Bolton News

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

bolton news 2

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. (more…)

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.


FOI Friday: Rescuing fat people, dirty football grounds, spending on Facebook and young drink drivers

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

1. Bomb hoaxes at universities – Cambridge News

Universities, as a rule, hate being covered by the Freedom of Information Act – which is one of the reasons I like to see stories generated by it. This one is interesting – 46 bomb hoaxes at Cambridge university already this year? Surprised? I was.

2. Claiming over the odds expenses – Wilts Standard

The HMRC advised level for personal car mileage for company purposes is 45p. So why is a council letting staff and councillors claim almost 50p a mile – with no cap? A good FOI from the Wilts Standard which leaves some questions to be answered.

3. Fewer police than in the 1970s – Stoke Sentinel

Good use of FOI to get historic data to prove that in Staffordshire, there are now fewer officers on the beat than in the 1970s. And a good interactive chart at the bottom too.

4. Invisible councillors – Boston Standard

This is data which, quite frankly, should be posted after every council meeting: Who attended and who didn’t. But seeing as it isn’t, the FOI Act is the way to get it. A good way for the Boston Standard to hold its councillors to account.

5. Youngest drink driver – Birmingham Mail

A 14-year-old done for drink driving? According to FOI requests in Birmingham, that’s the case.

6. Hidden criminal offences of taxi drivers – Watford Observer

What job would you expect to be precluded from if you had a criminal record for causing death by dangerous driving? I’d put taxi driver on that list. Thank’s to FOI, we know that’s not the case in Bushey, near Watford.

7. Spending on Facebook – BBC

An interesting one from the BBC – finding out the Government has been spending £100,000 on Facebook advertising. There’s no doubt the public sector has become more social media savvy in recent times – has the spending gone there too.

8. Cable thefts – Norwich Evening News

Cable thefts from railway tracks are rarely away from the news – largely due to the problems they cause travellers – but 314 in a year in one area? Good stats under FOI from British Transport Police.

9. Dirty kitchens at a football stadium – Bolton News

I’ve mentioned this style of FOI a few times before but it is worth mentioning again – asking for the environmental health reports covering venues of public interest – in this case, the football arena at Bolton. And you’d have thought it was enough to have performances on the pitch making people potentially sick….

10. Called out to rescue fat people – Manchester Evening News

And finally – the number of times firemen have been called out to help paramedics move fat people.

* * *

FOI Friday is compiled using Google News and tip-offs sent to this blog or to me via Twitter @davidhiggerson



Going up, going down: The end of the of the football season in newspaper front pages

Nobody covers a football club quite like the local newspaper. The highs and the lows, the frustrations and the delights (with the sports desk normally being blamed for the former by readers, but rarely thanked for the latter). So it’s no surprise that when the not-quite-life-and-death matters of promotion and relegation are dealt with, the football normally passes from the back page to the front page.

With the last play off in the bag (well done Crewe), here’s a round-up of how regional papers covered the success, or otherwise, of their teams

Premier League

Champions: Manchester City

Title: Manchester Evening News

Manchester Evening News

Manchester Evening News

Premier League

18th place (relegated): Bolton

Title: Bolton News

Praying for a miracle before the game ... The Bolton News

Praying for a miracle before the game … The Bolton News

and after…

... and after relegation was confirmed

… and after relegation was confirmed

Premier League

19th place (relegated): Blackburn

Title: Lancashire Telegraph

The Lancashire Telegraph

The Lancashire Telegraph

Premier League

20th place (relegated): Wolves

Titles: Birmingham Mail and the Wolverhampton Express and Star

The Black Country edition of the Birmingham Mail

The Black Country edition of the Birmingham Mail


And the Express and Star

And the Express and Star


FOI Friday: Unusual council waiting lists, a housing crisis, and the theft of a six-foot cardboard copper

1. Police officers disciplined for racism

Proof of the value of FOI disclosure logs – for journalists anyway. The BBC reports on seven police officers from West Mercia Police disciplined for racism. The BBC, which used the infamous ‘BBC has learnt’ in the intro, confirms later in the piece it found the information on West Mercia’s disclosure log.

2. Life-sized copper stolen from police station

I know the ‘things stolen from a police station’ FOI has been done a lot, but I wanted to include this one, simply because of what was stolen. According to the Bucks Free Press:

The catchphrase ‘you’re nicked’ has been spun on its head by daring thieves who pinched items including a life-size cut-out of a copper from police.

The six-foot tall cardboard crime deterrent was put under the long arm of a crook at a police station in the Wycombe LPA, information obtained by the Bucks Free Press reveals.

A truncheon and ‘five blue strobe flashing lights’, likely to be from a police car, were also nabbed from Wycombe police along with an item marked ‘other’.