Directors' blog

Links, thoughts and updates from the directors of Dim Sum Digital.

Archive for the ‘council’ tag

My week – councils on camera and foodies on apps


Yes, it’s been another week where the right to film council meetings has dominated my blogging activity.

It’s time now to consider the different styles of filming that I could adopt. I’m thinking of mostly streaming live from start to finish with a back up recording in case of wi-fi issues.

However it ends up happening, it’s unlikely I’ll manage to get quite the drama and tension into the moment as this fine piece of work. Eat your heart out Tarantino! h/t West Hampstead Life for spotting that gem.

Updates this week (captured on the map below) included a video interview for, a successful vote at Richmondshire District and the launch of a Facebook campaign by Welsh campaigners looking for their administrations to adopt similar measures to England.

It’s tech start-up, it’s hyperlocal, it’s so-lo-mo, it’s food and it’s in the north.

The arrival of Zomato in Manchester proved to be a bit of a worlds collide dilemma for me on where exactly to blog about it.

I plumbed for the site in the end – read about that here.

Written by sarahhartley

July 28th, 2013 at 10:14 am

My week: Picture posting on Picfair and more on filming councils

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Sarah Hartley

I’ve enjoyed playing around with the beta version of picture licensing site – Picfair this week. Created by former Guardian colleague Benji Lanyado, the idea is that the copyright holder of an image (ie. the photographer who took the shot) names the price for a licence to reuse the image.

The licence is a good deal simpler to understand than many and the presentation is clean and intuitive to use. The USP is the fact the seller names the price but, like other services selling to mainstream media (eg Demotix), the proof of its success for photographers will be whether the demand is there from the media buyers.

It’s fun to use, interesting to browse and it will be fascinating to see how it develops once everything goes public tomorrow – if you didn’t get an pass for the beta, you should be able to give it try sometime on Monday.

Once again the whole issue of filming public council meetings has been dominating my blogging activity.

Over at the Talk About Local blog I caught up with the Private Eye and Telegraph coverage of the issue and on my hyperlocal blog, the request to film some council meetings has finally reached decision day – next Tuesday.

The map now records ten experiences from people around the UK. Please do let me know if your local council should be included.

Crowdmapping issues using the Maptastica tool shown in the map above was one of the elements featured in this week’s newsletter I write for on a Tuesday. This week’s also featured the slideshare below which can be used as a tutorial with guided groups during a webinar or face-to-face session to get started with n0tice.

n0tice – an introduction to what's available for community publishers from n0tice

Written by sarahhartley

July 21st, 2013 at 10:17 am

Hyperlocal first for The Met and other Local Gov Camp media stories

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Yesterday I was fortunate to attend the Local Government Camp in Birmingham – an unconference for people working in councils across the UK. It was a thoughtful and idea-provoking event which covered issues which I shall be taking a closer look at for The Guardian’s Local Government Network in the near future.

But there were also a few stories which came out of the day which had more of a journalism/media/hyperlocal bent which I’ll share here;

* Interesting to discover that The Met has just held it’s first webchat on a hyperlocal website. Talk About Local’s William Perrin told the session on hyperlocal publishing how he’d been approached to host the chat via his own website
On the site he explains:

“My site based in a once crime-ridden area is firmly pro police (two of our contributors have been on the Safer Neighbourhood Panel) and our commenters are of the non rabid variety. So for the police it was very much a carefully managed innovation risk.”

Conversations included discussion about the enforcement of 20mph zones, support for rough sleepers and youth provision.
Fostering a close working relationship between police forces and bloggers/independent publishers is something that I’ve seen in other towns and cities across the country not least in Manchester where @AmandaComms is often leading the agenda so it’s good to see the capital’s law enforcers also giving some validity to the importance of the hyperlocal/local/community sites. If your local Force is doing something similar, please feel free to share details via the comments below.

* Filming in council meetings. Following hot on the heels of the case of the blogger arrested for filming in the council chamber, Philip John of LichfieldLive hosted a debate on the for and against of such activity and has produced this interesting visualisation.
The subject of council newspapers also arose and it was interesting to hear viewpoints from the other side of the fence. From what I heard, the idea us journos have that the main benefit of these has more to do with propaganda and attempting to control the message than finance seems to hold true……you can listen to the discussion on John Popham’s video here.[youtube]  At the risk of opening up a hornet’s nest of a debate here, I am still left wondering if the time is right for a wider discussion about the issue of value-for-money advertising spending by councils and the cost-effectiveness of how that spending on important public information, for example public notices, is distributed in light of all the new tools and technologies available?

