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May 10 2013

09:06

Free ebook: Citizen Video – training and engaging citizens in video journalism

Videographer Franzi Baehrle has published an ebook documenting lessons in delivering video training to non-journalists.

The ebook was part of her final project for the MA Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, and based on her experiences of working with communities online and offline in Birmingham, with the Guardian Media Group’s n0tice project, the Birmingham Mail’s digital team, and independently.

I forgot to blog about it at the time it was published last Autumn, but better late than never: it’s an excellent piece of work, and well worth reading.

09:06

Free ebook: Citizen Video – training and engaging citizens in video journalism

Videographer Franzi Baehrle has published an ebook documenting lessons in delivering video training to non-journalists.

The ebook was part of her final project for the MA Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, and based on her experiences of working with communities online and offline in Birmingham, with the Guardian Media Group’s n0tice project, the Birmingham Mail’s digital team, and independently.

I forgot to blog about it at the time it was published last Autumn, but better late than never: it’s an excellent piece of work, and well worth reading.

November 30 2010

15:00

CCTV spending by councils/how many police officers would that pay? – statistics in context

News organisations across the country will today be running stories based on a report by Big Brother Watch into the amount spent on CCTV surveillance by local authorities (PDF). The treatment of this report is a lesson in how journalists approach figures, and why context is more important than raw figures.

BBC Radio WM, for example, led this morning on the fact that Birmingham topped the table of spending on CCTV. But Birmingham is the biggest local authority in the UK by some distance, so this fact alone is not particularly newsworthy – unless, of course, you omit this fact or allow anyone from the council to point it out (ahem).

Much more interesting was the fact that the second biggest spender was Sandwell – also in the Radio WM region. Sandwell spent half as much as Birmingham – but its population is only a third the size of its neighbour. Put another way, Sandwell spent 80% more per head of population than Birmingham on CCTV (£18 compared to Birmingham’s £10 per head).

Being on a deadline wasn’t an issue here: that information took me only a few minutes to find and work out.

The Press Association’s release on the story focused on the Birmingham angle too – taking the Big Brother Watch statements and fleshing them out with old quotes from those involved in the last big Birmingham surveillance story – the Project Champion scheme – before ending with a top ten list of CCTV spenders.

The Daily Mail, which followed a similar line, at least managed to mention that some smaller authorities (Woking and Breckland) had spent rather a lot of money considering their small populations.

How many police officers would that pay for?

A few outlets also repeated the assertions on how many nurses or police officers the money spent on surveillance would have paid for.

The Daily Mail quoted the report as saying that “The price of providing street CCTV since 2007 would have paid for more than 13,500 police constables on starting salaries of just over £23,000″. The Birmingham Mail, among others, noted that it would have paid the salaries of more than 15,000 nurses.

And here we hit a second problem.

The £314m spent on CCTV since 2007 would indeed pay for 13,500 police officers on £23,000 – but only for one year. On an ongoing basis, it would have paid the wages of 4,500 police officers (it should also be pointed out that the £314m figure only covered 336 local authorities – the CCTV spend of those who failed to respond would increase this number).

Secondly, wages are not the only cost of employment, just as installation is not the only cost of CCTV. The FOI request submitted by Big Brother Watch is a good example of this: not only do they ask for installation costs, but operation and maintenance costs, and staffing costs – including pension liabilities and benefits.

There’s a great ‘Employee True Cost Calculator‘ on the IT Centa website which illustrates this neatly: you have to factor in national insurance, pension contributions, overheads and other costs to get a truer picture.

Don’t blame Big Brother Watch

Big Brother Watch’s report is a much more illuminating, and statistically aware, read than the media coverage. Indeed, there’s a lot more information about Sandwell Council’s history in this area which would have made for a better lead story on Radio WM, juiced up the Birmingham Mail report, or just made for a decent story in the Express and Star (which instead simply ran the PA release).

There’s also more about spending per head, comparisons between councils of different sizes, and between spending on other things*, and spending on maintenance, staffing (where Sandwell comes top) and new cameras – but it seems most reporters didn’t look beyond the first page, and the first name on the leaderboard.

It’s frustrating to see news organisations pass over important stories such as that in Sandwell for the sake of filling column inches and broadcast time with the easiest possible story to write. The result is a homogenous and superficial product: a perfect example of commodified news.

I bet the people at Big Brother Watch are banging their heads on their desks to see their digging reported with so little depth. And I think they could learn something from Wikileaks on why that might be: they gave it to all the media at the same time.

Wikileaks learned a year ago that this free-to-all approach reduced the value of the story, and consequently the depth with which it was reported. But by partnering with one news organisation in each country Wikileaks not only had stories treated more seriously, but other news organisations chasing new angles jealously.

