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Why to give a shit about World Toilet Day #wecantwait

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Today is World Toilet Day. If that’s something you haven’t come across before, let me share a few details with you here as it’s a topic that’s becoming increasingly urgent.

If you’d told me this time last year, I’d be blogging about bogs, well, I’d have doubted you to say the least, but various things have happened during 2014 that have brought this issue into sharp relief. Even if they hadn’t, just seeing the dreadful sanitation in areas suffering with Ebola should surely be enough to make even the least interested person sit up and be thankful for their cushioned toilet roll.

Like most people in the UK, toilets are something I take for granted. The fact that we can all have one at home, that we don’t really think about every flush – these things have always been present in my lifetime. But in many places that’s still an unachievable luxury, which is why the United Nations Development Goals includes a sanitation resolution calling for an end to what is termed ‘open defecation’.

You don’t need to dwell too long on those words to grasp their meaning and, shockingly, a huge 2.5 million people do not have access to the most basic of toilets and so are forced ‘elsewhere’.

It’s an issue that has been high on agenda for some of the journalists and activists I’ve been fortunate to work with this year.

At, our lead story this month also takes a look at this issue. In his piece, The world’s biggest problem and how to fix it, journalist Sam Hailes talks about the activities of fledgling philanthropists Adam and Pete James who discover the dirty truth about this great need.

“We thought we might end up on transport or building roads,” Adam says referencing The West Wing, “but actually that’s not the most significant contributing factor to global poverty. There are bigger pieces to the puzzle. The scale and the value we would add to trying to solve that, is minimal. Clean, safe toilets is where we landed.”

On top of preventing poverty and ending violence to women, Adam believes clean, safe toilets can also provide jobs and even education.

“If we deliver dignity, which is part of what a toilet does to that community, can we also deliver the dignity of business to women? Is there a way of building that into what we’re doing?”

That impact on the lives of women and girls is an aspect that another writer, Emma Jayne addressed back in June in the UNDP sponsored issue for that month. In an article titled Toilets save lives, she raised fears that the current target will be missed by the organisation and added:

“Toilets have many other benefits too, particularly for girls and women. Many girls end up missing up to a week of school a month when they start menstruating as there is nowhere to change or dispose of sanitary protection. This means they often fall behind in their work and more likely to drop out of education. 1 in 10 African girls do not attend school during menstruation, or drop out at puberty because of the lack of clean and private sanitation facilities in schools, according to research by UNICEF.

The simple act of building a toilet can have huge implications for their future. Toilets also help protect women and girls from violence. When they are out seeking somewhere to defecate after dark. they are vulnerable to sexual assault and also from attacks by wild animals.”

This isn’t only an issue for remote rural outposts with little infrastructure. A group of activists I’ve recently come across while doing media training work in South Africa are busy tracking the public toilets issue for their township near Cape Town – a place that needs no introduction as a major city, tourist destination and business centre.

And when I say ‘public toilets’, let’s be clear, these aren’t facilities for people caught short while out of the home – these are the ONLY facilities, shared in communities without access to home toilets.

The organisation Ndifuna Ukwazi has carried out an audit of the toilets in Khyaelitsha – they are dirty, they are broken and they are unsafe. They produced the video at the top of this page and also this data rich map looking at every facility.

You’ll be hearing more about their work in the coming months too……

But for now, when you flush today, spare a thought on World Toilet Day for those who really can’t (and shouldn’t have to) wait.

* Follow news about the day on Twitter @worldtoiletday and via the hashtag #wecantwait.

Written by sarahhartley

November 19th, 2014 at 7:15 am

Welcome to the new How-do – meet Prolific North

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Launched today, this new website looks to fill the hole left by the closure of How Do. It’s the latest publishing venture from How-Do’s Nick Jaspan and reflects the thriving media scene here in the north.

Prolific North will become the destination for news, informed opinion, features and of course as much gossip and rumour as you can take about the comings and goings of creative and media companies in the North and their key staff.

