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David Higgerson: Tweeting FOI requests? ICO got this wrong

Last week we blogged about how the Information Commissioners Office’s had clarified where it stood on the use of Twitter to submit freedom of information requests, confirming that such requests may be valid.

But head of multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals David Higgerson wasn’t convinced that this was such a great idea. In a post on his blog he explains why, including the character limit imposed on Twitter, having to make a public request and the chances of a request not going direct to an FOI officer.

So when the ICO says that ‘Twitter is not the most effective channel for submitting or responding to freedom of information requests’ what it should actually be saying is: “Twitter is never a good way to deal with FOI requests.”

Read his post in full here…

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David Higgerson: Journalists must keep pushing for open data

May 19th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Data, Editors' pick

David Higgerson, head of multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals, has published the address he made about data journalism at the FutureEverything conference in Manchester last week, making some interesting points.

Higgerson says that for journalists the biggest challenge is going to keep “pushing” for data to become available.

Councils have to issue details of all spending over £500 – but some councils have decided to publish all spending because it’s cheaper to do so. As journalists, we should push for that to happen everywhere.

FOI is key here. The more we ask for something under FOI because it isn’t freely available, the greater the chance its release will become routine, rather than requested. That’s the challenge for today’s data journalists: Not creating stunning visualisations, but helping to decide what is released, rather than just passively accepting what’s released.

Read his post in full here…

Journalism.co.uk is running a one-day digital journalism conference looking at data in the news industry next week at Thomson Reuters. news:rewired – noise to signal will take place on Friday 27 May. You can find out more information and buy tickets by following this link.

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David Higgerson: ‘Actionable’ news and what it means for data journalism

November 24th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Data, Editors' pick

David Higgerson blogs about the idea of ‘actionable’ news – a phrase that he first heard at last week’s Society of Editors conference from Reuters’ Jodie Ginsberg:

I see actionable news being right at the heart of the idea of data journalism. Information may well be freely available in a way we’ve never seen before, but that doesn’t mean the role of the storyteller has fallen by the wayside. As long as the writer who gets to grips with a spreadsheet of data is also plugged into the community they serve, and knows what they are interested in, then we’ve got actionable news (…) It shouldn’t be a revelation to journalists – after all, newsroom planners have certain data-rich days marked in every year, such as GCSE league tables day. But rather than be dictated to by a government planning calendar, journalists who can marry data access to issues which impact on people’s lives can provide make their work, and the titles they work for, more relevant to an audience than ever before.

Full post on David Higgerson’s blog at this link…

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Six pre-request FOI questions for journalists

David Higgerson, head of multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals, regularly blogs about Freedom of Information requests, from best practice advice to what he’s learned thanks to FOI requests each week.

In his latest post he warns that there is a danger that journalists may “default to FOI” too often, which can have an impact on the quality of the results they get. In order to get the best responses he suggests posing a series of questions to yourself before requesting the information. In summary they are:

  1. Is this information available elsewhere?
  2. Will they release the information to me without going through FOI?
  3. Is there another way of getting this information?
  4. Do I need to think about jargon in my FOI request?
  5. Are there examples of the information being released elsewhere?
  6. What reasons for refusal could a public body come up with?

Read his post in full for detailed advice…

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David Higgerson: Tell your readers about failed FOI requests

A blog post by David Higgerson, head of multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals, this week addresses the issue of FOI request refusals and what he thinks journalists should do if they hit a brick wall in their attempts to get information.

He argues that it is important for journalists to not only try to get the information for their readers, but to inform their audience of their endeavours if the material itself cannot be released or reported.

Some see journalistic use of FOI as reporters just finding ‘easy leads’. But if reporters and journalists are working on behalf of their readers, then surely it makes sense to tell readers when they can’t report information

See his full post here…

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William Hague and the power of the political blogger

David Higgerson, head of multimedia at Trinity Mirror, has posed some interesting questions on what the William Hague and Christopher Myers story means for the power, image and responsibilities of the blogging community.

