Online Journalism

Filter bubbles, the gerontocracy and why George Osborne makes me angry

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This blog has been a bit unloved over the last few weeks, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. Below are the pieces I’ve been busy with – both journalism and politics related. Hope you enjoy.

A man creates a huge bubble and a small girl runs towards it
Bubbles by Mandoft, on Flickr. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Writing about filter bubbles and echo chambers

I’ve been writing a series of articles about how journalists, entrepreneurs and technologists are fighting extreme politics and echo chambers on the internet, over on the Online Journalism blog. There are several posts:

How journalists (and everyone else) can use Nuzzel with Twitter lists

I’ve also written a piece using Nuzzel – a Twitter tool that allows you to short cut to the most popular stories being shared by your friends on Twitter.

The rise and fall of the Gerontocracy

I’ve written two pieces about how our current focus on policies that hark back to an earlier age do not bode well for our future. One is a bit serious, the other really not.

Why George Osborne’s appointment as Evening Standard editor makes me angry

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer announced he would take over as editor of the Evening Standard. Here’s why it’s bad for journalism. (Since this was written, Osborne has said he won’t stand for re-election to his seat, Tatton.)

 

 

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Hyperreality, fake news and the lost power of linking

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Painting of Trump - fake news

Ever since the election of Donald Trump, fake news has been in the ‘real’ news.

Detractors claim Facebook negligently allowed baseless attacks, masquerading as real news, to damage Hillary Clinton’s reputation and seal victory for her rival. A senior writer at the Washington Post even argues that Facebook should employ an editor to stop the fake news virus spreading any further.

A journalist calling for more journalism appears self-serving; it also ignores the practical and ethical questions that flow from employing editors at Facebook. How, for example, would a journalist act as the moral arbiter for hundreds of millions of users exchanging billions of separate pieces of information mostly for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with current affairs?

Facebook users have different political and religious persuasions, languages and cultures. Even ostensibly similar users have competing world views that are hard to define or even understand. So how would employing editors to judge their output not end up threatening free speech? And how do you determine what is fake and what is not, anyway?

Trumping fake news

A list of fake news sites produced to help students stay aware of distorting ‘news’ is illuminating, but not as you might expect. Reportedly the work of a media lecturer, the list included the well-established, much-respected British news magazine, Private Eye because it’s satirical. Satire often manufactures ridiculous stories to highlight stupidity or hypocrisy. That doesn’t mean it should be lumped in with fake news sites. It does, though, demonstrate how blurred the boundaries are. Indeed, one self-confessed fake news author claimed in an interview that his sole reason for cranking out hundreds of fictitious memes was to highlight ‘alt-right’ supremacists’ use of false information.

Fake news is not one-sided, either. Following Trump’s election victory in early November, one piece of fakery appeared in my own news feed repeatedly. It reported Trump telling People Magazine in 1998 that if he ever sought the presidential nomination it would be with the Republicans, because their supporters were gullible and easy to manipulate.

Picture and text reporting Trump: If I were to run, Id run as a Republican. They're the dumbest group of voters

Thousands of people exchanged the meme without questioning its authenticity, no doubt because it matched their impression of Trump. In fact, it’s a delicious (or perhaps unpalatable) irony that it was precisely because people thought Trump was preying on the gullible that they believed a fake news story about him.

Confirming bias

In this sense, fake news stories are confirmation-bias memes. They work because they tell us something we already believe in – and we are all, therefore, vulnerable to them. That leads to an uncomfortable – if obvious – conclusion about fake news: it’s not that different from real news – and not just because it looks like real news. Firstly, fake news and real news can help to support or propagate a particular world view: The Daily Mail, Fox News, The Guardian, even The New York Times, have determined editorial perspectives that are there to support their readers’ view of the world. Yep, there’s a difference: these news providers mostly report on ‘facts’, i.e. things that verifiably happened, rather than stuff that’s just made up. But the lens they apply to these facts is one designed to a serve a world-view, nonetheless.

Secondly, both real and fake news expect us to trust that what they are saying is real. In a news meme, whether the news is real or not, it’s often disconnected from the sources that establish its veracity in the first place. Indeed, news inherently has this problem anyway, even when it’s presented on news sites or newspapers or on news TV channels, let alone when it’s on social media. It is, after all the point of news. You read or hear that something has happened to be informed; you don’t then expect to have to go and make sure that it did actually happen.

Jean Baudrillard: Simulacra and fake news

Jean Baudrillard was a French philosopher and cultural theorist. In Simulacra and Simulation,  published in 1981, Baudrillard explores a phenomenon he calls hyperreality. This is the idea that in a world where everything is experienced through media, our impression of ‘reality’ is in fact completely removed from the actual real. Instead what represents truth isn’t truth at all, because it is so disconnected from any empirical thing in the first place. At first that idea seems ridiculous – not least because it’s so disturbing: One of the most popular references to Baudrillard’s idea is the film The Matrix (where a copy of Simulacra and Simulation is used as a prop). In the film, the world that appears real soon turns out to be a simulation. A character quotes the book, calling it ‘the desert of the real’.

Despite its disturbing qualities – and whether you accept Baudrillard’s claim that the real isn’t real at all – it’s easy to accept his observation. In a mediated world, in which everything is represented or reproduced rather than actually experienced, it won’t take long for notions of veracity to become questionable. Indeed, questioning reality is now an actual ‘thing’ in itself.

Baudrillard developed his theories for Simulacra and Simulation in the 1970s and 1980s, before the Internet dominated news reporting and the media. Nonetheless, it makes his argument that much easier to support. Now, with a bit of tweaking, we can use an off-the-shelf WordPress theme to make a website look, ostensibly, as authentically newsy as the New York Times.

Beyond this, Twitter and Facebook offer ready-made templates for news production and dissemination that make it laughably easy to pretend to be real news producers. In the case of Facebook the platform is reported to be engineered to favour self-referencing: Uploading a video to the platform appears to elicit more engagement than linking to it on YouTube, owned by Facebook’s rival, Google.

Fighting fake news

If news was on shaky ground already, the internet then is helping to reduce that ground to sand. What the hell can we do?

Firstly, journalists need to work harder. Journalism, after all, purports to report significant, real events to audiences who aren’t there to witness them. Given that there is always going to be a gap between real experiences and an audience’s experience, it’s vital that journalists work to address that gap. Otherwise, the dislocation of reports from the facts on which they are based can be exploited to create fakery. Worse still – and more alarmingly – it also makes it much easier for people to pretend that real news is a lie when it’s not – particularly if it doesn’t suit how they feel or think. That, I think, is a bigger potential problem than the fake news itself.

