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FOI Friday: Bouncing babies, sex offence tickings off and pensioners on drugs

FOI ideas image: Yarn Deliveries

Some very bouncing babies < Huddersfield Examiner

Hundreds of Huddersfield’s bouncing babies are tipping the scales more than 2lbs above the national average.

Figures reveal about 100 babies per year are born at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust weighing in excess of 9lb 9oz.

The national averages are 7lb 8oz for a boy and 7lb 4oz for a girl.

Hospital records show that from 2012 to 2014 there were 314 newborns recorded as weighing 9lb 9oz or more.

Sex offences which just result in a telling off < Whitby Gazette

Police are letting paedophiles and sex offenders escape without a criminal record – meaning they could still work with children.

That’s the finding of a Yorkshire Regional Newspapers investigation which has revealed Community Resolution Disposals (CRD), designed to punish minor, first time offenders, have been handed out to people who had admitted possessing child porn or committing a sexual assault.

Angry campaigners fear that it could allow potentially dangerous sex offenders to “slip under the net” – and that North Yorkshire Police are letting serious offenders “off the hook”


FOI FRIDAY: Clown crimes, daily A&E visitors, attacks on buses and pauper funerals


Sexual exploitation within a police force < Birmingham Mail

Three West Midlands Police officers abused their position of authority by sexually exploiting underage children in the last two years.

The predators in uniform were sacked or resigned after being convicted at court for targeting a 15-year-old and two 14-year-olds.

Meanwhile, other officers from the force have been dismissed or disciplined for a range of offences or conduct relating to sexual exploitation of members of the public.

The shocking details were revealed after a Freedom of Information request by the Mail to the force.

The problem with clowns < Liverpool Echo

Disguised with colourful wigs and white face paint, the Echo today reveals how crooks dressed as clowns carried out bogus charity collections, vandalised property and even armed robbery.

Police on Merseyside dealt with 14 incidents involving people posing as clowns in the past two years – and most were no laughing matter.

One of the red-nosed crimes was caught on camera, when a robber dressed as a clown walked into a Walton shop in July to demand cash.

Attacks on buses < Cambridge News

sleeping girl was groped on a Cambridge school bus and is among victims of sex attacks and violent abuse while travelling on public transport.

Hair pulling, throat grabbing, torrents of verbal abuse, racist onslaughts using the ‘n-word’ and sex attacks have been reported to Cambridgeshire police after the incidents happened on buses in the county, new data has revealed.

There has been a total of just 21 such incidents reported to the force since 2012 but documents obtained by the News detailing what happened make for disturbing reading. And police have issued advice on what to do in a dangerous situation on a bus.

Visiting hospital every other day < Liverpool Echo

A 45-YEAR-OLD man went to A&E at the Royal Liverpool Hospital more than 150 times last year.

The patient racked up a total of 164 casualty attendances between January and December 4, according to records obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

This means he was attending A&E once every two days on average.

A second patient – an 84-year-old woman – visited A&E at the hospital 140 times over the same period, while a third patient – a 55-year-old man – clocked up 102 visits.


FOI Friday: Roadworks hell, hidden art, naughty nurses and bedblocking patients


Plagues of roadworks < Get Surrey

Dismay has been expressed over a ‘plague’ of roadworks on a stretch between Bramley and Guildford in the past three years.

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that more than 860 individual projects were carried out on the A281 from 2012 to 2014 – an average of 1.3 per day.

The majority of work was carried out in Bramley, with 477 roadworks in the village, with the remainder, 388, on the road through Shalford.

Broken down by year, there was disruption on the Shalford stretch for 160 days in 2012, a drop to 68 days in 2013 and rising to 160 last year.

Hidden Art < South Wales Argus

JUST two per cent of the almost 5,000 pieces in the fine art collection at Newport Museum and Art Gallery is on display, an Argus Freedom of Information Act request reveals.

The museum and art gallery building, which is at risk of closure in Newport City Council’s 2015/16 budget proposals, has 98 works of fine art on display compared to around 4,800 pieces in storage.


Think like a human, report like a journalist: How to handle breaking news on social media

Managing Facebook communities can be a bit of a conundrum for newsrooms. On one hand, a strong Facebook community built around your brand’s page can drive huge audiences to your website.