Away from #localgovcamp
For those that subscribe to it, it will be apparent that I have ceased publishing on The MancunianWay blog. I’ve left it a few months before taking the final deletion step to see whether it was the right thing to do and will be switching it off fully in a week or so. There’s two reasons for this decision – 1. now I’m a regular writer for The Northerner blog, the sort of stuff I used to post about Manchester and the city’s digital community (and now about MediaCityUK) will hopefully reach more people interested in those topics posted via The Guardian blog and 2. I’ve imported all the archive material into this blog so it’s easily retrievable here via the tag cloud.

And on that subject….I shall be blogging (for The Northerner) from The Impact of Media City conference tomorrow, the hashtag is #mediacityuk and the full agenda can be found here.

Written by sarahhartley

June 19th, 2011 at 6:02 pm

The downward slide of local government advertising spend

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It’s only one council (Manchester) but the direction of travel is clear.

Snapshot of advertising spend from a council Many Eyes

Figures revealed under the Freedom of Information Act show the extent of the drop in council spending on advertising in newspapers over the past three years.

The data shows;

* Trinity Mirror newspapers (MEN and associated weeklies) saw a less steep drop in revenue than the national press and took the lion’s share of the spend with £581,965.81 in 2009/10.

* Just two areas of advertising saw increased budgets over the period – outdoor advertising (billboards etc.) almost doubled from £65,096.04 in 2007/8 to £128, 427.33 in 2009/10 and digital advertising got a budget of £4,655 in the last year after previously having none.

* Online only recruitment advertising dropped to zero in 2009/10.

The full data set for this visualisation of advertising spend in £ is available here.

The figures were obtained by campaigner Zahid Hussain who is seeking to establish how decisions on advertising are made by the council. He has since submitted a further request for information .

Written by sarahhartley

May 3rd, 2011 at 8:21 am

Crain’s Manchester and Salford Star: Counting the cost of getting up people’s noses?

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It was sad, but perhaps not that surprising, to hear that Crain’s has finished its Manchester publication.

Sad, because it brought along with a specialised in-depth printed product, a decent website, regularly updated and with some free-to-air elements. Unsurprising, because of the overcrowded marketplace of the business niche in Manchester.

A statement posted on its website this morning explained

“While we have been pleased with the support received from Crain’s Manchester Business readers from the beginning of the project, ultimately the limited support from key advertising sectors has made the project unsustainable,” said Chris Crain, senior vice president, Crain Communications Inc. and editor-in-chief, Crain’s Manchester Business.

The Manchester based journalist David Quinn was quick to give some analysis to the demise of the title with five points which included the pertinent;

“I was told by contacts from time to time that they’d stopped talking to Crain’s, supposedly because the paper had messed up some story or other. But from what I could see Crain’s very rarely got things wrong, it just printed things that others either missed or ignored. This got up people’s noses.”

……..and in a seamless link to another publication which is often accused of getting up people’s noses, the Salford Star today had its appeal hearing against the loss of funding by the devolved community committee of Salford Council deferred. I’ve already posted at length on this at The Guardian and the Star is due to release its statement on the ongoing saga tomorrow.

Written by sarahhartley

June 22nd, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Data reveals big increase in Manchester’s empty properties


A recent Freedom of Information request has unearthed new figures which show that the number of empty properties in Manchester has topped 9,000.

In my previous blog post, the question of how many properties lie empty across the city arose when a member of the audience at the Future Everything city debate claimed there were 4,000 in the city centre.

After a bit of rummaging around, it seems that was well off the mark – in fact the most recent figures show there are more than 9,000 properties (9,406 to be exact) across all the wards which have been empty for six months or more.

See here for the interactive breakdown by ward which shows the number of vacant domestic properties, notified to the Council’s Revenues and Benefits Unit in each of the 32 wards, of Manchester City Council as at 16 April 2010, which at that time had been vacant for 6 months or more.

And that’s a 50% increase since the MEN reported just three months before in February that there were 6,000 empty properties.

It should be noted that the way the ward boundaries are drawn makes it difficult to extract a figure of “city centre” as most people living there would consider it – for example, Ancoats and Clayton covers Rochdale and Oldham Road and Hulme covers the apartments on the Chester Road side of Mancunian Way.The ward defined as ‘city centre’ for these figures is a tight area which takes in Piccadilly.

The data I used for the visualisation above came from a Manchester City Council response to a Freedom of Information request from Andrew Boyd for specific address information about vacant homes which was rejected by the council’s Revenues Contracts and Compliance Manager Dave Holden , on the basis that the level of detail would;

  • The risk that publication would prejudice the prevention of crime by releasing information as to vacant domestic properties to the world at large, leading to the likely targeting of these vacant properties by those engaged in illegal drug use, gang activity, arson, vandalism, theft and anti-social behaviour;
  • The risk that publication of this information to the world at large would lead to increased anxiety and fear of crime amongst residents of adjacent properties as a result of the likely targeting of vacant properties by those engaged in criminal and anti-social behaviour;
  • The risk that publication of this information could undermine efforts by the Council, other housing providers and owners to bring empty domestic properties back into re-use in order to improve local communities and reduce crime and vandalism in areas where properties have been left empty and in a poor state of repair.