The most obvious tool at an online journalist’s disposal to deal with this is the link: linking to reports, linking to source material, linking to the people in the report. But that shouldn’t be the end of it, either. Journalists need to find other ways to take people directly to where they found out the facts. I’d venture that also means adopting exacting standards of transparency in how reporting is carried out. And backing it up constantly. Indeed, linking is part of the approach used by Wikipedia to help establish ‘truth’ – and now suggested by some for Facebook.

Secondly, the Internet we’re creating increasingly looks like a trap for anyone who isn’t equipped to determine what’s ‘real’ and what’s not. If we allow companies and individuals to develop self-referring ‘realities’ that don’t rely on any objective truth, then all sorts of scary worlds can and will develop. The internet was designed with linking in mind – in fact the world-wide web was proposed as a linking system for scientists. But somehow that hasn’t prevented the web turning into a place where referencing is viewed as a self-serving process rather than one of common interest. That matters because it’s where we are ‘living’ our lives: it’s where our views are shaped and experiences defined. In other words, getting this new world sorted is a big, serious problem. And that isn’t for journalists to solve, love them as I do – or even for Facebook. It’s a dirty-great, society-wide humdinger of a thing. A problem that belongs to us all.

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Nigel Farage is Trumping the British media with his career options

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Have you noticed how many jobs Nigel Farage is about to take or has just decided not to take?

First Nigel scotched claims he was about to appear on the TV show, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, because he wasn’t a ‘blithering idiot’…

 

headline: Nigel Farage refusing £750k to go on I'm a Celebrity because he 'is not a blithering idiot'

Article: Daily Telegraph. 18 October, 2016

 

Then he said he was considering a role in Donald Trump’s White House…

farage-says-he-would-like-role-in-trumps-administration

Article: Independent, 8 November, 2016

 

Not long after, though, Nigel was considered vital to the UK’s relationship with the US. This led to the suggestion that Nigel should join Britain’s ruling Conservative party.

headline: nigel-farage-refuses-to-rule-out-return-to-the-conservatives

Article: Daily Express, 15 November, 2016

 

Weirdly that morphed into the idea that Nigel should be a Lord. A government minister even called him LORD NIGEL. Not, ‘lordy, Nigel what the hell are you up to?’ Just plain old Lord Nigel.

Headline: Lord Farage? Theresa May declines to rule out peerage for Ukip leader

Article: Guardian, 16 November, 2016

 

And then we heard that good old Nigel wanted to bring it all back and become an MP in Blighty. Yep, by now people were actually running out of photos of Nigel Farage grinning.

Headline: Nigel Farage admits desire to stand again if South Thanet by-election triggered

Article: Kent News, 21 November 2016

 

But that didn’t last long, because then the Donald tweeted that maybe Lord Nigel could be the UK’s ambassador to the US… I’m yet to establish if the ‘many people’ were, in fact, just Nigel.

 

When that didn’t work out – Prime Minister Theresa May, the spoil sport, said no way – Nigel was thought to be considering living in the US again. Apparently there he’d be, er, freer. You know, because of Trump.

headline-nigel-farage-planning-to-move-to-us

Article: Politico, 24 November

 

Then he said that actually that wasn’t happening at all…

news headline: Nigel Farage denies reports he is moving to America

 

 

 

 

Article: Independent, 24 November

 

And that’s got us to today…

Since speculation of his foray into reality TV, Nigel Farage has had the kind of month most job seekers would kill for. But he hasn’t taken a job yet. Officially, he’s just looking after the only role he is doing: leader of the UK Independence Party, while a permanent replacement is found. In case anyone doesn’t know, they’re the third or fourth force in British politics, well behind the ruling Conservatives and the opposition Labour party.

So what is Nigel Farage doing? Well, he’s exploiting a weakness in the way we report and respond to politics. Frankly at the moment that is the only thing Nigel is doing. He’s feeding speculation about what he might do just to keep his name in the news. Each time a suggestion is made, he scotches it – but the briefings are coming from somewhere. Sometimes it’s ‘sources close to Nigel’. Sometimes he just suggests he might do something himself. That way he can keep the rumour mill going and appear to be the most important person in British politics. Which he really isn’t.

In a sense it doesn’t matter what Nigel Farage’s going to do or not do next. It just matters that his name is in our heads, continuously. Where did this strategy come from? Well as Cas Muude,  who knows much more about the activities of populist right-wing politicians than I do, pointed out he’s learned this from the master. Donald Trump.

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It’s time to talk about leadership

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a woman and a man dancing wearing bright blue in a brightly lit studio
Photo: BBC

It’s time we started facing up to the fact that leadership now is too big a job for politicians on their own

We’re all in charge but we don’t know what we’re doing

When I was very young I told a teacher at my school that I could tap dance. Either my teacher was taken in by my fantasy or could spot a liar – because very quickly I found myself in front of the class awkwardly shuffling on the spot, pretending to tap dance when I very obviously couldn’t.

This early brush with dance-floor humiliation might explain why I’m a terrible dancer and a newly converted fan of Ed Balls. The former Labour politician is becoming a ‘national treasure’ – as each week he survives the Strictly Come Dancing judges’ opprobrium to stay in the show. With gusto and self-deprecation, he is styling out his hopelessness for the millions of us who can’t dance. As a consequence, thousands of people are voting for him, like they’ve never voted for a Brownite politician before.

Things aren’t going so well, though, for Ed Balls’ former colleagues on both sides of the House of Commons – who themselves appear to be attempting to style out their difficulties, sadly with less aplomb.

Both the government and the opposition have struggled to come up with coherent plans for Britain’s departure from the European Union. Frequent pronouncements are only adding to the sense that Brexit might be the greatest challenge they’ve faced. Which, of course, it is.

This air of uncertain competence is not as endearing in serving politicians as it is when embodied by former ones. Boris Johnson, once seen himself as a national treasure, is now being treated as a global embarrassment.

Leadership and uncertainty

It would be easy to indulge in truisms, call politics a cruel mistress – even point out that governing in difficult times should be the greatest honour to which a politician can aspire. But these are not just difficult times.

Politics – as the old saying goes – is the art of the possible. But right now our politicians are facing the impossible. And not just in the shape of Brexit – where a majority of Brits favour unchanged access to the European Union’s single market, but with immigration controls that have already been ruled out by remaining EU members.

From climate change, to a growing chasm of inequality, to the sense that the West – after generations of global dominance – is on the wane, we are seeing challenges that our politicians can’t just style out on their own. That means we will have to change our expectations of how politicians and governments solve these challenges – and, indeed, our own role in the solutions.