In the coming months we will be offering a growing range of support services, enhancing our core news operation and jobs board, launching an innovative classified marketplace, partnering institutions on management development and training and creating a broad spectrum of events and industry initiatives to entertain and inform our readership.

Stories today include news about MCFC’s tweeting fans and BBC5 Live appointments. With so much happening in northern media just now it’s sure to be interesting times.

Take a look here:

Written by sarahhartley

January 14th, 2013 at 7:50 am

Experiment: News from your local town via mobile

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I made a thing…..

I’d like to think that when I use those four words in the subject line of emails it provokes a little spark of interest in my colleagues (possibly they just evoke a fearful uhoh!) but this time I’ll try it out on you.

The latest ‘thing’ I’ve messed with is an experiment to distribute news from the north into the mobile space using some of the tools available at the platform I’m working with,

It means that any mobile phone user who has the app downloaded will discover the news headlines and links from their local newspaper to click straight through to the provider to find out the full story, explore their site etc.

It runs off the news organisation’s public RSS feeds with the addition of geo-tagging to the town or city where it is based so – a person walking around Manchester will be able to serendipitously receive news from the MEN, in Newcastle the Journal, Sheffield The Star and so on.

The content is created via the app and then fed into an online noticeboard which becomes the way the stories are ultimately accessed via a mobile site, Android app or iPhone app.

All of the content can be seen in one go at this noticeboard although it’s unlikely that anyone (perhaps with the exception of journalists for monitoring purposes) would want to view it in that rather random way. Instead, it really is intended for mobile discovery where the location of the user provides the context.
You can download the apps to test it out here – android, iPhone.
Once logged in you can set your location and see all that’s been geotagged around you (notices) or restrict to everything via the Northerner noticeboard (boards).
A few things I learned from doing it:

  • some news sites make it really difficult to hunt down the RSS feeds – why? They’re the building blocks for people to make things which have the potential to find new audiences.
  • it wasn’t possible to tag the stories to the locations mentioned in the copy due to a lack of geo-tagging at source. This is an area I’m working with on a few different projects (including augmented reality) and one which I’d be interested to hear from anyone looking to incorporate it in their regular journalism work or content management systems.
  • The feeds currently included are: The Guardian’s Northerner blog, MEN, Middlesbrough Gazette, Newcastle Chronicle, Liverpool Echo, Lancashire Evening Post, Yorkshire Evening Post, Carlisle News and Star, York Press, Sheffield Star, Northern Echo.
  • should it include local blogs? Any newsy-based bloggers out there who’d like to be included, please give me a shout and I’ll add you in. Likewise, anyone currently included who would rather not have their content exposed to a mobile audience – just let me know and I’ll drop it out. It’s an experiment, I don’t want to annoy anyone.

If you’d like a similar thing for your own blog or website – basically it’s like having your own mobile app – the tools used are available to all here and I’m on hand to offer some help or advice if needed.

Written by sarahhartley

January 11th, 2013 at 8:13 am

2013: What’s on the cards for media in the north


Starting the year with a look at what could be in store for the media in the north during 2013.

Picture from last month’s Bradford Animation Festival by the National Media Museum on Flickr.



Good news for Media City?
Of course it was too much to hope for. I had thought we might get all the way into the new year without a knocking story about Media City appearing in the nationals but then this arrived from The Telegraph.

Now I don’t have any problem with the investigation into costs – although I personally don’t see why a single penny needs to be paid out to persuade people to move north when there’s so much talent already here – it’s a fair enough question to ask on behalf of us licence fee payers.

But what I did find startling was the quote attributed to the Angie Bray, a Conservative member of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee (bolding mine):

I can’t help feeling that Salford is an expensive box- ticking exercise. I absolutely understand that the BBC feels the need to demonstrate that they are not entirely London-centric but the fact is the programming from Salford is not as good and it is costing an awful lot of money.

