Tag: Politicians

Should the government stop local councils competing with local newspapers?

Below (scan down a bit) is a piece I’ve written at the invitation of Paul Bradshaw from the Online Journalism Blog. Paul e-mailed to say:  “I’m creating a 6-part series of responses to the government as part of its inquiry into the future of local and regional media. I will be submitting the whole – along with blog comments – to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. They invited responses on 6 areas. This part will look at the 3rd:

The appropriateness and effectiveness of print and electronic publishing initiatives undertaken directly by public sector bodies at the local level. The question of what public sector bodies should be allowed to publish, how that affects local journalism, and how it affects local democracy, is one of the most difficult to resolve – not least because it involves so many interconnected elements.”  So that’s what Paul asked. He has written this and here are my thoughts – mostly on the question of the quality and transparency of information paid for from the public purse:


I talk to a lot of people who work in council communications departments. They’re all conscious that the regional press is in trouble.  If they’ve not recently lost a local paper they’ve certainly seen local journalists lose their jobs.

They consistently tell me one thing: “Because there are fewer reporters it’s easier to get coverage. Those who are left are really grateful for the stuff we give them.  More and more they run it verbatim”.

On the one hand we have newspaper editors complaining about direct competition from council newspapers and websites, on the other they increase their reliance on content from these same sources.   This tension amply illustrates the waning value of newspapers as mediators.

Public bodies will continue to want to connect directly with an audience. They will find it ever easier to tell their stories in audio, video, maps, text and images and they will attach all that content to rss feeds to be used by individuals and publishers of all sizes.

Not only that but public services have a growing responsibility to talk directly to the public.  The conversational web and data mashing offer an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate with us to improve public services.  It would be negligent for any media regulation to stifle this.  Indeed central government already actively encourages local councils to improve their direct relationship with the communities they serve.

Any minister making decisions now risks being derided in years to come for not understanding quite how powerful these new flows of information are, first to undermine the business model of newspaper and second to strengthen the democratic opportunities for our public services. I can’t imagine any sensible intervention from Andy Burnham or Hazel Blears demanding that this trend should be somehow stopped!

New standards for Public Information

Newspaper editors should stop bleating about potential competition. Instead they should fight for new standards for public information.

Clearly all public communications departments take care to be accurate and negotiate the line between politics and public service. Often they will check their facts more carefully than journalists might because they get more stick for being wrong.

But as more and more material from local government press departments is used  use un-mediated by millions of people how do we guarantee the quality of this information?

So now is not the time for government to stifle council communications teams. Now is the time to ask if we have the right editorial guidelines for council press officers and communications departments. Let us instead ensure  every single one is a centre of excellence for plentiful, high quality and easily re-usable public information.

We already have at least one model for using public money to pay public servants to create content for the public good. It’s called the BBC. This is based on the rather clumsy notion of impartiality. The new model should be built on guarantee of quality that comes with transparency.

Any comments you make below will be posted, by Paul, through to the enquiry. Others in the series include:

Alex Lockwood on “The impact of newspaper closures on independent local journalism and access to local information”

Adrian Monck on “The opportunities and implications of BBC partnerships with Local Media”

Paul Bradshaw also on “Should Councils Publish Newspapers”

Don't tell the COI but every government news stream now has it's own twitter account.

Some of you will have mixed feelings about this but every major news feed out of the UK government now has it’s own twitter account. What’s interesting about this is the whole process is unofficial.  I’ve no doubt Tom Watson will be delighted, but what will the COI make of this unofficial use of information?  -They’re already working on improving websites, hopefully they will understand this as an improvement in their web presence.

I’m going to quote Geof Cole, who has done this deed:

The Central Office of Information run a rather good website called the News Distribution Service, formerly the Government News Network. Below the fold are the RSS and Twitter feeds in three groups – aggregate, departmental and regional.

Unfortunately, no-one knows about it as the COI doesn’t do much to promote it despite being “the Government’s centre of excellence for marketing and communications”. It consists of news updates for all the big bits of government – departments, agencies and regions – that you could want. It’s a good way of keeping an eye on what they’re all up to an finding the occasional hidden gem of a press release. They’ve had RSS feeds for ages and now they’re on Twitter (thanks to yours truly).