If we were to imagine that the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition had both spelled out how difficult a Brexit would likely be it is not hard to fathom the reaction their honesty would receive. The markets would tumble, and the tabloid newspapers would wail. Ultimately, we would be no closer to a solution – only watching a different set of politicians trying desperately to style it out.

Instead, we have the unedifying prospect of uncertainty that politicians have to pretend doesn’t exist, choosing either stony silence or speculative busking to keep us calm. A constant analogy has been a game of poker. ‘We won’t reveal our hand in negotiations with our European partners, because to do so would weaken our position,’ we are told. That unwittingly betrays a sense of random chance that none of us can be comfortable with, particularly given that the cards in the government’s hand are our own futures.

Leadership needs to change

So how do we grow up? Brexit and the even greater challenges that lie ahead won’t be solved by our politicians pretending they can simply sort them out, or by us expecting them to. Calling for a ‘new kind of politics’, meanwhile, is just as facile as the poker analogy. Instead, we have to start asking questions about the concept of leadership in the 21st century – recognising that it really isn’t one person’s job any more.

By the end of the 20th century we had largely adopted a system of parliamentary democracy in the West and elsewhere that offered a degree of popular involvement restricted to elections. This made sense, given the constraints of the industrial age. It invested power in a relatively small group of people for entirely practical reasons.

Around that system grew a culture of political scrutiny that responded to our political leaders as the sole arbiters of the future, albeit for limited periods. Newspapers, TV and radio journalists each did their jobs to pick at, understand and challenge the political class, but it remained a politician’s job to lead.

Today we are unburdened by the restraints of the industrial age but have made few attempts to explore how our democracies need to change. An age of information has helped to distribute power in new ways. In some cases this has turned the notion of leadership on its head completely. Is Theresa May more or less of a leader than someone who commands millions of followers on Twitter? The obvious answer starts to look more and more shaky when Donald Trump is elected US President.

Nonetheless, our political systems have not responded. They are largely the same top-down institutions that they were when they succeeded monarchies in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Perhaps, given the challenges they now face, it is not surprising that we are seeing more and more referendums, unhelpfully lobbing tricky questions to the voting public and then scrambling when the answers that come back don’t suit.

Similarly, the media – so vital in calling to account our politicians – is caught in its own interregnum. As newspapers go to the wall, new media businesses emerge that command huge power but are less constrained by the standards we expected from their predecessors.

The only way of addressing this is to start to be honest, both about the scale of the challenges, and to face the fact that we are moving to a new kind of democratic and political system, one in which control is much less fixed than it was. The response to this will need to be more than just a switch in voting systems – like moving to proportional representation. It will require a full-scale change in our thinking that starts with questions about who leads, how do they lead and when? More pertinently, it needs to address what involvement we all have in leadership. We each face profound issues about how we manage this, but those challenges are upon us now.

This will have to start with a conversation about our democratic institutions at the very least. They are woefully out of date. If politicians can’t yet be honest about their own readiness for the scale of the challenges we face, we must at least make sure they are made to confront this.

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Trump told a story and his story won

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Donald Trump looking up in blu tie and suit
Donald Trump photographed by Gage Skidmore, Flickr, licence: CC-by-sa-2-0

A man who wants to build walls and promised to ban Muslims is the president-elect of the world’s most powerful country.

There are innumerable theories posited, explaining how it happened and apportioning blame: Trump stood on a platform that exploited white people’s fears and used immigration to signal an existential threat to the Western world. Trump exploited the collapse of blue-collar America. Alt-Right lies spread because Facebook’s algorithms don’t favour veracity. The Democratic Party invested in a candidate who was never genuinely popular. Add to this a hundred more.

Each argument may have merit; some will  stand the test of time. Perhaps together they help to explain Trump’s victory. But we are a long way from understanding this phenomenon and will probably remain so for years.

So rather than dwell on the arguments, I want to make one observation about Trump: That he tells a story.

Stories are powerful things. They sink into your consciousness, and permeate your being.

In politics, the stories that appeal most are the ones that confirm our views and our values. They don’t even need to be true, in fact sometimes they are more effective if they are not. Seth Godin, in his book ‘All Marketers Are Liars’ describes how stories are often the way we tell lies to ourselves, about who we are, who we want to be and the world we live in.

Trump understood this and he used his own carefully crafted story time and again.

It was ruthlessly simple. Trump was the guy who knew Washington, who understood corruption and could tell people how bad it was. He was the insider who had seen how bad things had got and could ‘drain the swamp’. Only he could see, from his vantage point, how the American Dream had been corrupted by Washington and by the outsiders who were taking away American values and power.

Trump’s story signalled to his supporters that if you were angry, he was too. He told people that they were right to feel frightened but he’d take that fear away because only he really, truly understood it. Most importantly, Trump’s story made sense to people – it told them something they wanted to believe about themselves.

It is harder, but not impossible to identify Hillary Clinton’s story.

Clinton stood to become the first female president of the United States. This part of her story should – really should – have been a moment of great renewal in America. Clinton, too, was a hardworking politician who had relentlessly pursued equality for minorities – and whose record at Ground Zero in the days after 9/11 suggests a remarkable politician, with determination, fearlessness and compassion. But too often the story she told was simply one of continuity and acumen. It played right into Trump’s own critique of what his supporters saw as Clinton’s privileged and corrupt America.

Does this explain Trump’s victory? No, it absolutely does not. It makes no reference to the world that Trump found himself in, the bizarre set of consequences that undercut Clinton’s lead in the polls and the state of America right now. But it does demonstrate the power of story – and how a story can overcome the inconsistencies that all politicians embody. Trump told and sold his story well, whatever we might think of the consequences.

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10 things journalists do that can really help first-time bloggers

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infographic
Blog like a hack
When it comes to making the most of a story, the tips and tricks I picked up as a journalist are fantastic. I’ve always thought these can help bloggers, particularly those new to the art. If I’m being honest, I just wish I used them more (there are plenty on this short list that I could do with heeding myself!)

 

1. The follow-up

If you find a great story don’t write about it once. Keep writing about it. Ask yourself when you’re first writing what is next? Nine times out of 10 you’ll find more great posts right there and then. Have a plan for what you’ll do with that subject matter next. How can you make your one piece into 15 more posts?

(Thinking about it, I might follow this post up with a post about the five great follows up to any post. What fun.)
 

2. Make it snappy. Don’t drone on

OK, we all know that but I used to tell myself (after a sub editor used this particular complaint to me) that I couldn’t afford to waste any more ink. Making sure each word counts is vital in news journalism and it can really help you get your posts down in length and make them better to read. It’s a discipline that initially is easily ignored online, but if you look at the best digital news outlets, it’s something that is even more vital now.