Apart from showing a lack of understanding of long-term costs, where does the evidence for this ‘fact’ come from? How is the quality of programming gauged exactly? Whatever your view on the BBC’s new home, having MPs of any party making unexplained judgements of opinion on the quality of programming and presenting them as fact is something we should all be wary of.

Although I haven’t written so much about Media City recently, I remain an avid follower of all that happens there and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a little rush of pride when the announcers say ‘produced in Salford’ or ‘going over to our Salford studio’. Now the site itself looks more established, as well as the general public being more aware thanks to the regular credits, here’s hoping the knocking stage of its evolution is now over.

New look websites and apps for many northern newspapers
Trinity Mirror, which runs the websites for many big city titles including the Manchester Evening News and The Journal is rolling out a new look and new functionality after a launch in Birmingham in October. The new versions reportedly include built-in live blog technology, better presentation of picture galleries and video, and a new hyperlocal section called In Your Area – more on that here.

Meanwhile, Johnston Press gets app-y with titles including The Yorkshire Post, The Sheffield Star and The Sunderland Echo. Developed by Pagesuite Ltd, all 18 titles will also launch Android versions which will work on devices including the new Amazon Kindle Fire, the Google Nexus 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab.Alex Gubbay, Director Digital Platforms, said: “The range of more affordable tablet devices now available is expanding rapidly. Our new iPad and Android apps allow us to tap into this growing trend and learn how best to offer users the best from their local title in a more dynamic, convenient way.

The Skinny on its way to the north west
The crowded cultural sector of Manchester and Liverpool is just about to get even busier as Scottish publisher The Skinny prepares to set up shop. Currently seeking various editorial positions (including editor) the magazine will hope the independent stance which has made it a must-read for Edinburgh will travel across the border. Longtime followers of this blog might remember that we’ve been here before…….

High praise for north east weekly paper
The Teesdale Mercury, ‘the voice of Teesdale since 1854′, newspaper found itself in line for praise by MPs discussing the future of he local press. It reports that Helen Goodman, Shadow Minister for Media and Communications, said: “Notwithstanding whatever marvellous local newspapers honourable members have, none could be better than the inestimable Teesdale Mercury.”

All change for The Guardian in the north
The irrepressible Martin Wainwright is today replaced by new Northern Editor Helen Pidd who takes on the mammoth task of walking in the outgoing Northern editor’s shoes. As anyone who has had the pleasure of working with, or even just following his writing knows, Martin will be a hard act to follow as a tireless champion of the north against the increasing London-centricity of the national media. He writes more here:

For most of my time, and during my 37 years at the Guardian which will finish at the end of March, my method has been to get as much about the north into the paper as possible. In recent years, that has changed with the move to digital-first and the chance to try new ways of coverage such as the Northerner. I have loved this, as a way of using the resources of the north to describe and discuss the north; more than 200 people have contributed posts in the 22 months since we changed from a weekly email to daily blogging.

A fond farewell to Martin – and a warm welcome to Helen for 2013.


Written by sarahhartley

January 1st, 2013 at 10:12 am

#ukgc12 UK Gov Camp day one: A day of fun and thoughtfulness

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Picture by Sharon O'Dea:

The annual unconference for people interested in the way digital tools and technologies can help provide better government services, UK Gov Camp 12, got underway yesterday.

It was an interesting day and inspiring to meet so many enthusiastic and dedicated people who really want to change things – a view of public servants not often thrust into the limelight.

I created this collection of links, tweets, pix, videos and observations from the day using the so-lo-mo platform I’m involved in,

It started as a live blog in the morning but I’ve since added items of interest which I’ve seen in other places in an attempt to capture some of the themes of the day through the eyes of those who were there, plus some of my own input.