*While we’re at it, the report also points out that the UK spends more on CCTV per head than 38 countries do on defence, and 5 times more in total than Uganda spends on health. “UK spends more on CCTV than Bangladesh does on defence” has a nice ring to me. That said, those defence spending figures turn out to be from 2004 and earlier, and so are not exactly ideal (Wolfram Alpha is a good place to get quick stats like this – and suggests a much higher per capita spend)

October 10 2010

07:24

Local newspaper data journalism – school admissions in Birmingham

data journalism at the Birmingham Mail - school admissions data

The Birmingham Mail has been trying its hand at data journalism with school admissions data. It’s a good place to start - the topic attracts a lot of interest (and so justifies the investment of time) while people tend to be interested in more than just who finishes top and bottom of the tables (justifying the choice of medium).

The results are impressive. Applications data is plotted on a Google map on the main page, while an “interactive chart” page allows you to compare schools across various criteria, and also narrow the sample by selecting from two drop down menus (town and school).

The charts have been made in Tableau, which includes a download link at the bottom. However, you need Tableau itself (free, but PC only) to open it.

A further page features links to tables for each area. Sadly, the pages containing tables do not contain any link to the raw data. This presents an extra hurdle to users – although you can scrape the table into a Google spreadsheet using the =import formula. If you want to see how, here’s a spreadsheet I created from the data by doing just that. Click on the first cell to see the formula that generates it.

I asked David Higgerson, Trinity Mirror’s Head of Multimedia and the man whose name appears on the Tableau data, to explain the process behind the project. It seems the information was a combination of freely available data and that acquired via FOI.

“The Mail took the data available – number of places available, number of first choice applicants and number of total applicants – and worked out a ratio of first choice applicants per place. This is relevant to parents because councils try to allocate places to children based on preference once they’ve decided which schools a child is eligible for. Eligibility varies depending on type of school.

“The figures showed how popular faith schools were, and also how fierce competition was for places at grammar schools. That’s the story which generated most interest.

“As you’ve said on your blog, the hardest part was making the data uniform, and the making it relevant to readers.

“In print, it ran across three days. Day one was grammar schools, day two was all schools and day three revealed how catchment areas for oversubscribed schools which use distance from school to fill their last few places.

“Online, Google Fusion was used to create maps, Tableau for the interactive chart which lets people choose based on town or school, and Tableizer for the quick tables which appear in the section too. We also had a play with Scribble Maps, which we think has real potential for print/online newsrooms.”

It seems education reporter Kat Keogh deserves the credit for spotting the stories in the data, “with the usual support you’d expect in the newsroom – newsdesk etc.”

David and Anna Jeys experimented with the online presentation and others laid out the data for print.

December 19 2009

10:13

Why it pays to respond to your comments

This story was originally published at Poynter. Republished here for archiving purposes.

http://www.birminghampost.net/news/politics-news/2009/08/04/cost-of-new-birmingham-city-council-website-spirals-to-2-8m-65233-24307674/

Newspapers take a lot of flak when they or mis-attribute or fail to acknowledge the work of bloggers and members of the public in reporting a story, so it was refreshing to see my two local newspapers quickly respond to amend online reports following a number of corrective comments. But more interesting was to see how they reaped the benefits of that responsiveness.

One story – about the council’s £2.2m overspend on a new website - said it was based on a Freedom of Information request by “a member of the public”. Public Affairs Editor Paul Dale, who told me he spotted the story following a tweet, failed to mention that that “member of the public” was actually Heather Brooke, the investigative journalist who helped break the MPs’ expenses scandal – or that she submitted the FOI request as part of an investigation on Help Me Investigate, on which she works (the tweet and the FOI request both credited Help Me Investigate by the way).

http://www.birminghammail.net/news/top-stories/2009/08/04/new-birmingham-city-council-website-costs-spiral-to-2-8m-97319-24309788/

The newspaper’s multimedia editor Steve Nicholls quickly amended the story following a comment. But note what happened next: because The Birmingham Post responded positively, I returned to the site and commented again. And I told my friends, who told their friends, many of whom clicked on a link and visited the piece, and some of whom – who had never commented on a Post story before - registered in order to congratulate the Post on their responsibility (see screengrab above).

So through simply being responsive to comments and acknowledging a mistake, that newspaper benefited from extra pageviews, extra time spent on the site, extra registrations and extra comments – not to mention the intangible goodwill generated towards the paper (and hopefully a few new print sales too).

Pete Ashton pointed out that their response may simply have been due to the person commenting, but this wasn’t an isolated example. A previous story (also generated by Help Me Investigate) looked at the most-ticketed streets in Birmingham – the comments thread demonstrated a similar responsiveness to different commenters – this time from reporter Tom Scotney (see screengrab below).

I know a lot of news organisations are implementing online strategies to both increase the number of pageviews and the amount of time people spend on the site –  giving journalists and multimedia editors time to respond to comments and correct copy in this way has to be one of the most sensible planks of any such strategy.

http://www.birminghampost.net/news/west-midlands-news/2009/07/27/help-me-investigate-website-uncovers-parking-ticket-hotspots-in-birmingham-65233-24244387/
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