I do hope someone in government picks up the admin for this. If you want to see a full list of the feeds, including your regional one, then here’s a link to Geoff’s blog.

Update, others on this:

Neil Williams: “It’s likely there will be lots of crossover between Dave’s NDS-fuelled feeds and these civil servant powered accounts, so choose wisely which to follow. The human-edited tweets will offer more than just press releases but they might also be selective about the news they deem tweet-worthy.”

“Can we talk?” – a new measure for liveable cities.

I’ve been asked by MADE to write 200 words for the Birmingham Post. They’re gauging opinion before the Technical and Environmental  Mayor of Copenhagen speaks in Birmingham next week. Klaus Bondam will be at Town Hall on April 6th to share with us how he expects Copenhagen to stays a wonderful place to live.

I was asked about an hour ago and the deadline is tonight.  Here’s a bashed out draft of what I fancy saying. Please encourage, discourage amend etc in the comments. Does anyone have details of that survey that put us the 2nd best place for social media behind, is it Chicago?


Is this a good place to talk?  It’s not a question we often ask about cities.  After all the whole point of a city is that we can connect, trade and work.  Non of that happens without talk, does it? No it doesn’t, and neither does innovation.

Conversation is about scale, it happens where it’s easy for people to gather in small groups.  The ICC is evidence that we know about audience on a grand scale, but how well do we do small scale gathering?

We need many places where we can meet, deliberately or by accident.  That means a city which is easy to walking but above all has many interesting and modestly scaled places that people want to go.   It means a tolerance of other’s ideas and interests, a city where people also like to listen.

These are partly planning issues and partly cultural issues. How good are our public services at setting the example and being interested in us, how good our our planners and designers at encouraging the interesting?

And of course we don’t just want to talk to ourselves. Birmingham needs take part in a global conversation.  So our schools need open access to the internet and our school teachers and pupils helped to have the confidence to take part in sharing and developing ideas with people across the planet.

Oh and Birmingham doesn’t have free internet access in the city centre, whatever our PR folk may so. So Birmingham Fizz needs to be turned of or turned into a proper free wifi service, so we can finally start hearing each other speak.


Director of Digital Engagement – Cabinet Office.

I’ve always thought encouraging the active use of social media in government is a patient game. Culture change takes time and asking people to start listening in new ways, joining new conversations, collaborating with new people is a substantial culture change.  What it can lead to is a step change again.

Fortunately the Cabinet Office is quite impatient to see progress. They are looking for a Director of Digital Engagement (salary £81,000 – £160,000) who will take on “a new role charged with getting Government to work differently.

This will require Government and individual departments to change the way they do business – from consulting citizens to collaborating with them on the development of policy and how public services are delivered to them. It will involve supporting Ministers and senior officials in entering conversations in which Government does not control the message or the dialogue.

Within six months the Head of Digital Engagement will have developed a strategy and implementation plan and be able to show concrete signs of momentum in executing the plan.

Within a year the Head of Digital Engagement should be able to point to two departments whose use of digital engagement are recognised in the digital community as being world class

Within two years the use of world class digital engagement techniques should be embedded in the normal work of Government”

Umh. Is Tom Loosemore really ready to leave 4ip or perhaps Richard Allan wants a change from Cisco?  Steph Gray from Dius has already begun thinking about what this “poor soul” should do first and with uservoice has begun voting on just that problem (No 1 appears to be promote the use of small contracts and contractors for govt IT). Even Jeff  Jarvis noted the job. So there’s some names. Who else do you think ought to be sharpening their pencil?

Update: 1 Dominic Campbell fleshes out the role: “the Digi Director must also avoid becoming embedded in government and spend as much time out and about as possible, out with the policy makers, politicians and social innovators. They will also need uber executive back up from somewhere in government to make the change happen, with experiences such as those of the recently ex-civil servant Jeremy Gould highlighting the distance the government still has to travel before it truly gets the web and is willing to invest appropriate amounts of time and attention in it.”

2 I fear that Dave Briggs coinage of blogging tsar might catch on. Twould be a shame.

3 A campaign, begun to get the job for darrenbbc, as already had cold watered poured on it by Tom Watson. Sheesh – the job applications will be crowd sourced, why not teh job itself!

4 Paul Evans toys with the Robin Williams problem, do ‘they’ really want to be that engaging.