Tag Archives: Will Perrin

Why we need open courts data – and newspapers need to improve too

Justice

Justice photo by mira66

Few things sum up the division of the UK around the riots like the sentencing of those involved. Some think courts are too lenient, while others gape at six month sentences for people who stole a bottle of water.

These judgments are often made on the basis of a single case, rather than any overall view. And you might think, in such a situation, that a journalist’s role would be to find out just how harsh or lenient sentencing has been – not just across the 1,600 or more people who have been arrested during the riots, but also in comparison to previous civil disturbances – or indeed, to similar crimes outside of a riot situation.

As Martin Belam argues:

“Really good data journalism will help us untangle the truth from those prejudiced assumptions. But this is data journalism that needs to stay the course, and seems like an ideal opportunity to do “long-form data journalism”. How long will these looters serve? What is the ethnic make-up and age range of those convicted? How many other criminals will get an early release because our jails are newly full of looters? How many people convicted this week will go on to re-offend?”

And yet, amazingly, we cannot reliably answer these questions – because it is still not possible to get raw data on sentencing in UK courts, not even through FOI. Continue reading

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Why journalists should be lobbying over police.uk’s crime data

UK police crime maps

Conrad Quilty-Harper writes about the new crime data from the UK police force – and in the process adds another straw to the groaning camel’s back of the government’s so-called transparency agenda:

“It’s useless to residents wanting to find out what was going on at the house around the corner at 3am last night, and it’s useless to individuals who want to build mobile phone applications on top of the data (perhaps to get a chunk of that £6 billion industry open data is supposed to create).

“The site’s limitations are as follows:

  • No IDs for crimes: what if I want to check whether real life crimes have made it onto the map? Sorry.
  • Six crime categories: including “other crimes”, everything from drug dealing to bank robberies in one handy, impossible to understand category.
  • No live data: you mean I have to wait until the end of the next month to see this month’s criminality?!
  • No dates or times: funny how without dates and times I can’t tell which police manager was in charge.
  • Case status: the police know how many crimes go solved or unsolved, why not tell us this?”

This is why people are so concerned about the Public Data Corporation. This is why we need to be monitoring exactly what spending data councils release, and in what format. And this is why we need to continue to press for the expansion of FOI laws. This is what we should be doing. Are we?

UPDATE: Will Perrin has FOI’d all correspondence relating to ICO advice on the crime maps. Jonathan Raper has a list of further flaws including:

  • Some data such as sexual offences and murder is removed – even though it would be easy to discover and locate from other police reports.
  • Data covers reported crimes rather than convictions, so some of it may turn out not to be crime.
  • The levels of policing are not provided, so that two areas with the “same” crime levels may in fact have “radically different” experiences of crime and policing.

Charles Arthur notes that: “Police forces have indicated that whenever a new set of data is uploaded – probably each month – the previous set will be removed from public view, making comparisons impossible unless outside developers actively store it.”

Louise Kidney says:

“What we’ve actually got with http://www.police.uk is neither one nor the other. Ruth looks like a crime overlord cos of all the crimes happening in her garden and we haven’t got exact point data, but we haven’t got first part of postcode data either e.g. BB5 crimes or NW1 crimes. Instead, we’ve got this weird halfway house thing where it’s not accurate, but its inaccuracy almost renders it useless because we don’t have any idea if every force uses the same parameters when picking these points, we don’t know how they pick their points, we don’t know what we don’t know in terms of whether one house in particular is causing a considerable issue with anti-social behaviour for example, allowing me to go to my local Council and demand they do something about it.”

Adrian Short argues that “What we’re looking at here isn’t a value-neutral scientific exercise in helping people to live their daily lives a little more easily, it’s an explicitly political attempt to shape the terms of a debate around the most fundamental changes in British policing in our lifetimes.”