I hope it’s useful, if you have links or other content you’d like to see there, please feel free to add to it. (If you’re not yet a member of, you can use this invite code to join:

Listening to many of the conversations yesterday, and particularly the afternoon session about the challenges faced in disseminating relevant news, it struck me that there’s shift in approach being discussed in many quarters, a move away from that traditional  PR route of issuing press releases or relying on established relationships with a handful of journalists.

The new opportunities offered through networks enabled by digital technologies are now becoming apparent in all aspects of comms work and it got me thinking about how a geo-based news platform like might be able to fit into that landscape. I’d be delighted to continue those thoughts and discussions with any Gov Campers – drop me a line at – there’s also more about on the blog, on twitter @n0tice or on Facebook.

Written by sarahhartley

January 21st, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Build your own newsroom – software for independent publishers

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Open source media organisation Sourcefabric has been in touch tonight with news of a new software called Superdesk which it’s starting work on.

It’s something that could be of interest to independent publishers, as well as larger news organisations, so I’ve posted their release below – I’d like to hear from anyone who tries it out too.

“Superdesk’s aim is to allow news organisations to build flexible, scalable newsrooms and deliver content to any available platform. Superdesk has been nominated as a finalist in the Ashoka Changemakers Citizen Media Innovation award.
The tool’s core principle is “create once, publish everywhere” (COPE). Using APIs and content management, Superdesk allows newsrooms to pull in information from newswires, RSS, tools like InDesign, and social media and then output to web, mobile, radio, TV, and print. Forward planning calendars, source and data management and revenue components allow newsrooms to structure, prioritise and monetise their content.

Superdesk’s central paradigm will be the web, but it will be able to deliver on any platform, any device, anywhere, anytime,” said Sava Tatić, managing director at Sourcefabric. “Flexibility is key. Rather than trying to build a tool made for everyone’s newsroom, we are making a tool that everyone can build their newsroom upon.”

Superdesk’s lead consultant is David Brewer a media strategist who has consulted on newsrooms for Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN and ITV. “It’s a dream come true for me,” he said. “Superdesk could become the publication tool of choice for all who want to deliver content to multiple devices and a massive boost to the establishing of independent media.”

Work on the project has already begun, with prototype features already benefiting newspapers like the new print-online hybrid TagesWoche in Switzerland. TagesWoche is using Print Desk, which brings print and online processes into one workflow, and Feed Ingest, which integrates external newswire feeds into the editorial process. Both features will make it into the first Superdesk release, due in Summer 2012.

For more information visit:

Written by sarahhartley

November 9th, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Mediafabric, afternoon sessions: Whistleblowing and Gaddafi plus content factories with the Superdesk

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Notes taken during the afternoon sessions of the Mediafabric journalism conference in Prague. Follow it via the hashtag #mediafab

Ex M15 intelligence office Annie Machon said mistakes were made and people were able to lie in respect of N Ireland. The group backed in Libya in 1996 is the same one which overthrew Gaddafi. David Shayler was briefed about an operation by MI6. In 1996, heard reports of explosions in Libya – turned out that was no legal clearance for the activity which resulted in the deaths of citizens but not the target – Gadaffi. They resigned and decided to blow the whistle.

Flew back with a lawyer for Liberty. Was put on police bail for six months. She packed up and went to live with Shayler in France. Eventual court case – judge accepted that Shayler didn’t put lives at risk but press coverage made it sound the opposite.

MI5 employs ‘agents of influence’ in media organisations – spin stories, kills them divert attention. What should whistleblowers do? Apart from legal situation, difficult to know who to trust. Dangerous as well because the journalist could see the story as career-making. If Annie was at M15 now she would be tempted to go to wikileaks or an org of that ilk. No source has ever been outed by a failure of the technology.

Final speaker today is David Brewer – omnipresent news the content factory approach. Working on projects about freedom of expression in countries where that is difficult. In a lot of areas the mainstream got lazy and the bloggers became the real journalists. The reason for that is the ‘publish at’ model. That model is dead. The ‘engage with on our terms’ model is in its death throes. Social media has come along and pricked our bubble. Now in the ‘participate in’ model the “let loose to hold tight model”.

