Can one christening cake (and the absurd reaction to it) change the way we think about local journalism?

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Can a story about a christening cake encapsulate one of the biggest challenges digital journalism has delivered to the regional press? I think so, and here’s why.

You probably saw the story about the woman who complained about a christening caked including bears with ‘naughty bits.’ For what it’s worth, I thought she was talking bunkum. Many others did too, but I’ll come back to that.

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FOI FRIDAY: Jail smuggling, brand conscious police, cost-saving consultants and golden hellos for paramedics


‘Golden Hellos’ for new paramedics < Eastern Daily Press

The East of England Ambulance Service paid the incentives to 59 qualified paramedics in 2013 to try and resolve the organisation’s staff shortage. However, five of the new recruits had to repay the £2,000 golden hello payments after leaving the trust, according to new figures.

The NHS trust, which launched a recruitment campaign last year to hire 231 paramedics and specialist paramedics, paid £106,909 in golden hello payments last year, according to figures from a freedom of information request by the EDP.

The cost of spin < Thame Gazette

Cashstrapped Bucks County Council spends £720,000 a year on an army of public relations gurus.

The authority, which has downgraded libraries and cut cash to daycare centres, held on to funding for 21 communications roles this year.

Last year the council spent a further £45,911 on internal and external newsletters.

Figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, form part of revelations that Vale ratepayers are spending more than £2million a year on PR roles.

Does restorative justice work < Windsor and Maidenhead Advertiser

Almost a third of offenders given restorative disposals went on to commit another crime.

Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows that 1,202 people in Windsor and Maidenhead were given restorative disposals between 2009, when they were first introduced by Thames Valley Police, and 2013.

Of these 339 reoffended.

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FOI FRIDAY: Lost property, tobacco investments, repeat offenders and long ambulance waits


10 good examples of FOI in action from the local, regional and national media:

The longest ambulance delays – Huddersfield Examiner

Tony Blair – and politicians in general – may not be made keen on the Freedom of Information Act, but it doesn’t stop them using it to dig out figures which suit their political agenda. In this case, it’s also information which should give cause for concern. Labour used FOI to find out how long people were waiting in ambulances when getting to hospitals – the longest example in Yorkshire being nearly four hours, a fact reported by the Examiner.

Lost property handed into police – Manchester Evening News

A budgie, Bing Crosby records and £23,078 in cash are among the items, as well as a Porsche, a kite, five flatscreen televisions, and a bag of 14 Kit Kat bars – all among the list of things handed in to police as lost property items in Greater Manchester.

Freed prisoners and the crimes they commit – Birmingham Mail

Criminals released from jail early or handed a suspended or community sentence went on to commit more than 33,000 offences in just two years. Figures obtained by the Birmingham Mail revealed that almost a third of all convicted felons in the West Midlands went on to re-offend within 12 months of being let out on licence or handed a non-custodial sentence. Some of the offenders went on to commit serious violence, sexual assaults, robberies and even child sex attacks.

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Books by Journalists: Two Minds To Die – Neil Bonnar

2minds“What part of my life has been lucky? I was born a bastard, my mother died when I was a baby, the people I thought were my parents turned out to be just two strangers who brought me up. I’ve got no friends. No family. I don’t even have a personality of my own. Then, to cap it all, everywhere I go someone is trying to kill me. Exactly which bit of that is lucky?”

There aren’t many books (which I’ve read) which have a character who sums up his predicament so well, but maybe that’s the great thing about reading a book by a journalist – there’s rarely a word wasted.

Two Minds To Die centres around journalist Marcus Fieldman, whose somewhat mundane life subbing on a London daily newspaper is shattered when he makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to follow someone who walks like him, moves like him and even has exactly the same mannerisms.

That split-second decision brings Marcus together with Jack Porter, who is his doppelganger – only not in looks, but in mind, thanks to the fact the pair – unknown to them – underwent an operation which had the result of saving one of their young lives, but which also transferred Marcus’s personality to Jack.