But even without the additional information regarding specific streets or apartment blocks, the release of the data provides an up-to-date insight into the ongoing issue and should provide a useful way of tracking the changes to the number vacant properties in the city going forward.

Written by sarahhartley

May 24th, 2010 at 11:45 am

Radio show features blogger’s Twitter ban

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The case of the blogger who’s been excluded from reporting live from Tameside Council has now been the focus of local radio attention.

Tameside Radio featured the case of Liam Billington (TamesideEye), which I first blogged about at The Guardian on Monday, and have released the following three audio clips – first Liam, then director of the think-tank POLIS, Charlie Beckett gives his reaction, followed by a statement read out on behalf of the council.

1. Twitter – Liam Billington

2. Charlie Beckett’s reaction

3. Tameside Council state their position ………and say they are now considering Liam’s request to tweet.
Broadcaster Andy Hoyle reads the Council’s statement.

As soon as I hear the outcome of that request, I’ll share it here although the wider issue which still stands here is whether the council (or any council) has the right to stop anyone tweeting from a public meeting.

Written by sarahhartley

March 11th, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Tameside Council’s Twitter response


As I’ve blogged at The Guardian today, Tameside Council has started an ‘accreditation’ system for professional journalists who apply to tweet from council meetings.

In the interests of transparency, the full text of the questions I asked and the council’s reply are posted below;

Inquiry to the council first submitted March 1;

I’m looking at how journalists are using Twitter to cover council meetings and am told that you don’t allow this at present. I’d be grateful if you’d give me a little further information on this;

  • First, and most importantly, is it true that the council has banned the use of Twitter during council meetings?

If so,

  • Is this for journalists? Councillors? Members of the public?
  • Does the restriction only apply to Twitter – i.e. can other forms of instant messaging, micro-blogging still be used.
  • What’s the reason for the ban and on what grounds is it made?
  • What steps will be taken to enforce the ban?
  • The reply from the council sent on March 5:

    The Council does not have a specific policy concerning twitter at its meetings but follows the legislation governing the conduct of Council meetings and in particular the recording and transmitting of meetings which are set out in Section 100 (A)(7) of the Local Government Act 1972. Below is a link to relevant part of 1972 Act:

    Under the 1972 Act there is no right to attend a council meeting and make a transmission of the meeting whilst it is taking place, or to make recordings of any meeting, this applies to all Local Authorities.  Therefore the Council is obliged to consider specific requests to use media such as ‘twitter’. Following requests the Council has authorised the Manchester Evening News, Tameside Advertiser and Tameside Reporter to use twitter in each of the Council meetings they have requested to do so, as duly accredited representatives of the press, as defined in the Local Government Act 1972.  Examples of the ‘twitter’ which has taken place at Tameside Council meetings are at the following links:

    As you can see the Council allows the use of ‘twitter’ during Council meetings by duly accredited representatives of the press as part of its commitment to increasing involvement in the democratic process.  Given that the Council does allow duly accredited representatives of the press to use twitter to cover Council meetings I have not addressed your further questions which are based on the assumption that the Council has banned the use of ‘twitter’.

    I’d be interested to hear if any other bloggers have encountered similar issues with access to public meetings.

Written by sarahhartley

March 8th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Ooops! I’ve been censored


Now I know what it feels like to be moderated. And it feels strange.

In many years of commenting on blogs and websites, I don’t think I’ve ever fallen foul of someone’s social media policy.

I could understand if I’d been ranting, using foul language, making libellous accusations or any number of things that I’ve suspended reader’s comments for on newspaper websites.

But I’m at something of a loss about where I’ve slipped up here by posting the following wording onto this article (using my full name and The Guardian as location);

Hi, am interested to see you feature this story but thought it might be helpful to point out to your readers that the ban did not only apply to councillors, but also to members of the press and public who may have wanted to communicate matters of interest from what was this very important meeting. As you maybe aware from our coverage last week, our own journalist in Leeds, beatblogger John Baron who tweets @GdnLeeds, was also prevented from updating our readers.

Hopefully we can work together to ensure the freedom to cover important events like this in the future.

Revisiting the page, I see that’s been removed and in its place, in very schoolteacher-ish red font, are the words “comment reported unsuitable by user”.

Did I miss the clause in the TsandCs about not joining the conversation and sending messages to fellow journalists over an issue of shared concern?

Written by sarahhartley

March 4th, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Council coverage in local newspapers: Update


The project I started  in an attempt to benchmark the current state of play for the reporting of local councils has been running for a few months now, so it seemed timely to give an update.

I decided to look at this issue, using the HelpMeInvestigate tools, following the furore around this issue last year, and especially in response the vociferous comments on Roy Greenslade’s blog where readers were claiming their local papers didn’t carry out this type of bread-and-butter reporting any more.

It didn’t reflect my experience of working on regional and local papers, but I wanted to find out more by involving people from different parts of the country to widen pool of knowledge.

Sadly, the results so far don’t show a very healthy situation at those newspapers which have been analysed, with many seemingly pushing out local authority press releases or inserting the ‘usual suspect’ councillor quotes into stories which originate elsewhere.

Not all of the 31 people who’ve signed up to take part in this project have come to their conclusions yet, so perhaps it’s early days (or I’m an optimist!) but here’s the story so far with the first ten results submitted;

In alphabetical order and with a quote which I felt summed up what were often long, thoughtful posts from the participants;

  • It seemed that the investigation at The Banbury Cake found it hard to find much news of any type, never mind council news. Perhaps a worthy subject for a different kind of case study for having quite so much advertising in this climate!  “News coverage is by no means extensive, and although within the small space given to news, there are some council stories, they are either adapted from other group titles, or appear to be taken from press releases (not necessarily council press releases, but from other organisations who may have been involved with a council-run or funded scheme).
  • Birmingham Post, Mail and Sunday Mercury proved to be a mixed bag. The weekly Sunday paper didn’t prove to carry much council coverage (Just one story) although that’s perhaps not too surprising given it’s off-diary raison d’etre. In general, Paul Bradshaw’s initial impressions included; “There is actually a reasonable amount of the news ‘hole’ that refers to the council in some way,  however, almost none of the coverage is direct reportage, or clearly comes out of a council meeting or report” although this weekend he analysed a further two editions of the Mail and noted one 12 page edition with no council stories present.
  • The Cotswold Journal appeared to be suffering from the pressures of having a large geographic area and a small staff when the coverage was analysed leading to the conclusion; “Hence a reliance on press releases or short, less detailed, stories. Where there are longer stories, human interest seems to be a factor – profiles are popular. Often, the council perspective seems to be a last minute insertion or an extra quote, rather than being the nub of the story.”
  • I looked at the Darlington and Stockton Times and found it to be rude health as far as local council coverage goes. Being a regular reader, I can conclude that council coverage and council stories regularly make the big stories – often to the annoyance of the local authorities involved.
  • The Lancashire Evening Post didn’t fare quite so well with little direct council coverage found and a lack of questioning arising in the comments, leading Ed Walker to the conclusion. “Like others I’ve been finding there is little reporting of council meetings, more stories are created from council press releases and then a few quotes from councillors. It’s also not clear when these councillors were saying these quotes, although the councillors title and ward are always attached.”
  • The Oxford Times proved to do a lot of local health authority stories and provided a good service in a lot of areas but the analysis found it fell down on the local council: “We were slightly surprised by the findings, as we had been fairly confident that a newspaper of The Oxford Times’ size and status would contain a good amount of council coverage.”
  • The Stratford-upon-Avon Herald showed itself to be strong on both the quality and quantity of council reporting with the investigator concluding: “There is a distinct feeling with this edition of the Herald at least, that this local newspaper and its readers recognise the role of local councils and aren’t afraid to write about them.”
  • Sussex Express and The Argus were studied over four weeks by journalist Chie Elliot who found results in line with her expectations – about 4% of the content produced being council news (Note:the method of calculation used has provoked further debate, see full posting for more on this). She concludes; “When editors are under pressure to publish stories that sell papers (i.e. gore, crime, deaths, scandals) and move circulation figures upwards, stories about local government decisions, which are not controversial enough to stir a strong response from the reader, are likely to be given lower priority, or, might, at most, end up as a nib (news in brief) in a spare corner of the page.”
  • The Wilts and Glocs Standard didn’t impress too much and, although there were quite a few mentions of councils and councillors (press releases?), the whole package lead the journalist scrutinising it to conclude: “There is little evidence, as far as I can see, of monitoring council meetings or writing more in-depth pieces about local politics.”
  • The Whitney Gazette likewise appeared to be suffering from staff shortages as far as the journalist assessing it could tell, sadly concluding: “We did think that there might be a higher level of WODC (the local council) coverage in the paper, as the district council is based in Witney itself, and is a major employer in the town. But the Witney office is only open for fairly limited hours, and presumably there aren’t the staff in Oxford available to trek out to cover district council meetings.”

Outside of the work on HelpMeInvestigate, local democracy and access to that information continues to be under the newspaper spotlight in the north west.

And away from the mainstream media organisations, the push to open more data and democratise town halls continues apace in towns and cities up and down the UK, so it looks as if the reporting of local decision-making will continue to be a hot issue in 2010.

If you want to join this HMI project, sign up here. If you’ve any news about the reporting of local authorities please feel free to share it in the comments below or contact me direct,