 

3. Use formulas

It’s so dull to talk about but pretty much any piece in any newspaper or magazine follows a certain forumla or pattern. Why? If you’re churning out content you want to make sure you’re using your brain for the bits that count – being accurate, luring in the reader, making the most of your quotes, finding great stories. Formulas help you do that and – perversely – allow you to make life more interesting for readers. The most famous is the much vaunted ‘inverted triangle’. This basically says: write the most important stuff for the reader up top. It forces you to get out the salient facts first and in order. But there are many more that bloggers use, like the simple list (which, ahem, I’m using here). You’ll find your own formulas but it’s good to have a few different ones up your sleeve – which will help you to vary the experience you give readers and keep their experience fresh.

 

4. Prefer shorter words

The English language is great: you have a huge number of words to choose from. But writers often like the longer ones because (and I am guilty of this a lot) we like to show how clever we are. But every long word you use has the potential to distract or confuse readers and – even when the meaning is clear – makes the information less like to be digested. Plus, you look like a know-it-all.

 

5. Steal

I’m not advocating copying people’s work. No way. That’s the worst thing in the world that you can do (apart from all the other things that carry heavier prison sentences). But you can and should pinch ideas from other people. The best (ethical and creative) way to do this is to look beyond the people who are most similar to what you’re doing and see how other journalists and bloggers are getting ahead. Copying of this kind is to be openly rewarded because it can get you ahead of your competitors.

 

6. Use your calendar

Tie your stories to events that are universally understood. It’s Christmas so talk about Christmas. OK, that’s obvious. But stare at that calendar and think about all the dates that relate to your subject matter. Put them on the calendar and then work them in to your posts. Journalists talk about off-diary and on-diary news, to distinguish stuff you can plan for from erm… the stuff that just happens. The point is that you get to plan out a hell of a lot of content throughout the year.

 

7. Give yourself a deadline

You have 20 minutes to write this post. Can you do it? The clock is ticking. Ultimately one of the things that sets apart a successful blogger from a… well… blogger is regularity and volume of content. How long do you want to spend writing your blog in a year? And how many posts do you need to keep readers engaged? Do the math(s).

 

8. Say one thing

Make your post about one thing and one thing only. Stay on message. This will help you with points one and two of this blog post. Hey, I’m not cheating. It all fits together, that’s all.

 

9. Follow the trend when it matters

Don’t ignore the prevailing wind of the news. Even local newspapers end up writing about national stories when they get up a certain head of steam, which demand the most focus and attention. Make sure you use these stories and find ways to link them to what you’re writing about.

 

10. Audience, audience, audience, audience

Only do what matters to your readers and always keep them in mind. How do you do this? Bloggers and online journalists have great an enormous amount of data at their disposal to help understand what readers want and don’t want, as well as the joys of A/B testing, but there are some old-fashioned journalism tips that still work. One simple thing is to spend time with readers to understand them better. Local newspaper journalists traditionally had this easy – they often came from the places they wrote about and spent plenty of time with their readers. For bloggers this same connection is created by the online connections you make through comments and social media.

 

Have you got any more tips and tricks?
I would love to hear them – whether they’re journalism related or not.
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How many female film characters does it take to change a light bulb?

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Woman looks up on light bulb
Woman looks up on light bulb – by verkeorg on Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

No, it’s not a joke. Or at least it might be, in the sense that women don’t get to change light bulbs in films. In fact women don’t really get to do much at all, other than wait tables, cry when their men die and generally look pretty. Most of the time they’re not even in films. There are so few of them it’s as if they’re an endangered species. An endangered species that gets raped, murdered or brutally attacked in exchange for a few lines of script.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s take the 10 most popular films on IMDB:-

1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Set in an all-male prison. Case closed.

(Female credited characters 3, male credited characters 51)

2. The Godfather (1972)

There are some women, but it’s about the male-dominated mafia – an institution so patriarchal it makes some of those weird all-male golf clubs look positively balanced in their outlook.

(Female characters 8, male characters 26)

3. The Godfather: Part II (1974)

It’s better than part one but just as male.

(Female 16, male 55)

4. The Dark Knight (2008)

Man dressed as bat fights man dressed as clown. It’s as stupid as it is male.

(Female 14, male 83)

5. Pulp Fiction (1994)

There are women in this film and they do talk, but not that much. One (a gangster’s girlfriend) does get to dance and overdose on heroin, so it’s not all bad… sort of.

(Female 16, male 31)

6. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

It’s about a good man, a bad man and an ugly man. At least it tries to cover up the paucity of ladies in it by giving characters names like ‘Angel Eyes’ and ‘Blondie’.

(Female 1, male 20)

7. Schindler’s List (1993)

Probably the least male of all the films, but then it’s the only one that is about real-world events. No cheap shots to be made here.

(Female 38, male 88)

8. 12 Angry Men (1957)

120% male.

(Female 0, male 12)

9. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

The vast majority of the characters may not be human but they are still male, which is a little weird in itself (do fantasy characters really need definite gender?) There are some really pretty elves, though.

(Female, 7, male 45)

10. Fight Club (1999)

It’s all about men fighting each other in really manly ways. In fact, it’s about one man fighting himself in a really manly way. It couldn’t be more male if he was drinking Stella and scratching his crotch all the time.

(Female, 9, male 44)

While women make up 51 per cent of the population of the UK, they’re just 20 per cent of the population of these films. And a lot of the time in films they’re just ‘woman on plane’, ‘waitress number two’ and ‘light-bulb changer number six’. OK, that last one was made up.

Now take your favourite 10 films and ask yourself how many of the main characters are women. Then ask yourself how many people in your own life are women. Compare.

I’m sort of guessing that unless you’re a monk or a really awkward teenager at an all-boys’ boarding school, the gender balance in your life bears little or no comparison to this. While the stars of our movies live in overwhelmingly male environments, in which women don’t get a look in, in the real world women do things, have opinions, buy drinks, drive cars. Shit, they even change light bulbs. On their own. Without getting shot or their tops falling off.

***

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Brighton

Networked Councillor: connecting with your councillor (or council) online

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Rows of chairs in front of a line of tables
City Council Chamber, Seattle , 1962 from Seattle Municipal Archives (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This morning I came into work with the intention of writing a blog post about Networked Councillor. The idea was to try to say something meaningful about the project for myself. You can learn more about what that’s all about here.

