Why we need to tell readers about how we report the news

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If you were to list the changes digital media has ushers into newsrooms across the UK, the list would quickly become long.

The one I want to focus on today is the change in audience expectation and behaviour. Gone are the days when post-publication interaction with readers was confined to conversations with those who had the motivation to ring the newsdesk, visit ‘front counter’ or get their pen and paper out.

Since the victory by Donald Trump in the American elections, many millions of words online have been devoted to how the media Stateside got it so wrong, and what that means for the future of journalism.

I feel that’s coming at the problem from the wrong end. Digital platforms have given everyone a voice. Personalisation on those platforms – primarily through algorithms – has created a bubble-like experience for many people. I’m convinced the shock of the ‘exit’ vote in Brexit for many was worsened by that platforms like Facebook so effectively target what you see that Brexit-supporters were all but banished from Remainers timelines, and vice versa.

That bubble-like environment, and the ease with which people can now publish a view, puts a new spotlight on what people are thinking about what they are reading. This isn’t a Facebook thing. Any football writer whose club is also served by a fans forum where every story is analysed, reacted to and commented upon will know what I’m talking about. Everyone has a voice, and many are critics.

Overall, this is a positive thing. At least people care enough about what we’re writing to talk about it. Irrelevance-induced silence must be worse.

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FOI Friday: Unidentified bodies, chugging, bedroom tax costs and ambulance delays

How many unidentified bodies have been discovered by police? < Liverpool Echo

THE ECHO today explores the riddle of 11 mystery bodies that lay open on Merseyside Police’s files.

The unidentified bodies and body parts – dating back to 1972 – include a decomposed foot found in a trainer which washed up on Hightown beach ten years ago.

Despite DNA tests and public appeals, investigations to trace the families of those who died have proven fruitless.

Their details lie on Merseyside Police’s records with little realistic chance of ever being solved.

Four front pages generated by one FOI request from Trinity Mirror’s data unit

Which streets are most active for chugging? < Cambridge News

A bid to curtail swarms of persistent ‘chuggers’ who stop people in the street for charities is being upped out by Cambridge authorities.

Calls have been made to crackdown on the ‘swarming’ charity collectors who target shoppers in the city centre.

Currently the council only permits direct debit collections on Tuesdays and Thursdays in specific areas of the city.

A spokeswoman said the council was in the process of finalising an agreement with the PFRA on further measures.

The street most used by ‘chuggers’ are Sidney Street and Petty Cury in the city centre as well as Fitzroy Street and Burleigh Street near the Grafton shopping centre, according to data released using freedom of information laws.

When are fire brigades charging for call outs? < BBC West Midlands

West Midlands Fire Service charged for just 106 out of 3,656 non-emergency callouts since charges were introduced, a BBC Freedom of Information request has revealed.

In May 2012, the service began asking homeowners to cover the callout and attendance costs for problems like animal rescues and lock-outs.

The 106 charges totalled £57,355.24.

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FOI Friday: Saying sorry to dodge court, parents smacking children, arsonists wanting to work in schools and the safety of bail hostels

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Saying sorry to get away with violent crimes < Eastern Daily Press

Fears over the misuse of restorative justice measures have been raised after the revelation that Norfolk Police have used informal agreements to deal with more than 7,000 crimes since 2010 – including almost 3,000 violent offences.

The measures can be used by officers instead of prosecutions and can include an apology or compensation to the victim. The resolutions were introduced in order to cut down on police red tape, and prevent the criminalisation of young people.

Figures gained following a Freedom of Information request by the EDP show “community resolutions” – which involve the victims of crime – have been used in 4,362 cases since 2010, and “extended professional judgement” – which are settled just by officers – 3,205 times in the same period.

People reported to the police for smacking their own children < Exeter Express and Echo

More than 100 parents across Devon and Cornwall have been reported to the police for smacking their child over the last five years.

Figures released following a Freedom of Information Act request reveal a dramatic rise in the number of smacking reports last year, up from 17 in 2012 to 43 in 2013.

Devon and Cornwall Police say this spike could be due to “enhanced awareness” of the issues surrounding smacking.

A search of the force’s database revealed 108 crime logs relating to a biological parent smacking a child aged 17 or under between January 2009 and February 2014.

Thieves and arsonists caught applying for jobs in schools < The Lincolnite

Theft, assault on a child, arson and assault with bodily harm were among the crimes flagged up by Disclosure and Barring Service checks (DBS) on people applying to work in Lincoln schools.

According to data obtained through a Freedom of Information Request by The Lincolnite, a total of 85 convictions, cautions, warnings and reprimands were highlighted by DBS checks requested by Lincoln schools in the last four years.

The crimes recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC) were released on certificates where individuals applied for jobs at educational institutions in the postal areas LN1 to LN6.

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FOI FRIDAY: Ambulance delays, lack of dentists, data-snooping coppers and dodging conviction for assault

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How to dodge a conviction if you assault someone < Brighton Argus

Thousands of criminals including sex offenders, arsonists and violent offenders have avoided conviction.

Sussex Police introduced community resolution in 2011 to deal with low-level crimes.

But The Argus can reveal that the policy has been used more than 11,000 times in the past three years and has even been used in a case of sexual assault against a child.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show it was used 1,200 times to deal with assaults resulting in an injury, and another 1,531 for assaults without injuries.