On the other hand, it can be quite hard to ‘control’ the crowd – if, indeed, that’s how journalists see their role. Despite being perhaps the hardest social network on which to be anonymous, I suspect we’re all familiar with tales of seemingly innocuous stories prompting comments which veer towards the racist very quickly.

This obviously runs the risk of harming your brand, but not publishing any story which could be skewed by someone to have a go at immigration would probably render a page rather empty.


FOI Friday: Air gun attacks, stressed out students, pauper funerals and troubled families


Bedroom tax rent arrears < Wolverhampton Express and Star

Out of 3,803 Sandwell people affected by the removal of the Government’s spare room subsidy, 2,432 have now fallen into rent arrears.

But the Labour-led council has not yet evicted anyone for falling into arrears as a result of what has become widely known as the bedroom tax.

The numbers of people in arrears and affected by the policy were revealed under the Freedom of Information Act after a request by a member of the public.

Troubled families < Brighton Argus

Nearly 1,000 problem families have been identified in Brighton and Hove since the launch of a Government scheme nearly two years ago.

The Troubled Families programme was launched as part of a scheme to get children off the streets and to help families get back into work.

According to a Freedom of Information request, the city council has identified 963 “troubled families” in Brighton and Hove and has so far “turned around” 317 of these.

Prisoners in your area < Daily Post

More than a third of all North Wales prisoners are from a single county, latest figures reveal.

There are a total of 857 from the region behind bars at prisons in England and Wales – 308 of which originate  from Flintshire.

The county also has the third highest number in Wales  – beaten only by Cardiff and Swansea.

The next highest in North Wales is Gwynedd with 163 prisoners followed by Wrexham (129), Conwy (118), Denbighshire (90) and Anglesey (49).

The figures, based on data up to December 31 last year, have been released following a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice.


Turning journalism from an art into a science … and then back again

WARNING: Long read! Summary as follows: Journalism has always been about gut instinct and hunches. Those who did best were those who guessed what audiences wanted. Digital audience data, however, means that journalism is much a science as an art now

Journalism: Craft, trade or profession? It’s a debate which comes around periodically, normally when the merits of user generated content are being considered. I’d like to throw in a fourth option.

Journalism, particularly regional journalism, actually needs to become a science. And, as a result of the rise of digital journalism, it will do.

In short, that means the end of the journalist’s hunch on what makes a good story, replaced with evidential proof of what makes a good story in the eyes of the audience.

For 150 years newspapers have been assembled based on what journalists assume will sell newspapers. That assumption is often based on the closest thing newspaper newsrooms had to audience data – print sales reports.

We all know that readers, when polled in research, claim their is too much crime reported in the paper. But we also know that nothing shifts newspapers more than a big crime story. How newsrooms have interpreted that data is where the hunch has come in. Are readers really complaining about too much crime, or just the wrong sort of crime? Do they like gangsters but not run-of-the-mill crime? I’ve read of extreme examples of crime being banned from front pages as a result.

Those hunches, those gut instincts, which all journalists making story decisions have, are based on experience. Experiences based on talking to real people. Experiences of the pat-on-the-back from the editor on a great story well done. Experience of a smile from newspaper sales.

It’s now time to reboot that gut instinct, and turn it into a gut instinct which is driven by scientific analysis of audience data. I’ve discussed this with a number of people over the last few months, and on one level it’s a scary thought. The most successful people in print journalism have been those who can tap into a sense of what drives readers to their brands, often with very little real data to hand to back up their hunch or argument. It’s a skill, a talent, an art.

Now, however, it’s possible to work out how to build an audience really easily. It doesn’t take years of practice in a newsroom, it just takes access to WordPress and Google Analytics.


FOI Friday: Teachers causing concern, prisoners on Facebook, school place fraud and teenage career criminals


Teachers on the ‘concern list’ < Basildon Echo

ALMOST 170 teaching staff are on a council list showing there are concerns about their working in schools.

They are not barred from working, but schools will be aware of the list of concerns, compiled by Essex County Council.

A total of 23 teachers and 14 other school workers have been added to the list in the past five years due to allegations of a sexual nature, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Social networks in prison < Daily Record

PRISON bosses last year shut down 80 Facebook accounts run by inmates in Scotland.

The social networking pages were updated using smartphones smuggled into jails and have been used by convicts to taunt victims or contact fellow criminals.