Anyway, I couldn’t think of anything particularly meaningful that hadn’t been said by someone better qualified, so I figured it might be a good idea to investigate, for just a minute, how easy it might be to contact a councillor for myself.

Problem was – and this is a terrible confession to make – I wasn’t even sure what the name of my ward was, let alone my councillors’ names, so I needed to take a look on the Brighton and Hove City Council website to find out. Unfortunately – and while it really is a very nice looking website – when I found the ‘find your councillor’ page within the Council and Democracy section, it didn’t help.

I’d expected to find a postcode look-up service, which I remember the council having before. So I asked the council on Twitter. Within a few minutes, not only did I have a response, but a commitment to resolve the problem, as you can see from this Storify of the tweets…

Brilliant. A few years ago, a (very minor) problem like this could have gone unnoticed for weeks because, while people would have spotted it, they may have considered it too trifling to bother with given the time it would take to tell someone. Now social media permit people to quickly say something that can lead to real action with minimal fuss.

That is as important for councillors as it is for councils. If I’m being brutally honest, the time I’ve got to share stuff with politicians is limited. Just as if I’d been faced with filling out a form or writing a letter I might have not told the council about the problem with the website, if I’m faced with attending a surgery in person or writing a letter, I probably wouldn’t talk to my councillor. Frankly, if councillors don’t make it easy for me to talk to them, I won’t and I’m guessing I’m not alone in holding this sentiment. In that light, it’s natural that many of us don’t think councillors are people who can solve problems for us – when , in fact, they often are.

That’s a problem for us all, because it can have a corrosive effect on the power of local democracy to solve local problems, which obviously is a bad thing. But cases like the one I’ve highlighted offer a little light at the end of the tunnel, as does the Networked Councillor report, because it sheds light on how we can be better connected to local democracy.

This blog post was supposed to add to the debate around the report – on what we should expect from councillors and how they should navigate this world. I’m afraid it’s done absolutely nothing to help that. But at least, maybe, it’s illustrated why getting online makes sense – and how  it will help councillors connect with people like me, who are online, time poor, short of attention but nonetheless have something to say. There are more than a few of us, I’m guessing.

Blog

PCCs – and the new battle ground for local government

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Over at Public-i, we’re interested in the developments leading up to the arrival of Police and Crime Commissioners later in the year.

I thought it might be worth doing the occassional post on this – that offers a little commentary on the PCCs. This is because, as the debate between prospective PCC candidates grows, we’re coming across some really interesting developments that seem worth sharing (with more than a tweet). These aren’t all directly pertinent to Public-i, but they are what people are talking about – which is why I’m publishing them on my own blog rather than at Public-i.

Anyway, today I came across this post from Richard Hibbs – which he has posted on Sam Chapman’s Top Of The Cops blog, dedicated to all things PCC.

Richard’s post is a number of things – with some well-aimed digs at the Local Government Association’s attempts to become the professional association for PCCs and a swipe at Association of Chief Police Officers’ attitude to the new office, too.

What stands out to me is the point he makes about the power of the PCC’s voice. Here he’s making a point about the LGA’s proposed creation of a Police Executive board – which he says aims, among other things, to give PCCs a strong voice.

“… PCCs will be at least 100 times as important as local councillors in constitutional terms (due to the size of the constituencies and their democratic mandate) and will therefore have a pretty loud voice which will carry all the way to Westminster anyway without amplification. Plus they’ll be able to say no to the Home Office if, in consultation with the Chief Constable, they don’t wish to “have regard to” aspects of the Strategic Policing Requirement they simply don’t believe in (whatever ACPO thinks!).”

Richard is, of course, right. PCCs will be heard by central government without any help – there will be just 41 of them across England and Wales and the power they will have to influence national and local politics (quite aside from their statutory powers) will be of huge interest to a government, not least because of the damage they could do to its reputation on law and order with the public.

And, in turn, that’s going to have an impact on what local government looks like, which I think is only slowly dawning on us…

Two things occur to me about this:-

  1. The ruptures that are caused by the development of the PCCs for local government will take a long time to be resolved. And the influence the PCCs wield will have profound effects on how we see the rest of local government.
  2. PCCs – with their big mandates – are likely to be agressive players. The creation of a directly elected official of this kind is new to England and Wales (mayors aren’t an equivalent) and Richard’s assertions might hint at future battles between councillors and PCCs – with its arena, obviously, the Police and Crime Panels where some will sit to scrutinise PCCs.

That might not sound like a big deal (cue headline: new politicians make life difficult for other politicians) but Richard’s bullishness, which may be justified, is an indication of a battleground opening up in local politics.

The government has a lot invested in PCCs and – as I think has been suggested elsewhere – may wish to extend powers to them if they are a success. This can only be made more likely, I guess, by the general rejection of city mayors earlier this month.

Online Journalism

Building civil spaces online: Howard Rheingold

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Last week I listened to a webinar interview with Howard Rheingold by the Pillar Summit’s Richard Millington .

If I was working for a newspaper I’d probably call Howard a web guru – or an elder statesman of the Internet, or hang my reverence on some other cliché. But, after listening to him speak for an hour about online communities and communication, it might be simpler and more revealing to say that he’s someone who understands life online, because he’s been living it for longer.

At a time when the world remained largely unaware of the Internet, Howard was already an avid user of the WELL – and in 1985 he wrote Virtual Communities, the book he’s perhaps best known for. He’s now promoting a new publication, Net Smart , that’s the continuation of a near-30-year exploration of how we live online.

Online living
Perhaps, then, it isn’t surprising that the first portion of the interview dealt with the value of online relationships, which have been under attack recently, in part thanks to Sherry Turkle’s opinion piece in the New York Times. The MIT-based psychologist fears that we’re overlooking ‘messy’ offline relationships in preference for an always-connected virtual world where we can pick and choose our encounters. This, Turkle believes, is to our detriment…

“Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference,” she says.

Rheingold, in contrast, is more worried that the media dwell on the negative aspects of technology, obscuring the overwhelmingly positive impact it has had on our lives. He stresses that he’s not a web evangelist, so much as someone who accepts the good and bad in online behaviour; technology, he says, doesn’t change behaviour, it facilitates it.

Where he is bullish, however, is in asserting that online relationships needn’t be of less value than those established ‘offline’. “If you think that using digital media are making you shallow why not learn to swim in the deep end of the pool?” he asks, pointing out that what might be missing in our understanding of these relationships is a recognition of the learning we need to do to operate effectively within them.

Civility
One example, he says, is in online behaviour: “We need to teach the importance of being civil online,” he argues. Where face-to-face communication is as much about the nuance of gestures and expressions as it is about the words that are used, most online communication is reliant on what is written down. Without making a more concerted effort to understand online communication – and allow for this – we will fail to make best use of these spaces in the future.

