recent times:

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A blank front page, save for hashtag which was explained inside. Editor in chief (and colleague) Alastair Machray is leading a project to revamp the Echo, which, perhaps more than many other regional news brands, has an audience never backward in coming forward to tell him what they think of the Echo.

It’s prompted a lot of debate – including two radio phone ins and hundreds of Tweets discussing it. And, in a sure sign that it’s a good idea, the grumpy brigade on Holdthefrontpage have been quick to condemn it.

But it’s not because I work with Ali that I think it’s a good idea. Or rather not just because I work with Ali. The front page, and the ethos behind it, sums up the change journalism is undergoing, a change every journalist needs to understand and adapt to if they are to enjoy the attention of an audience in the future.

Readers, viewers, listeners, commenters … they expect to be heard these days. In many ways, it’s remarkable that for so many years the audience was content with just receiving their news, selected by journalists, and restricted to joining in via a call to the newsdesk, or a letter to the editor which might be considered for publication.

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General Election 2015: How the regional press came of age online

There is a risk that this post may be a little self-serving, given my job at one of the largest regional news publishers.

But it struck me over the weekend that, while the general election will be remembered by many people for many things, for the regional press it should probably go down as the event which demonstrated the industry has come of age online.

Of course, you’d expect a lot to have changed in five years, but it’s worth bearing in mind that in 2010 the prevailing opinion within the industry was that it was on borrowed time, with many seeing the internet as something to fear, rather than embrace.

Fast forward five years and my big takeaway from election night coverage – and I looked at many regional news websites during election night – was that the regional press did online what it has done in print for decades: Provided the best, most up-to-date coverage of events from a local perspective.

Articulating proof for something which is little more than a sense I have is a challenge, but I’ll try and show some evidence.

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Election 2015: How regional newspapers showed they are as relevant as ever in print

The 2015 general election was probably the first where the vast majority of local newspapers no longer printed on day.

While the assumption many made when papers switched to overnight printing was that the papers suffered as a result, I think the last 48 hours have shown this is wrong on two counts.

The first point to make is that a constantly changing pattern and picture on election night, and the morning after, means that trying to sell a local newspaper as the up-to-the-minute source of information in a world of Twitter, Facebook and rolling TV news is bonkers.

That’s what a newsroom’s digital service is for and across the country, regional newsrooms demonstrated that they were second to none when it comes to covering the elections from a local perspective (more on that tomorrow).

The second point to make is that newsrooms across the country rose to the challenge of ensuring their newspapers remained relevant by coming up with a multitude of of creative ways of telling the stories of the election, and the issues emerging from the ballots. Highlights for me included: (more…)

Local media election diary: The light and dark of social media, advice from Eric Pickles and the ‘MP’ who has already won

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A fascinating story from the Belfast Telegraph, involving a candidate called John Doyle who was subjected to online taunts after a poor performance in a TV debate:

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Mr Doyle is quoted as saying:

“I broke down in tears. I didn’t get into politics to be abused,” he said. “I was bullied at school and this is the exact same thing.

“It was abusive bullying – it was just to belittle me.

“I got into politics to make a bright future for the people of Fermanagh/South Tyrone.”

Much as anyone would say a politician has to have a thick skin to get on, this story is a fascinating insight to the impact social media is having.

We’re all familiar with the stories of journalists being trolled for their coverage – particularly those covering SNP affairs in Scotland too.

If 2015 really is the social media election, then it’s perhaps also the election at which a sinister side to the political debate became an unintended norm.

You can read the full Bel Tel article here. 

Parents…

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Why work experience isn’t enough to stand out in journalism…

Once upon a time, the best way into journalism was to do work experience. It worked for me, and for many others before me. At around the time I became a journalist, the work experience route was rapidly being replaced with the higher education one.

I know many great journalists who completed post-graduate or one-year higher education courses before entering journalism. I know great ones who did three years of a journalism degree before arriving in newsrooms. Some regret spending three years studying journalism when they realise it doesn’t really give them much of a head start.

I wince when I see universities, particularly some of those who’ve only been offering journalism courses in recent years, suggesting that spending up to £9,000 a year is the best way to get a grounding for a job in journalism. In his column, reported by Holdthefrontpage, Derby Telegraph editor Neil White revealed he tells students he’d go with a journalist with a lower-standard degree but a great CV over one with first-class degree but little on the CV.

I agree – to a point.

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