He adds:

“It’s derived data that’s already been classified, rounded and lumped together in various ways, with a bit of location anonymising thrown in for good measure. I haven’t had a detailed look at it yet but I would caution against trying to use it for anything serious. A whole set of decisions have already transformed the raw source data (individual crime reports) into this derived dataset and you can’t undo them. You’ll just have to work within those decisions and stay extremely conscious that everything you produce with it will be prefixed, “as far as we can tell”.

“£300K for this? There ought to be a law against it.”

UPDATE 2: One frustrated developer has launched CrimeSearch.co.uk to provide “helpful information about crime and policing in your area, without costing 300k of tax payers’ money”

Hyperlocal voices: Will Perrin, Kings Cross Environment

hyperlocal blogger Will Perrin

Will Perrin has spoken widely about his experiences with www.kingscrossenvironment.com, a site he set up four years ago “as a desperate measure to help with local civic activism”. In the latest in the Hyperlocal Voices series, he explains how news comes far down their list of priorities, and the importance of real world networks.

Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds?

I set it up solo in 2006, local campaigner Stephan joined late in 2006 and Sophie shortly thereafter. The three of us write regularly – me a civil servant for most of my time on the site, Sophie an actor, Stephan a retired media executive.

We had all been active in our communities for many years on a range of issues with very different perspectives. There are four or five others who contribute occasionally and a network of 20 or more folk who send us stuff for the site.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

The site was simply a tool to help co-ordinate civic action on the ground. The site was set up in 2006 as a desperate measure to help with local civic activism.

I was totally overwhelmed with reports, documents, minutes of meetings and was generating a lot of photos of broken things on the street. The council had just created a new resident-led committee for me and the burden was going to increase. Also I kept bumping into loads of other people who were active in the community but no one knew what the others were doing. I knew that the internet was a good way of organising information but wasn’t sure how to do it. Continue reading

Time to talk about legal

As a lone blogger how much legal protection do you have? No more than anyone else, when it comes to libel, contempt of court law and so on, except that people are more likely to pay attention to large media organisations.

But there are many instances where bloggers have lost a lot of time and money over legal disputes. Last week, for example, journalist and blogger Dave Osler finally saw an end to a legal battle that consumed three years of his life, after he was sued for libel by the political activist Johanna Kaschke. Despite being refused the right to appeal the strike-out of the Osler case, she is still planning to appeal another High Court decision that ended her libel claim against Alex Hilton and John Gray.

If all individual bloggers worried about getting into trouble too much, we’d write much less than we do. Even big scary cases aren’t a deterrent: Dave Osler is still blogging. I was personally surprised by the results of my survey of 71 small online publishers this summer. Not that only 27 per cent had been involved in legal disputes (that was about what I expected) but that over half were satisfied with the number of legal resources available.

Personally, the grey areas of law trouble me and I don’t think there could be enough support: I’d like to see more organised structures for legal help, a sort of Citizens Advice Bureau for bloggers, if you like. Informal advice is already spreading via social networks, as lawyers increasingly use Twitter and blogs to join the conversation.

As I reported on my site Meeja Law, one hyperlocal blogger who was accused of breach of copyright asked for legal advice via Twitter: “Two separate media lawyers confirmed (for free) that I’d done nothing wrong. I also contacted [hyperlocal organisation] Talk About Local for advice, and they told me the same.”

Talk About Local has published several media law guides online (eg. this one on defamation) and the organisation’s founder William Perrin offers some frank legal advice ahead of a legal session at last weekend’s London Local Neighbourhoods Online Unconference:

…just about the best legal advice, which very few follow is to set up a 
limited company and keep the website inside that. Then you don’t lose 
your house to a nutter under defamation law….

Another concern of mine is the lack of transparency of courts data, something I’ve discussed at length here. I think bloggers should be able to access more information about cases; at the very least, the Ministry of Justice needs to consider its outmoded contempt of court law that is ill-equipped to deal with the online age.

In the coming months, I’d like to build up the conversation in this area and think about how we might approach some of these issues. If you’d like to be part of this informal online ‘working group’ please consider joining the Help Me Investigate challenge at this link (request membership here), or discussing via the OJB Facebook group.