So how can we build civil online spaces? He says this is about signposting the kinds of behaviour that will be acceptable within an online space in order to attract users who will subscribe to these values. “You should have a few simple rules,” which might include: “Respect intellectual property” and “attack ideas, do not attack people”.

“Build it and they won’t come”
But Howard thinks getting people to play by the rules is less of a challenge than attracting them in the first place. He says that while it’s now easy to find people who share your interests online – they don’t necessarily need your community. You need to be original and have a clear idea of the people who are going to join and participate. And you can’t sit back and expect a community to flourish: “If you want to build a critical mass of participation you have to pay a lot of attention,” he says. “You have to participate.”

For Howard, attracting users is a numbers game – in which you can expect only a fraction of those to whom you promote your community to join. And getting them there is only half the battle. “It’s simply a ratio of 80-20,” he says. Most people (80%) will not take part, while the 20% who do will (or should) talk a lot. “You need to have people who are willing to engage. No conversation, no community,” he says.

The pay-off
And, of course, community is what it is all about. Returning to the subject of the benefits of life online, Howard talks about the ‘norms of reciprocity ’, the expectation that people will respond in kind to offers of help or, indeed, harm.

He says: “If you put in effort – to put in something – you are going to get 10 things back [online]”. He says he has been astonished how this “pay it forward” philosophy has worked online – with people prepared to help people that they have never met.

Howard says…
These are some of the other points that Howard made during the interview…

  • Most online communities fail: You need to identify what it is that people can get from each other that they are not going to get from their own blogs – ther is no guarantee that that is going to exist, he says.
  • With two billion people online, remember that one in a million is 2,000 people. In other words, with such large numbers of people online, even small niche communities can thrive.
  • Spending time online does not lead to social isolation. People who spend more time talking online to each also tend to spend more time talking to people face to face, Howard said.
  • Dunbar’s number doesn’t mean that online relationships have to be shallow: Howard talked about how social networking gives people the opportunity to develop ‘weak ties’ – and therefore suggested Dunbar’s number is therefore not hard and fast. Furthermore, he challenged the notion that this 150 limit applies naturally online.
Brighton

Brighton’s first social media surgery

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Brighton's first social media surgery

Last night I attended the first ever Brighton Social Media Surgery – a rather special if small event that marks an important landmark for a number of reasons.

  • For one, it’s the start of an important phase of the We Live Here project which is aiming to usher in a new relationship between the public, voluntary and community sectors in Brighton and Hove.
  • It’s also one of the first surgeries to have taken place since the Social Media Surgeries were honoured with a Prime Minister’s Big Society Award.
  • And, from a personal perspective, it feels like it rubber-stamps by big-money transfer to Public-i from Podnosh – the firm that through the enormous largesse, industry and general brilliance of its creator, Nick Booth, has made the surgeries the success they are.

OK, so I was slightly lying about ‘big money’ bit, but the rest is absolutely true – and being involved in social media surgeries (which I first blundered into in Fazeley Studios in Birmingham – as it happens without a computer and could only lend a hand moving the desks) has been a source of enormous enjoyment and reward for me. So getting the chance to become involved as a surgeon in my new home town is, frankly, fabulous.

Enough of the gushing… Now for the surgery…

The We Live Here project will be holding surgeries in the three pilot communities it’s running in. Two of these, Hangleton and Knoll and Brunswick and Regency, are geographical; the third, the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities in Brighton is obviously rather harder to define.

For that reason, Susie Latta – the surgery organiser, held the first one in the Black and Minority Ethnic Community Partnership building, which is at 10A Fleet Street. Here’s a map!

We sat in the foyer of the BMECP and, while I was a little late, Anthony Zacharzewski was able to help out three patients with Twitter (that’s Anthony in the picture above) – with this account for for Forward Facing created. Please give ’em a follow!

When Anthony went, I took over and helped Bert Williams of Brighton and Hove Black History to learn a little more about how he’d be able to use QR codes as part of his work. Bert holds tours of our city that devle into the remarkable role people of different ethnic backgrounds have played in Brighton’s history. As ever, being a surgeon was as much a learning experince as it was an opportunity to impart my own knowledge: I found out from Bert that – much to my surprise – the Emperor Haile Selassie of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) had visited Brighton while in exile!

For details of surgeries visit the Social Media Surgery website. The next one in Brighton will be on the 27th of February 2012 and there’ll be one in Hangleton and Knoll on the 29th of February.

SHARE THIS POST: (I’ve cross-posted this piece on my own blog and on the Public-i blog. Please re-post it to your own blog if you want to tell people about the surgeries – and modify for your audience, but please link back to the orginal and attribute the post. Thanks!)

Brighton

Adding to the Twitter map

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I’ve realised that adding to the Twitter map for Brighton and Hove can be a bit of a pain, so I’m writing this quick post to explain to people an easy way to do it (which basically involves you telling me).

If you tweet me (@andbwell) and include the hashtag #bhtwitmap, I can add stuff – but only (and this really is an only) if you provide me with good latitude and longitude co-ordinates for what you want adding.

I guess there are two ways of doing this:-

1). you are standing in front of the thing and send me a geotagged tweet
or
2). you quickly visit this nifty site, http://www.getlatlon.com/, find the place and paste the co-ordinates into the tweet (or email me at andrew dot brightwell at gmail dot com).

Remember to send me the Twitter account (if it isn’t obvious) and any other instructions and contact details you’d like adding.

Of course, if none of this works just email or tweet me and I’ll help!!

Cheers!

Brighton

Creating a Twitter map for Brighton and Hove

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Quite by accident I appear to have started a Twitter map for Brighton and Hove. Hove, actually. (Sorry, this is an in joke, those of you don’t live here.)

The map – which is currently useless, and will need other people’s help to get anywhere – is really just an attempt to straighten out who you might offer some kind of information on Twitter to if you’re a passer-by and find something disturbing/important that needs an authority to sort out.

So, for example, today I was in King Alfred’s Leisure Centre (he doesn’t actually own it, it’s just the name) and, as I waited to be served, I heard that the car-park ticket machine wasn’t working. The lady at reception didn’t know who to contact or who it’s owned by (it’s a local authority car park and, while the pool is owned by Brighton and Hove City Council, it’s run by Freedom Leisure, so she might not be expected to know).

So, anyway, I tweeted @brightonandhovecc. And someone there (and I’d love to know their name, but understandably they don’t give them out) told me that the message would be passed on to Brighton and Hove Transport, who also have a Twitter account. Great. That person told me that this information had been passed on and thanked me. I thanked them (cue warm civic feeling).

