Tag Archives: pr

Press officers to be given data to back up speeches – will journalists be able to interrogate it?

Full Fact report that the Department of Health is to give press officers data so they can field press enquiries about claims made in ministerial speeches:

“An internal ‘data document’ will provide press officers with links to sources for each factual claim made in a speech, as well as contact details for the official or analyst who provided the information.”

It’s an important move, and given that it comes in response to a body  (the UK Statistics Authority) which has also rebuked other arms of government for misusing stats, you might expect other departments to follow.

Of course, it relies on journalists being aware that this exists, being willing to ask for the data, and able to interrogate it (or its author). Another on the list for the case for data literacy.

The law, ethics & effectiveness of PR firms offering bloggers prizes-to-post

A PR firm recently invited me to review their client’s product, saying that if I did review it I would be entered into a prize draw with other ‘qualifying’ bloggers to win an iPad 2.

It was a product I might ordinarily have covered, but this approach made me reluctant.

Here’s reason number 1: I asked myself whether the PR firm will have made the same approach to print journalists. I doubt it. Why? Because it would have raised obvious ethical issues, and questioned the journalists’ professionalism.

So were they assuming that bloggers had different ethics? I doubt they thought that hard – more likely was that some bright spark thought that eager, amateur bloggers would jump at the chance to get anything for their hard work.

Here’s reason number 2: other bloggers will have been approached with the same offer. If they saw me review the product they would assume that I had done so in exchange for this prize draw ticket. They would see me as unprofessional, unethical, or both.

In PR terms, then, the approach was counter-productive: it actually made me less likely to give their client coverage.
Continue reading

Signals of churnalism?

Journalism warning labels

Journalism warning labels by Tom Scott

On Friday I had quite a bit of fun with Churnalism.com, a new site from the Media Standards Trust which allows you to test how much of a particular press release has been reproduced verbatim by media outlets.

The site has an API, which got me thinking whether you might be able to ‘mash’ it with an RSS feed from Google News to check particular types of articles – and what ‘signals’ you might use to choose those articles.

I started with that classic PR trick: the survey. A search on Google News for “a survey * found” (the * is a wildcard, meaning it can be anything) brings some interesting results to start investigating.

Jon Bounds added a favourite of his: “hailed a success”.

And then it continued: Continue reading

Content, context and code: verifying information online

ContentContextCode_VerifyingInfo

When the telephone first entered the newsroom journalists were sceptical. “How can we be sure that the person at the other end is who they say they are?” The question seems odd now, because we have become so used to phone technology that we barely think of it as technology at all – and there are a range of techniques we use, almost unconsciously, to verify what the person on the other end of the phone is saying, from their tone of voice, to the number they are ringing from, and the information they are providing.

Dealing with online sources is no different. How do you know the source is telling the truth? You’re a journalist, for god’s sake: it’s your job to find out.

In many ways the internet gives us extra tools to verify information – certainly more than the phone ever did. The apparent ‘facelessness’ of the medium is misleading: every piece of information, and every person, leaves a trail of data that you can use to build a picture of its reliability.

The following is a three-level approach to verification: starting with the content itself, moving on to the context surrounding it; and finishing with the technical information underlying it. Most of the techniques outlined take very little time at all but the key thing is to look for warning signs and follow those up. Continue reading

Content, context and code: verifying information online

When the telephone first entered the newsroom journalists were sceptical. “How can we be sure that the person at the other end is who they say they are?” The question seems odd now, because we have become so used to phone technology that we barely think of it as technology at all – and there are a range of techniques we use, almost unconsciously, to verify what the person on the other end of the phone is saying, from their tone of voice, to the number they are ringing from, and the information they are providing.

Dealing with online sources is no different. How do you know the source is telling the truth? You’re a journalist, for god’s sake: it’s your job to find out.

