Thursday, 15 March 2012

Courts and councils: please make it easier to get information

I've been putting together some sessions on news reporting and the role of PR people and press offices for journalism students I've been working with. This has included going to watch and report on Southampton City Council meetings and the students have also taken part in a mock press conference with Council press officers.

My visit to the council came not long after attending the Justice Wide Open media law event at City University and it struck me that some of the same information issues raised at the law event could also apply to councils.

How easy is to get court information?
Speakers at Justice Wide Open, including information campaigner Heather Brooke and press association legal correspondent Mike Dodd, criticised the difficulties journalists and members of the public face when trying to find out about and attend court cases. Lists of cases are not always available and some courts appear to revel in the mystique and idiosyncracies of our legal system. Two proposals stood out:

Friday, 9 March 2012

Useful tips on how to question numbers

I've been working with some journalism students looking at the challenges of writing stories based on surveys and other stats. So it was good to see some useful tips on how to question numbers from South African journalist Linda Nordling writing on SCiDevnet.

Many journalists started their careers because they are good with words but some are really uncomfortable with figures.

Useful tips from Nordling include:
  • Single numbers aren't always useful: they need other figures to provide context.
  • What's missing: eg check that percentage breakdowns add up to 100. If they don't, what's missing?
  • Use figures that readers/users can relate to.
  • Watch out for stats and financial targets that sound unrealistic.
  • And of course: check, check, check.