All this is good, but how often, I thought, am I unable to work out who I should contact? I’m fairly adept at the old Twitter, but not everyone even knows as much as me. And how would they find out? Twitter’s great at helping to get information into the right hands, but it needs a little finessing, right?

The same is true for the police, who in Sussex are pretty damn awesome at the Twitters. I should know, we at Public-i, have been helping them. That’s why I know, for example, that PCSO Nick Packham is in Hove Seafront and, if I tweet him at the right time, I can ask him about stuff and the like. He’s a smashing bloke, so he’ll tell me what’s up, etc. and he’d do the same for anyone else who lives in his patch. Again, great. But making the connections between people is what matters, right?

So this is what the map (lame as it is) sets out to do. It tries (for my purposes, at least) to map out who the folk are that should hear about something if there’s a problem (or can help when you need assistance). It strikes me that it could include resident associations and other groups that pay attention to a specific place, so could be quite helpful to all sorts.

OK, so it’s a Google map and that doesn’t mean it’ll be winning any usability awards in the near future – but it’s a start, right?

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who has added stuff (I’m going to have to make a list). I’ve now made some very simple instructions for anyone who’d like to add stuff but is struggling with Google Maps (don’t worry we’ve all been there). Follow this link to the post to find out more.


View Twitter map for Brighton in a larger map

Oh – by the way – if you want to put something on the map or edit it please do. I’m not going to get this done on my own!!!

Online Journalism

Advertising on council websites – a few thoughts from the dark side

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There was a really interesting conversation this morning on Twitter about councils advertising on their websites – which was started by Adrian Short (see his blog post, here, about his complaint to Nottigham City Council). I’ve tried to put the pertinent tweets together into a Storify, so that people can follow the debate. There’s probably more out there, so if you’ve got anything to add, please just tell me.

Anyway, I don’t have much to add to what Dave Briggs said here, or the debate, other than a few thoughts that come from my experience of working as a local journalist, where advertising often causes ructions.

The most salient example of this came for me a few years ago when the BNP chose to try to advertise in the Ham&High, a venerable liberal north London institution which has many Jewish readers. At the time I was a sub editor for the newspaper. The editor, Geoff Martin, chose to allow the advertising – pointing out, I think fairly, that the newspaper group, Archant, had chosen to take advertising from other political parties. To distinguish between different parties (choosing to accept advertising from some, but not others) wasn’t a consistent position. It would, he felt, be better to either accept all or decline all. And, consequently, it was only sensible to accept the advertising.

There were those who disagreed with his position, quite vehemently. This is as one would expect, given the BNP’s politics and it led to a very heated debate. Geoff was interviewed on the Today programme, defending his position.

There are a number of conclusions (and questions) that follow from this example that I think should concern any council that chooses to allow advertising:-

1). Do you have a policy for your advertising? Because if you don’t you leave yourself open to criticisms of inconsistency, which may be spectacularly unhelpful to you.

2). Can you ensure that the people who broker your advertising can avoid adverts that will break your own rules – much harder online than might at first appear to be the case?

3). Is it worth the effort? After all, revenues are often small (from things like Adsense) and don’t necessarily stack up if you consider the potential cost – in man-hours, e.t.c., from defending your position when things don’t go well?

This third point I think is crucial. Councils don’t know much about advertising – and therefore they don’t really understand the risk (or costs) that putting advertising on a site may generate. As a consequence of that how many have really thought through what might happen? For newspapers – and for other businesses who generate much of their revenue through advertising – these risks are understood and managed (but actually not entirely). For councils they are not likely to be a chief concern, nor should they be.

Councils, by their definition, are there to serve the people who live and work in their area. And it is, I think, unclear how that is best served by advertising – even if it might generate some small amount of money. Imagine, for a moment, what happens if an online service does generate income. Should the council continue to offer it even if it doesn’t serve the best needs of the council’s citizens?

My point here is that councils shouldn’t really be in the business of generating income. Other people can do that – and pay taxes that will contribute towards these websites. All of which, I think, seems a great deal more sensible.

Brighton

Mapping deprivation in Brighton (a first, faltering attempt)

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For a few reasons I decided to keep out of the way at CityCamp Brighton. But I was still keen to try to do something with a bit of my time.

Paul Colbran and the folk at Brighton and Hove released some data around postcodes and deprivation at the beginning of the conference, so I thought I’d have a look at it and see if I could get anything useful from it. The data is presented on this page, here. It’s a biggish spreadsheet, with a lot of fields that take a bit of getting used to!

I’m no expert with data, but I imported it into Google Refine – which allows you to call APIs and augment the fields with other information. I added some Lat Long coordinates – so that I could have a look at mapping the most deprived areas.

What this revealed was that there are quite a few ‘dead’ postcodes – those being, essentially, dead locations that the API can’t help you to locate. While there are Eastings and Northings, for a novice these are harder to work with – and because they are not a universally recognised system (albeit very accurate) they are not as easy to automatically map. On Saturday night I manually inputed data for the first set, but I wimped out on the Sunday and simply left the locations out.

As it happens the vast majority, I think, are located close to the areas that are revealed in the map, below. I chose to work with the 10 per cent most deprived wards, based on the assessment of deprivation made in 2007 – the ‘index of multiple deprivation 2007 overall LSOA score’. There’s an explanation of what this is here, but essentially it’s a combination of seven different aspects of deprivation – including (according to Wikipedia) ‘deprivation, employment deprivation, health deprivation and disability, education skills and training deprivation’.

Because there is some data missing – and because of the hit-and-miss nature of this kind of first stab at using the data – my map SHOULD be taken with a pinch of salt. There are, for example, a couple of fishy-looking results (deprivation on a golf course?). SO THIS IS NOT SCIENCE!!. Nonetheless, as an exercise it has been useful in proving that, with relatively little preparation, it’s possible to begin to interrogate the data and understand more about the city – and its needs.

A map presented by Anthony Zacharzewski in his introduction to CityCamp Brighton suggested that there is much deprivation intermingling with more affluent areas – I think these are called ‘pockets’ in the trade. These don’t really show up in the data that I’ve used. This might be because deprivation can be measured in a variety of ways, but it may also be because there are different degrees of deprivation. The postcode data that I looked at distinguishes, by way of illustration, between ‘the 10 per cent most deprived’ and the 20 and 30 per cent most deprived. Since I went for the most narrow definition, it is almost certainly the case that a broader range would elicit a more complex picture of where deprivation in the city is located.