In many ways the internet gives us extra tools to verify information – certainly more than the phone ever did. The apparent ‘facelessness’ of the medium is misleading: every piece of information, and every person, leaves a trail of data that you can use to build a picture of its reliability. Continue reading

Video: Vikki Chowney & Tony Curzon-Price on creating a buzz: how to get your content noticed

With so much news content available online and a host of ways to promote and share that material it’s often hard for journalists and bloggers to know how to make their content stand out. There are a host of companies offering a quick fix to this problem with promises of Facebook friends and sky-high traffic stats. However, some of the most successful blogs go for a niche audience who care about the subject matter, and spread the word organically.

OJB grabbed a few minutes at News:Rewired with Vikki Chowney (Reputation Online), and Tony Curzon-Price (openDemocracy) to find out how they make an impact online

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VuF23TDBDI%5D [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dm4Tl6Fnp1w%5D

Review: Heather Brooke – The Silent State

The Silent State

In the week that a general election is called, Heather Brooke’s latest book couldn’t have been better timed. The Silent State is a staggeringly ambitious piece of work that pierces through the fog of the UK’s bureaucracies of power to show how they work, what is being hidden, and the inconsistencies underlying the way public money is spent.

Like her previous book, Your Right To Know, Brooke structures the book into chapters looking at different parts of the power system in the UK – making it a particularly usable reference work when you want to get your head around a particular aspect of our political systems.

Chapter by chapter

Chapter 1 lists the various databases that have been created to maintain information on citizens – paying particular focus to the little-publicised rack of databases holding subjective data on children. The story of how an old unpopular policy was rebranded to ride into existence on the back of the Victoria Climbie bandwagon is particularly illustrative of government’s hunger for data for data’s sake.

Picking up that thread further, Chapter 2 explores how much public money is spent on PR and how public servants are increasingly prevented from speaking directly to the media. It’s this trend which made The Times’ outing of police blogger Nightjack particularly loathsome and why we need to ensure we fight hard to protect those who provide an insight into their work on the ground.

Chapter 3 looks at how the misuse of statistics led to the independence of the head of the Office of National Statistics – but not the staff that he manages – and how the statistics given to the media can differ quite significantly to those provided when requested by a Select Committee (the lesson being that these can be useful sources to check). It’s a key chapter for anyone interested in the future of public data and data journalism.

Bureaucracy itself is the subject of the fourth chapter. Most of this is a plea for good bureaucracy and the end of unnamed sources, but there is still space for illustrative and useful anecdotes about acquiring information from the Ministry of Defence.

And in Chapter 5 we get a potted history of MySociety’s struggle to make politicians accountable for their votes, and an overview of how data gathered with public money – from The Royal Mail’s postcodes to Ordnance Survey – is sold back to the public at a monopolistic premium.

The justice system and the police are scrutinised in the 6th and 7th chapters – from the twisted logic that decreed audio recordings are more unreliable than written records to the criminalisation of complaint.

Then finally we end with a personal story in Chapter 8: a reflection on the MPs’ expenses saga that Brooke is best known for. You can understand the publishers – and indeed, many readers – wanting to read the story first-hand, but it’s also the least informative of all the chapters for journalists (which is a credit to all that Brooke has achieved on that front in wider society).

With a final ‘manifesto’ section Brooke summarises the main demands running across the book and leaves you ready to storm every institution in this country demanding change. It’s an experience reminiscent of finishing Franz Kafka’s The Trial – we have just been taken on a tour through the faceless, logic-deprived halls of power. And it’s a disconcerting, disorientating feeling.

Journalism 2.0

But this is not fiction. It is great journalism. And the victims caught in expensive paper trails and logical dead ends are real people.

Because although the book is designed to be dipped in as a reference work, it is also written as an eminently readable page-turner – indeed, the page-turning gets faster as the reader gets angrier. Throughout, Brooke illustrates her findings with anecdotes that not only put a human face on the victims of bureaucracy, but also pass on the valuable experience of those who have managed to get results.

For that reason, the book is not a pessimistic or sensationalist piece of writing. There is hope – and the likes of Brooke, and MySociety, and others in this book are testament to the fact that this can be changed.

The Silent State is journalism 2.0 at its best – not just exposing injustice and waste, but providing a platform for others to hold power to account. It’s not content for content’s sake, but a tool. I strongly recommend not just buying it – but using it. Because there’s some serious work to be done.