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How to make your live tweeting of an event indispensible for readers

heartmonitorUsing Twitter to provide live coverage from an event is so popular largely because it’s so simple. You don’t even need a web-enabled phone to do it, so long as the phone you’re texting from is connected to your Twitter account.

However, that means you have a rather one-way conversation – you’re broadcasting, in a way the media always has. But simply using the an app or mobile internet to access Twitter to live tweet from an event doesn’t guarantee a two-way conversation.

Often, newsrooms encourage reporters to live tweet from an event because it’s a simply and effective way to get the updates back into a liveblog powered by the likes of Coveritlive and Scribblelive, or one of the increasingly common purpose-built live-blogging solutions publishers have.

That’s fine as far as it goes – but it’s still missing a trick. We can report live, or we can go a step further and make the audience part of the event we’re covering. As a rule, we can’t feed back what they’re saying to the event – if it’s council meeting, football match, court case and so on – but we can make our coverage the centre of a discussion.

The best way to describe what I’m talking about is to show a great example I followed last week. In Greater Manchester, the local NHS is putting itself through yet another wave of reform, under the banner Healthier Together. Type the phrase into Google and you’ll see similar things going on across the country.

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FOI Friday: Crime-ridden leisure centres, true truancy figures, NHS lay offs and Olympic torch costs

Apologies for the delay in the latest FOI Friday – a bad dose of chickenpox in our house has made keeping on top of it harder than usual! As ever, this is list is compiled using Google News and from suggestions sent to me on Twitter @davidhiggerson

Crimes committed at leisure centres < < < Welwyn Hatfield Times

A variation on an old favourite – list the crimes committed at X – yields some interesting results when X becomes a leisure centre:

OUTRAGING public decency and grievous bodily harm are just two of the crimes reported at Welwyn Hatfield leisure centres in the past two years.

Venues hired by councils < < < Leicester Mercury

An interesting example of council spending being held to account through FOI. Trade unions have been critical of the decision to hire conference facilities for meetings. The council, I guess, argues it has nowhere big enough to house 400 people. But do you really need 400 people in a room to talk transport?

Parking tickets overturned < < < Swindon Advertiser

What are the chances of getting a parking ticket overturned in Wiltshire? One in six, according to information obtained by the Swindon Advertiser. I liked the council’s defence of the high appeal success rate:

Swindon Council said the fact that so many tickets were successfully challenged was a good thing, because it shows the council is prepared to listen to complaints.

A spokesman said: “We cancel a lot of penalty charge notices because we’re prepared to listen to people if they have a reasonable excuse.

“Drivers should be reassured by this – they would have more reason to be worried if we didn’t cancel many.”

Of course, with prevention always better than cure, getting the tickets issued correctly in the first place would be better.

Reducing hospital bed numbers and overcrowding < < < BBC

Interesting stats obtained by the BBC from Welsh health boards which reveal 1000 hospital beds have disappeared in the country in the last three years. It’s not as if there isn’t demand – hospitals are regularly overcrowded now, according to the figures. Continue reading

FOI Friday: Credit card spending, charging for policing, domestic abuse homelessness and noisy people

10 good examples of FOI in action from the local, regional and national media:

1. Unpaid parking fines < < < Scunthorpe Telegraph

Just shy of £250k has gone unpaid in Scunthorpe over the past three years. Not a new FOI request theme, but a relevant one: If councils are so hard up, then why not chase the money which they’ve spent money to issue the fines for in the first place?

2. Credit card spending of senior police officials < < < Yorkshire Post

We’ve seen FOI requests before for the credit card spending of senior policemen, or councillors or council chief executives – but how many police authorities issue credit credits to their chief executives? In Cleveland they did – and the spending seems incredible.

3. Charging for policing < < < Cumberland News

In Cumbria, the police have charge organisations £100,000 for covering events such as music festivals. No controversy here – unless you believe all policing should be free – but interesting numbers all the same.

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