There are a few things that I think come out of this:-

1). There’s a need to revise and work on cleaning up the data – particularly the postcodes – which would certainly help the council.

2). There’s an opportunity for the city itself (i.e. not just the council) to work together to explore what deprivation means, where it is and how it can be tackled that good (not the use of a very lazy positive adjective) data can help to provide.

3). There are some important questions that need to be asked about need – particularly in the location of resources and services – that mapping of deprivation is particularly useful at helping to reveal. While the council may have been considered, traditionally, to be best-placed to do this, I think it makes sense that if we start to broaden who is able to explore and consider this kind of information, we will be more likely to come up with better ideas on how to go about dealing with these problems.

4). I feel there’s a responsibility on those who push for open data to start using it as soon as it appears – even if it is only to decide that it can’t be used and to feed that information back to government. It’s only by working on the data – demonstrating that it’s useful or that it’s not – that we can help those who want to help us in winning the argument that this stuff really matters.

Better get back to Google Refine!

Silly stuff

The big society is a bit like… [add your thoughts here]

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I think I might have become a fan of the Big Society. Not because I think it’s brilliant (although at least some bits of it do make sense), but because it’s incredibly difficult to describe. Things that are difficult to describe make life tricky for journalists and commentators (let alone civil servants and junior ministers) and result in fantastic similies and metaphors – rich in both imagery and variety.

While the policy (is it a policy? Or a slogan?) may seem destined to die a slow and painful death, at least it has had us all working hard to sum up what the hell it actually means. Oddly I think this trend may have actually started in earnest with Nick Clegg who, long before he realised he might one day have to defend it, said that David Cameron’s pet project was ‘a bit like a party in a pub where your card is behind the bar’. It was a joke, I think, but it also presaged a golden era of ‘the Big Society is a bit like’ creations.

In the hope that this creativity is not lost, I have started to collect what I’ve spotted on Delicious. Below I’ve listed the best. Admittedly not all are direct comparisons – some are simply associations. A good many are excellent articles that do very well to describe what might be behind some aspects of the Big Society. And possibly one or two others are just plain mad, even quite stupid. I hope you enjoy them all.

The Big Society is a bit like…

Cool Britannia (Anthony Zacharazewski, The Democratic Society).

Downton Abbey (Deborah Orr, The Guardian).

Harry Hill’s TV Burp (The Waugh Room, Politics Home).

The Great Society (Chris, Prerogative of Harlots).

Communism. Yes, that’s right, communism. (From the David Icke forum. Hmmm… the places I get.)

Bullshit (Anne Shooter, Daily Mail).

A toy town (Hillary Wainright, The Guardian Cif blog).

Oliver Twist (Mike McNabb, Outside Left).

The 1950s (Statement from Unite the Union).

Common sense (Janet Daley, The Telegraph).

A cloak (Ed Miliband, The Independent).

Cheese (CMPO).

Ballroom dancing (Phil Redmond).

Education, education, education (The Archbishop Cranmer blog).

Online Journalism

Judith Townend: Media law for the little guy

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Judith was a journalist at journalism.co.uk. Her interest in media law has taken her to city university where she is now engaged in a PhD about just that.

Judith has been carrying out research about how small news orgs and bloggers deal with legal issues – ‘Keeping It Legal Without the Night Lawyer’. She says traditional news organisations have an armoury to deal with the law defammation, copyright, contempt of court and other legal issues that come up in their work.
This includes:-

–Night lawyers
-in-house lawyers
-journalists with traiing#legal insurance
-willing ot take risks and make payouts
-they are high profile and well connected

But as we kknow the culture of media is beginning to change. We now have hyperlocal sites, community news, consumer blogs, student blogs, online chat/debate forums, social netowrking.

All this has completely changed the game. Judith says: ‘Not everyone thinks as themselves as journalists, people using Facebook don’t think of it as publishing, but does expose people to media law.

Judith carried out a survey online (which I took part in) about the legal experiences that bloggers and small media opublishers in the UK had.
Judith got 71 responses to the survey. And the results, shes said , wer not expected. ‘People were more relaxed about it than I thought they would be,’ she said.

27 of respondents had legal enounters and of the 19 hwo were contacted, only senven sought legal advice. Jut two reached court. Six had cases that were dropped at an earlier stage.

27 per cent of respondents had experienced legal encounters and of those 19 people, only seven sought legal advice. Just two cases reached court. Six had cases that were dropped at an earlier stage.

(thanks to Judith for correction!)

How people felt about legal resources?
71 respondents were completely divided –
46 per cent there werent’ enough
54 per cent there were.

Some people said they felt comfortable, but weren’t sure what they’d do if they did get into trouble. Judith said it was clear – and interesting – that there really hadn’t been much research into it at all. It was clear, too, that there was scope for more research.

There’s a Help Me Investigate investigation and a Linked In group – and there’s also the website.
@jtownend @mejalaw @medialawUK

Brighton

Gritting bins in Brighton

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Brighton in the snow taken by Neate Photos - on a Creative Commons Licence

With all the cold weather I thought it might be useful to have a little look at the gritting information available for where I live.

I’ve taken a PDF file on Brighton and Hove’s website and made it into a spreadsheet, which you can see here.

I’ve also made the spreadsheet into a kind of pivot-table type explorable gadget, which you can see as a tab on the spreadsheet. This should make it easy for you to be able to play a bit with the data – and find out where the grit bins in your area are. Word of warning: This provides the location of the bins from the PDF – which, as I understand it, can be used by public when necessary. Lots of wards (including my own, Brunswick and Adelaide) don’t have bins, probably because they’re quite built up. The pixel limit of my theme means I can’t stretch it across the page, but you can see it below. To play with it properly I’d recommend that you go to the spreadsheet.

The council has recently added a number of bins since the cold weather last year (and early this year) and you can use the gadget to see where the new bins are.

What’s missing at the moment are the lat-long co-ordinates for each of the bins. It might (also) be helpful to find out whether the bins are full – and what ‘yellow, green, cream’ bins are specifically for.

Brighton and Hove has lots of information about the bins, but nothing specifically about routes. In Birmingham there was a list of the roads that get gritted. Dave Harte of the Bournville blog made that in to a map for his area and turned it into a spreadsheet. Inspired by this, a few folk who are members of the local OpenStreetMap group turned it into a more comprehensive map for the Midlands.

It’d be nice if we could start a similar bit of community activity here in Brighton, but I’m too new to the area to have a clue where to start! However, I’ve made an open copy of the spreadsheet. This is just in case anyone else wants to add information – for example lat/long or more info about the location of the grit bins.