The fact Hague felt the need to release the statement he did, and that Myers felt the need to stand down, shows the influence political bloggers have within the Westminster village. (…) Does Hague’s response suggest that he and his colleague over-weighed the true impact of what is written on blogs for the wider public? It’s certainly the mother of all statements, and there’s a danger it sets a new precedent for denying rumours. Will we now see a glut of rumours around the internet in the knowledge that a denial is likely to follow?

And, he adds, if recent events do show political bloggers are becoming increasingly influential, should we now be addressing the introduction of greater responsibilities for such a powerful online community?

See his full post here…

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Local council says it will start charging for FOI requests

A local council in Chester has announced it will start charging for freedom of information requests, claiming the service is currently being misused and manipulated.

According to a press release from Cheshire West and Chester council, it is being inundated with “ridiculous” requests for information which involves “copious detail”, much of it an unnecessary cost to the taxpayer, it adds.

As a result, the council’s Executive has now unanimously agreed a new charging policy for FOI requests. In the release it says it hopes this will enable it to “claw back some of the expense”.

But this tactic has been criticised by head of multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals David Higgerson, on his blog, after asking his own questions about the rules of FOI requests.

Councils can’t just charge for FOI requests. If it costs less than £450 in staff time to collate the information, then you can’t refuse to provide it on grounds of costs. Nor can you charge for that time.

In his post Higgerson offers his own recommendations for how the council could save money on answering FOI requests by improving the service. In summary they are:

  • Improve the council’s FOI page.
  • Carry a released information page.
  • Publish more information by default.
  • Re-read the FOI Act and use exemptions more often.
  • Talk to the requesters.
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David Higgerson: ‘The dangers of data talk’

June 24th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Multimedia, Online Journalism

While David Higgerson, head of multimedia at Trinity Mirror Regionals, welcomes the government’s open data initiatives, he raises a few concerns on his blog, asking how long it is going to flow, for example.

While I’m sure the Tories have little intention of suddenly closing down data access in the future, there are signs that levels of data collection may reduce in the future.

Take, for example, the announcement this week that the number of health targets will be reduced. On one hand, it’s a quick headline to announce a reduction in red tape, but it also means that less data will be collected.

Full post at this link…

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David Higgerson: 10 ideas for hyperlocal websites

June 8th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick, Local media

David Higgerson, head of multimedia at Trinity Mirror Regionals, has been researching the relationship between local newspapers and their websites and independent, hyperlocal websites and blogs. His 10 suggestions adapt some lessons learned by local papers to hyperlocal publishers wanting a bigger audience and also look at how closer relationship could be forged by ‘traditional’ local media outlets and new sites. The ideas include:

Weather: There’ s a reason why newspapers spend a fair bit of money on weather for their newspapers – people want it, and the more local the better. That’s good news for hyperlocal sites, because widgets such as the ones from the Met Office make that a quick win for you.

And:

Nostalgia: The old newsroom joke that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be couldn’t be more wrong – it’s as popular now as it always has been. Again, a good working relationship with the local newspaper (and its big archive) would help here – but delving into the archive section of the local library is another alternative.

Full post at this link…

David Higgerson will be speaking as part of Journalism.co.uk’s panel on grassroots and social journalism at Friday’s BBC College of Journalism and Polis Value of Journalism conference.

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#aopforum: Live coverage on microlocal media discussion

December 9th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Events

UPDATE – the liveblogs seem to have stalled – we spoke too soon, so below is a tweetstream from the event so far featuring Guardian local launch editor, Sarah Hartley; Birmingham City University senior lecturer, Paul Bradshaw; and Trinity Mirror head of multimedia, David Higgerson:

For those of us unable to attend today’s Association of Online Publishers (AOP) forum on microlocal media (hyperlocal/ultralocal/local – whatever you want to call it), we’re lucky to have the liveblogging skills of journalist Caroline Beavon, who will be covering the sessions as they happen from 2:30pm.

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