Building a content system to help a ‘superdesk’ a central desk where decisions are made. In Vietnam its done by screens.

It’s an intake and output process – a simple workflow model which takes from the Superdesk to the production desk and back.

Converged newsroom model with desk heads facing out from the decision desk into their teams.

Building a Superdesk is not costly, not disruptive. Stories will be more rewarding, there maybe less of them but they will be fine-tuned and more likely to resonate with audiences.

* These notes were compiled using the beta version of – if you’d like an invite to use the social local mobile community noticeboard too – sign up for an invite.

Written by sarahhartley

October 21st, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Mediafabric conference, Prague on Friday, October 21

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I’m talking about the challenges for the future of UK hyperlocal media over in Prague tomorrow at an event which looks like a fascinating mix of journalism from around the world.

Alongside my tales of dog poo, democracy and the hunt for digital revenues (in which readers of this blog are well-versed) there are nine other ‘visual essays’ looking at diverse aspects of journalism.

I intend to blog here from the other talks as much as possible so check back if these topics interest you:

  •  Exposing the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan. Speaker: Chris Woods
  •  New forms of journalism in Asia. Speaker: Kunda Dixit
  •  New business models for digital entrepeneurs. Speaker: James Breiner
  •  Hypermedia for a hyperconnected world. Speaker: Leo Prieto
  •  Screen-scraping Latin American media. Speaker: Mariano Blejman
  •  Citizens vs. Governments in Latin America: the impact of social networks in the political landscape. Speaker: Luis Manuel Botello
  •  The future of intelligence, whistleblowing and journalism. Speaker: Annie Machon
  •  Omnipresent news, the content factory approach. Speaker: David Brewer

Link to the conference site here.

* I’ll round-up from the day on this blog but will also post updates during the day at,(the social/local/mobile noticeboard project I’m working on) so if you’re one of the beta users, search for Prague. If you’d like to be one of the beta users – sign up for an invite!

Written by sarahhartley

October 20th, 2011 at 4:44 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

Cannibals, manure and mongrels: Thoughts on local media


Jeremy Hunt’s BIG IDEA of local TV across the UK doesn’t seen to have many fans does it?

Of those groups who might be expected to relish the chance to produce local, even hyperlocal, television content there appears to be a universal ‘no thanks’ in evidence.

On the one hand there’s community publishers and independents who want some support to produce local content – but primarily on cheap to produce web tv and rather than via the transmitter infrastructure proposed.

Then there’s the other world where mainstream media is being offered the ‘opportunity’ for multi-platform publishing but is struggling financially, risk averse and still seemingly licking the wounds of digital disruption.

Who is going to do this local TV?

One member of the audience at today’s Westminster Media Forum described the proposal as: “Channel 5 meets regional newspaper mutant half-breed” at an event where, as Robert Andrews posted on PaidContent earlier, ”panelists lined up to unload their scepticism”

The debate around this issue dealt mostly with the big media end of the experience by giving a trot through of what Hunt’s proposal, the Shott report and Claire Enders have previously concluded on the issue.

But also represented at the forum were some men from the financial world and I listened carefully to what they had to say……which can be briefly summed up as, there’s no money in it.

Is there a sustainable business model without subsidy? No-one seemed to think so and one of the biggest regional publishers Johnson Press’ chief executive John Fry, even suggested that ‘subsidy’ was something of a dirty word, somehow devaluing any proposition by being “out of tune with current mood music” .

Is there revenue opportunity from advertising? Yes, but only if media orgs cannibalise their existing advertising to the new platforms. The money men didn’t seem to think there was enough new revenue to be pulled in – no shiny pony to ride after digging through the manure to use the most memorable metaphor of the day.

So, who is going to do this local TV?

Written by sarahhartley

January 26th, 2011 at 4:25 pm