FOI Friday: School holidays, council houses, non-paying councillors (again) and more


Asbesto in publicly-owned homes <Beyond the Pillars

Blog Beyond the Pillars, which covers issues involving the North Ireland government, used FOI recently to find out how many homes owned by the NI Housing Executive – in other words, council homes – had asbestos in them. The answer: 70,000. 70,000! Three-fifths of publicly-owned homes, in other words.

Trying to get this information in England, for example, would be much harder, because Housing Associations remain outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, despite the fact that most of them were created out of old housing departments within councils.

There has been talk of including Housing Associations under the scope of FOI – but little action.

However, according to the Whatdotheyknow website:

If a Housing Association is strictly subject to the Freedom of Information Act depends on if it is wholly owned by public bodies. According to a Housing Corporation statment on accessing information: “You can also write to housing associations. Most try to be as open as possible and will provide you with information when they are able. The Housing Corporation requires housing associations to be accessible, accountable and transparent to residents and other stakeholders. The National Housing Federation Code of Governance states that associations should operate in an open and accountable manner by generally making information about their work available to their residents, local communities and other stakeholders.” *.

Also the Information Commissioner has ruled that Housing Associations are subject to the Environmental Information Regulations.

Based on the above, then surely the BTP FOI request is one worth trying with Housing Associations across the rest of the UK?


The currency of endorsement (or why Facebook likes matter)


Every month, brands within the company I work for, Trinity Mirror, publish the number of followers they have on Facebook and Twitter, along with unique browser data.

Every month, the data is picked up by the trade press, including sites such as Hold the Front Page, and reported in a straight-down-the-middle sort of way.

And every month, the same conversation begins in the comments section. “What’s the point of counting your Twitter followers” or “Where’s the money in Facebook likes?”

It’s a discussion which happens in newsrooms too, and the idea of counting followers and likes only really makes sense if you buy into the fact readers have a new sort of currency to bestow on you: Their endorsement.


The problem with local elections? National politics


When Jeremy Vine dances across his election map at some point on Friday, and declares it’s been a good night for the Tories, or a bad day for Labour, what he’s actually saying is ‘Local democracy is failing.’

Because local politics should be about local issues. It should be about people engaging with the issues affecting them locally and getting the chance to choose between candidates who, while loosely representing political parties, are slugging it out not on political colours, but important local matters.

National politicians, however, don’t seem to see it that way. And for as long as that doesn’t change, then the chances of people really engaging with their right to vote in local election in the sorts of numbers we saw in previous decades remains slim. The game of politics wins, the strength of local communities diminishes.

Local politicians always wring their hands at low turnouts in local elections. But what do they expect when the prime minister uses phrases like this:


Perhaps stories about exploding spots actually help important journalism survive


The page view has had a bad time of it of late. For a while, there’s been a backlash against using it as a metric for success in newsrooms, with a focus on page views seemingly destined to be forever linked with click bait by some.

The digital community is increasingly – rightly – focusing on engagement, and debating the merits of which metrics are the best. Perhaps ironically, few seem to disagree than page views per visit, or time spent per page view are important metrics.

And now that focus on page views is being blamed on an apparent collapse on journalism – with the ‘story’ of one man’s unusual encounter at McDonald’s being widely reported before he admitted he’d actually embellished things for his friends on Twitter. 

Here’s an alternative theory: The focus on page views is actually a good thing, but only if it’s one of a number of things you take into consideration.


This glimpse into the future of Academy education from the Liverpool Echo will horrify any journalist


It might look like an office block, but it’s actually an Academy, and one which is giving journalists a glimpse of what an Academy-only future might be like for journalists

For Government, it’s all about devolution at the moment. Even if you put to one side George Osborne’s obsessive Northern Powerhouse proposal, the idea of devolution runs through almost every government department.

The problem, however, is that it appears to be devolution regardless of what the public thinks. At the turn of the decade, there was precious little support for the idea of city or metro mayors, even with the promise of new powers and spending for regions, when it was put to public votes.

The Government’s solution has been to push ahead with devolution anyway – by removing the need for it to have public support. 

And last week came news of perhaps the greatest devolution of all – making all schools become academies. It’s an idea which the trade unions already hate, and the far-left Labour Party of 2016 is sure to fight tooth and nail against (although it’s fair to assume the most effective opposition will come from the select committees and the House of Lords).


FOI FRIDAY: 10 FOI ideas for journalists is back!


Welcome to the return of FOI – a weekly look at FOI stories which are worth sharing (and in many cases, copying).

As an added incentive to read on, this blog will also celebrate/shame those councils who prove that actions speak louder than words when it comes to delivering on the principles of FOI and accountability.  


Twitter at 10: 11 things news brands can do to get better at Twitter


10 years ago, Twitter was born. A decade on and there’s a lot of talk about where Twitter ‘goes next.’ This isn’t one of those pieces, although if you do want that, this article from Mashable raises some good points.

Instead I want to focus on journalism’s – specifically regional journalism’s – relationship with social network which became something of a darling for many journalists long before the importance of Facebook took hold in newsrooms.

Twitter was embraced by a significant number of regional journalists early on, even if the snark of ‘why would I post what I had for tea on Twitter’ took several years to die down. Nowadays, a reporter who doesn’t use Twitter probably won’t get very far in their next job interview.

But, after living with Twitter for a decade, you don’t have to look far on Twitter to find news brands missing opportunities to get the most out of the social network. I suspect part of this is due to the fact that Facebook is such a monster driver of traffic to many websites now, whereas Twitter is, bluntly, not.


Did David Cameron’s press office really ‘dupe’ the regional press?

This weekend, the Yorkshire Post did what all regional newspapers strive to do on big issues: Make a noise in the corridors of power in Westminster.

It did so by making public its refusal to publish what it described as a ‘love letter’ to the people of Yorkshire from prime minister David Cameron about how amazing the tourism opportunities were in the county. Its reason was simple: Cameron has failed to answer key questions about the flooding which blighted Yorkshire (and many other parts of the North) over Christmas.

As is so often the case with Westminster politicians, many were quick to be seen on the ground in the days after the flooding, bringing their London bubble with them, but it’s the role of the regional press to keep asking the awkward questions long after the national news machine has moved its focus elsewhere.

The YP explained its decision in an editorial on Saturday, which is a great example of lifting the curtain on what we do by explaining why we’ve taken the decisions we have. It was promoted like this on Facebook: