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Archive for the ‘helpmeinvestigate’ tag

Five take-aways from the #solomoDEN event

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Data visualisation of New York's 311 service showing city's concerns by the hour

The #solomoDEN event in Salford Quays was an opportunity to hear about projects, research and initiatives in the area of social-local-mobile journalism.

I attended to talk about a GMG project I’m involved with called which has these ideas at its heart to produce an online/mobile noticeboard (and if anyone would like an invite please drop your email here or via the comments below).

Here’s my pick of the other talks;

1. World Newsmedia Innovation Study.
There’s a lot of information in these 130 pages, 100 data sets compiled by 500 respondents in 11 languages. The aspect that caught my eye was the plans that news organisations have around developing new businesses and this mysterious finding: “While mobile phones, e-readers and social media remain the top propescts in 2011, responses show that managers are generally less enthusiastic about these opportunities than in 2010.” The full report is being being available to download at the website.

2. Help me Investigate networks.
The collaborative website that helps people investigate issues of shared concern has recently refined the proposition into various strands including health, welfare and education.

Help Me Investigate: Networks

Currently Paul is calling on interested bloggers to get involved in a Help Me Investigate health project looking at some of the data on GP surgeries’ patient list numbers. More on that here:

3. Sky in Tyne and Wear.
It was fascinating to hear from Simon Bucks about the video journalism experiment going on in the north east. The unease from local newspaper editors in the room was palpable as he described how a team of 13 journalists including nine dedicated video journalists were starting work in a patch chosen for its sporting enthusiasim and clear sense of self-identity.

As well as the original content that large team is producing, the broadcaster is also encouraging submitted video and self-serve events listings in the locality. One to watch.

4. Launch of Media and Digital Enterprise (Made).
The UK Winner of last year’s Google IPI award for news innovation was officially launched in a low key event at the end of the main sessions. Any budding news entrepreneur looking to develop a business involving data journalism should find this music to their ears – mentoring, software and support on offer. Simply add your details to the form before March 31 [Disclosure: I am involved in delivering some of the training support].

5. Open data cities 
A typically barnstorming finale from Greg Hadfield inspired the audience into thinking about data and the role of local journalists in not just acquiring data for stories but being the facilitators for city-level conversations. A whole new way of interacting with the citizens formally known as readers.

It was not just a great talk, it was a rallying cry to those of us who value data journalism to think about how we can collaborate to make such things happen. Anyone?

* There’s also more information at this live blog by Daniel Bentley  and this blog post from Caroline Beavon. Feel free to drop any other links to coverage in the comments below.

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,