Struggling to get a dentist? Here’s why < Lancashire Telegraph

CONCERNS have been raised after the number of people visiting hospital for emergency dental treatment tripled in East Lancashire last year.

Staff at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT) gave emergency dental treatment to 322 patients in 2013, which was up from 106 in 2012, according to figures obtained by the Lancashire Telegraph through Freedom of Information laws.

The increase mirrored a national trend which health campaigners said was down to a rise in the number of families struggling to afford regular check-ups on their teeth, with visits to the dentist becoming a ‘luxury’ for many.

Left waiting for an ambulance < North West Evening Mail

FIGURES show since 2012 457 patients in Cumbria have waited for an ambulance for more than an hour.

A Freedom of Information request by the Evening Mail showed 69 of the calls were in Barrow, Ulverston or Millom – with 14 in the area classed as serious Red Two calls.

There were two life-threatening Red One calls in Cumbria which took more than an hour to attend.

Pupil compensation claims continue to mount up < Yorkshire Evening Post

Almost a quarter of a million pounds of public money has been paid out in compensation and legal costs for injuries children have suffered in the city’s primary and secondary schools over the past five years, new figures reveal.

Pay outs include £35,000 after a child broke a limb, and £21,058 given to a pupil who suffered a facial injury.

The figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that there been 188 personal injury claims made against schools in Leeds since September 2008.

Of these 39 have been successful resulting in compensation payments of £221,013 since September 2008. Figures show £35,000 was paid out after a pupil suffered a broken limb in 2009 and £21,058 was given to a pupil who suffered a facial injury in 2010.

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FOI Friday: Social workers sacked, unsolved crimes, bailiffs after benefit cuts and dodgy drivers

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Thirty-year-old unsolved murders in Surrey – Surrey Advertiser/GetSurrey

A total of 41 murder cases in the county – the earliest dating back to 1974 – remain unsolved to this day, the Surrey Advertiser can reveal.

Data released under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed murders in Epsom, Ash, Guildford, Effingham, Ashtead, Virginia Water and Woking for which nobody has been convicted.

Detective Superintendent Nick May, of the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, said: “The overall number of unsolved murders in Surrey remains low, with an average of just over one a year since 1974, and no unsolved murders have taken place in the county in the past five years.

Malnutrition cases on the rise – Burton Mail

DIAGNOSED cases of malnutrition in Burton have trebled since 2008 – an increase which mirrors a national trend – according to figures obtained by the Mail.

The number of patients either admitted with malnutrition or treated for malnutrition at Queen’s Hospital, Burton, increased from less than five in 2008 to 15 in 2013.

The data was obtained after a Freedom of Information request.

Malnutrition can be caused by a poor diet, a lack of food or illnesses which prevents the absorption of nutrients.

Chop chop trees – Sheffield Star

Sheffield is being stripped of more than 1,000 trees in just over one year.

Figures obtained by The Star under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the council is working to fell 1,200 trees from a stock of 36,000 by March.

Streets Ahead contractor Amey has already pulled down 750 highway trees – some 100 years old – which they claim are dead, dying, diseased, dangerous or damaging structures since August 2012.

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FOI FRIDAY: Asbestos, Facebook, police cells and sham marriages

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

1. Asbestos found at public buildings – Milford Mercury

Asbestos, known as the silent killer, is regularly the subject of health and safety campaigns – so an FOI which reveals that the majority of council buildings in an area contained asbestos, although often in non-dangerous uses, has the potential to make waves.

2. Prisoners communicating by Facebook – Yorkshire Evening Post

I’ve seen a few stories about those behind bars using Facebook to taunt victims, witnesses and so on – but this is the first time I’ve seen FOI used to find out how many Facebook accounts have been investigated by prison authorities.

3. Health and safety deaths and injuries in the workplace – Bradford Telegraph and Argus

A good example of why ‘open data’ will never give the public as much power as the right to ask for information. This FOI asked how many deaths in the workplace had been recorded by the Health and Safety Executive in the Bradford area, and the number of injuries recorded. The amount of detail per case varied.

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FOI Friday: Councils profiting on death, the food police, monitoring the impact of cuts and gun injuries uncovered

10 good examples of FOI in action from the local, regional and (in one case), national press:

1. One ‘L’ of an FOI – Yorkshire Evening Post

The YEP made the most out of a familiar FOI – asking for stats relating to driving tests – to create something which was much more informative than the usual ‘Someone took XX attempts to pass their test.’ Data includes the pass rate broken down by men and women … giving a Leeds answer to much-asked question maybe?

2. Council mobile phone spending bills done well – Hull Daily Mail

The ‘shock horror look at the bill for mobile phones in the council’ FOI often falls down when a canny council spokesman asks: “Are you saying councils shouldn’t provide mobiles to staff?” However, the Hull Daily Mail took the spending on mobile phones, plus the number of phones, for two councils and compared the costs. The question then became why Hull City Council’s bill was so much higher than neighbouring East Riding, despite comparable users.

3. When ‘no documentation’ is a story in itself – Islington Tribune

Sometimes, it’s the lack of information from an FOI request which makes the story, which is why I’ve included this example in FOI Friday. According to the article, a row had broken out over the council’s decision to rename a park. Given the controversy, the Tribune’s FOI request asking for documentation relating to the decision probably couldn’t have yielded a better result than the one they got … confirming no documentation on the decision at all!

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