Officials investigated 118 allegations in 2013 that prisoners were running accounts on Facebook from behind bars, freedom of information figures released yesterday revealed.

Caught defrauding the school selection process < Camden New Journal

FIVE children in Camden were removed from school or had offers of places withdrawn after their families were caught fiddling the state admissions system, the New Journal can reveal.

In a response to a Freedom of Information request, Camden Council confirmed it had conducted 11 investigations into potentially fraudulent school place applications between 2012 and 2013. It had opened only two similar probes over the previous two years.

A “fraudulent” application was defined as using a temporary address, using a family member’s address, faking religious observance or supplying false information on application forms.


20 great storm photos which show us how journalism is changing


The recent storms – which are continuing as I write this – have dominated many local news websites and their associated newspapers. Great images have not been in short supply.

This isn’t meant to be a ’20 great images’ post, but a collection of images which tell us something about how we cover big weather stories in 2014. The sources of the pictures, the way they were captured, the way they were used and the stories they told combine to tell us one thing: Journalism is changing, and, if the storms of 2014 are anyting to go by, for the better.


Reporters of the future: Only quick thinkers need apply

FOI ideas image: Yarn DeliveriesReasonably often, because of my job, I get asked what I think the skills a journalist of the future needs. Often – and this is particularly true of university academics – they immediately give me a buffet of options to choose from. Is it social media? Is it data? Is it video? What about podcasting?

My answer, sadly, doesn’t help much: Generally, it’s all of the above. But none of the above are any good if you don’t display the most important skills of all: Accuracy, curiosity and a desire to share.

When I was training on the Citizen series of free newspapers in Preston, I was lucky to be surrounded by a number of people who took the time and effort to knock a cocky 18-year-old into shape, ranging from a photographer called Rob Underdown who, over a pint, advised me on how to improve my attitude in the office to Gill Ellis, then the deputy editor, who dragged me – almost kicking and screaming – to my first Preston Council meeting. The very first reporter I learnt from on work experience, Gordon McCully, taught me the importance of great contacts and sent me out on what turned out to be the splash in the first week I was at the Chorley Citizen.

Then there were various people on newsdesks of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph and the Citizens who took the time to point things out. But perhaps the point which sticks with me most vividly came from another mentor, a chap called Harold Heys, who was appalled my appalling spelling. Harold’s a bit of legend among a generation of Lancashire journalists who passed through this newsrooms, thanks largely to his infamous spelling tests. As a 17-year-old on work experience at the Citizen, I first encountered the spelling test and managed to get accommodation wrong.

Four years later and it was still my password to access the company editorial system every day. As ways of teaching you to spell, it’s second to none, if a bit limited. As a way of driving efficiency in the newsroom, it’s less effective. Anyway, Harold drummed into me – and many others – that the most important skill a journalist should hone was accuracy.

And that’s never been truer than now, in a multimedia age where newsrooms shouldn’t be producing content for the next day’s paper, but within minutes for never-full website.


FOI Friday: Tasered animals, council zero hour contracts, overpaid NHS staff and missing library books

Back from a summer break to make even an MP envious, here’s the return of FOI Friday. Thanks to several students on the PA Training course in Newcastle for giving me a nudge by saying they enjoyed it…


1. Tasered animals < Lancashire Evening Post

Police officers had to use tasers on animals on 13 separate occasions across the county between 2010 and 2012, figures reveal.

The figures were released following a Freedom of Information request to Lancashire Constabulary.

They show that in 2010 tasers were used on animals five times, a further six times in 2011 and twice in 2012.

2. Football hooliganism back < Manchester Evening News

A shock dossier compiled by the M.E.N. reveals that the menace of football hooliganism is far from extinct.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws show police had to deal with a catalogue of booze-fuelled hooliganism at United and City games last season

3. Nurses not trusted to work without supervision < The Scotsman

MORE than a quarter of Scottish nurses placed under supervision as they cannot be trusted to be left alone are working in Lothian hospital wards, new figures have revealed.

Despite being fully qualified, there are 27 nurses in the region whose performances have been deemed so poor that bosses have had to arrange for more senior staff to watch over them.

The data, revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that seven of the staff members in “management of employee capability” programmes were working in the Royal Infirmary, the region’s main acute hospital.