UPDATE [Paul Bradshaw]: I’ve created a LinkedIn group as a place for people to more openly discuss how to take this forward.

Judith Townend (@jtownend on Twitter) is a PhD research student at City University London and freelance journalist.

More from #JNTM: Flawed thinking behind government local TV plans

Following on from the previous post, another government policy up for criticism at this week’s Journalism’s Next Top Model conference was the much-mooted local TV plans.

This was a recurring theme of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt‘s speeches while in opposition, and this week he announced that Nicholas Shott, Head of UK Investment Banking at Lazard, will “look at the potential for commercially viable local television stations within the local media landscape right across the nations and regions of the UK.”

Roger Parry – credited with much of the thinking behind Hunt’s proposals – backed the plan, seeing it as being more about local multimedia than local TV. He expected around 80 local TV stations to be made available on Freeview with a consumer-focused mix of programming (gardening, DIY, etc.) and sponsorship rather than spot advertising.

But Clare Enders (Enders Analysis) and Will Perrin (Talk About Local) were hugely sceptical of the commercial basis for a local TV market in the UK.

Enders pointed out that while local newspaper advertising was worth £2.6bn this year, £1bn of that came from classifieds – a form that doesn’t translate to TV (ITV’s previous experiments with ‘video classifieds’ was, she said, a “disaster”).

She also highlighted the vast differences between the US local TV market – where national networks support state affiliates and states have their own “separateness” – and that in the UK where, she predicted, impending budget cuts “will kill some local economies – not inspire ad growth. It will get worse.”

“[Local TV] hasn’t panned out and my goodness has it been looked at in the past couple of decades.”

Date for the diary: JEEcamp 2010 on May 21

jeecamp

Given that Roy Greenslade has beaten me to blogging about my own event, I thought I’d better go ahead and blog about it here. I’m talking about JEEcamp of course – a conference-cum-unconference about journalism experimentation and enterprise. Put another way, if you read this blog, the sort of stuff I talk about.

It’s on May 21st at The Bond in Birmingham. Here’s what we’ve got:

  • Keynote from Simon Waldman, Author, Creative Disruption, and Digital Director, Guardian Media Group. (When I started blogging this was one guy I always read – and he’s still ahead of the game.)
  • Panel: What does the election result mean for publishers and startups? Confirmed so far: Tom Loosemore (ex-Ofcom, -BBC, now-Channel 4), Talk About Local’s Will Perrin and outgoing Creative Industries minister Sion Simon.
  • Please nominate who you would like as the fourth panellist.
  • Closing keynote: Stewart Kirkpatrick, founder of Scotland’s first online-only newspaper, Caledonian Mercury (@calmerc), which launched earlier this year.

More importantly, in between all of that are a whole bunch of fringe meetings, chats over coffee and group discussions. You decide what to talk about here. Because, really, that’s what we go to conferences for, isn’t it?

And in the spirit of the internet, there’s a low barrier to entry: tickets are only £30

For those who haven’t been before, there’s coverage of last year’s event here and here. For those who have, feel free to post a comment.

You really don’t need to use any more brainpower on this. Book a ticket by emailing Kelly.ONeil@BCU.ac.uk (invoices available!) and sign up on the Facebook page or wiki.

C&binet: The mice that roared. Or at least wrote some things on Post-Its.

I spent today at the hyperlocal C&binet event, organised by Creative Industries MP Sion Simon at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport. I’ve already blogged my thoughts leading up to event but thought I would add some more links and context.

For me, it is significant that this happened at all. Normally these sorts of events are dominated by large publishers with lobbying muscle. Yet here we had a group combining hyperlocal bloggers, successful startups like Facebook, Ground Report, Global Voices and the Huffington Post, social media figures like Nick Booth and Jon Bounds, and traditional organisations like The Guardian, BBC, RSA and Ofcom. Jeff Jarvis pitched into the mix via Skype.

As for the event itself, it began the previous afternoon with a presentation from Enders Analysis, embedded below: Continue reading