Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Birthdays, bicyles, translators and philosphers: the Women's Euros 2017

I'm currently in Holland with a group of students covering the Women's 2017 Euros for various newspaper and web outlets.  Here are some random thoughts on how it's going.

Not so many happy returns …

England players Toni Duggan and Karen Carney are celebrating their birthdays during the tournament.

That strikes me as quite unusual.  All things being equal, you would think that with 23 players in the squad, roughly speaking, two players would have their birthdays each month.  But all things are not equal.  Elite players are usually born between September and April.

It’s a well-studied phenomenon in men’s sport.  And it’s all to do with when you start school.  In the UK, children start school in the year they turn five, so if you are born on September 1st, you will be five on the day you start school.  On the other hand, if you are born on August 30th, you will be just a few days over four when you start.

As people get older, that 12 months won’t make much difference, but during your first year, the September children have been alive 25% more than the August children – this almost inevitably means that they are bigger, faster, stronger.  So, when the very first sports teams are being picked, they tend to be selected … and, of course, that means that they get the extra coaching, play more football, and develop even further ahead of their younger classmates.

It’s often argued that you need 10,000 hours practice to be exceptional at anything and it is really easy to see how the September children get further and further ahead of their August classmates.
The end result is that when elite teams go to tournaments, most of the players were born in the winter months and nobody celebrates their birthday while they are away.

As women’s football has become more organised and professional over recent years, the winter birthday rule has started to show.  While seven of the current squad have their birthdays during June, July, and August, don’t expect that to be the case in future tournaments.

So, the squad should probably enjoy their strikers’ birthdays as there aren’t likely to be many similar occasions in the future … but probably worth avoiding reminding Carney that she’s 30 this week and not many outfield players get to go to tournaments once they are 34 … so this could well be her last Euros finals!

Relax, it’s only football:

Managers and players are well known for their monosyllabic responses at Press conferences, but every now and then, we are treated to a nice turn of phrase or some homespun philosophy.

Who can forget Eric Cantona talking about seagulls, trawlers, and sardines? To this day, it’s probable that not even King Eric knows exactly what he meant. At least we all understood Brian Clough when he said that if God had wanted football to be played in the air, he would have put grass in the clouds.

Icelandic coach Freyr Alexandersson has entertained us both on the touchline and in the press conferences.

The 34-year-old has jumped around his technical area, wearing his heart on his sleeve.  To be fair, his team has lost both opening games by a single goal … and in both games they should probably have had a penalty.  Unsurprisingly, he has let his feelings be known to the fourth official.

Entertaining - coach Freyr Alexandersson
However, when he’s come to the post-match press conference, he has been calm and entertaining, putting the game into perspective.  

Asked how he would deal with the players psychologically after their first round defeat to France, he said they would be sad and frustrated for a few hours. “But when we wake up in the morning, the coffee will still be hot, and the grass will still be green.”

After losing again in their second round match with Switzerland, I asked Freyr whether he still thought the grass would be green, and the coffee hot.  “Yes, it will.  I might need a double, or even a triple, espresso, but this is only football.  There are people who are in far worse situations in their lives than us.”

Try telling that to the famous Bill Shankly who once said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that..”

Lost in translation:

It is quite a possible that any number of the foreign coaches have been expressing deep philosophical thoughts, but the English journalists just wouldn’t know.

Under Uefa rules, all press conferences are conducted in two languages – that of the coach or player speaking, and English.  So, if a coach responds to a question in her native tongue, a translator turns it into English for the rest of the press.

But do they?

It’s noticeable that the players and coaches speak for much longer than the translators.  So much so that I timed the difference when the Spanish coach was speaking at the post-match conference after his team had beaten neighbours Portugal 2-0.

Invited to make an opening statement, Jorge Vilda spoke for about 70 seconds, the translator reduced it to just 12 seconds of English.  His first three answers to questions from the press were slashed from 45 seconds to nine, from 26 to six, and from 20 to 10.

Spanish coach Jorge Vilda, player of the match Amanda
Sampero and their censorious translator.

It got worse for player of the match Amanda Sampero, her final answer was cut from 47 seconds to just six!

I caught up with the translator – who turned out to be the Spanish team’s press officer – and asked, as nicely as I could, what she was doing.  “I only translate the important words,” she said.

“In Spanish, the coach could talk for an hour and a half without saying anything.”

“Isn’t it the job of the journalists to decide what is important,” I asked. “Yes, but you can choose that from what I say.”

Presumably, that means we would hear nothing from her about the coffee drinking habits of her coach and we’d be left with the monosyllabic musings on groin strains and hamstrings.

What’s in a name?

It was difficult not to feel sorry for Icelandic substitute Elin Jensen.

It was bad enough that she came on late in the game and gave away the penalty which presented France with a 1-0 win.  But I’m guessing that she was already feeling a little isolated by the peculiarities of the Icelandic naming conventions.

So many daughters: the teamsheet for Iceland
Every single one of the starting 11 had a name which ended ‘dottir’.

Oddly, Icelanders do not have surnames, or family names.  Children are given a last name which is the first name of their father with the word ‘dottir’ or ‘son’ added.  So captain Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir, is the daughter of Gunnar.

To make it even more confusing, when naming a child, Icelandic parents have to pick a name from an official list of 1,853 approved names for girls.  Given that there are relatively few approved men’s names, it is not unusual for women to share both their first and last names with other women … which is why so many use their middle names!

Anyone who wants to use names not on the list has to ask the permission of the Icelandic Naming Committee, which will say no for various reasons, including because the name would be embarrassing for the child (so presumably no Daffodils, Bears, or Brooklyns!)

Which brings us back to substitute Elin Jensen – she’s one of only two players in the 23-strong squad whose name does not fit with the conventions.  

Why is that? Well thanks to the wonder of Twitter, I can tell you.  I put out an appeal for information and just half an hour later, an Icelandic academic, Magnús Árni Skjöld Magnússon – son of Magnus to you and me – had written to explain:

“It is quite simple really. Some Icelanders have traditional family names, either because they have "foreign" parents, grandparents or ancestors and others because they or their ancestors have adopted Icelandic family names, based on either patronyms (like Jensen, Stephensen etc.) or place names (Blöndal, Barðdal, Nordal etc) or something else. These two look like they are of Danish origin,” he said.

So, there we go.  It’s all clear.  I think.

Utrecht – best in the world

We are staying in a fantastic city: Utrecht.  It is undeniably beautiful with the old wharfs on the canals and the city centre parks.

But what makes it truly amazing is the city’s aim to become the ‘most bike friendly city in the world’.  

They are doing this by giving cyclists precedence over all other forms of transport.  

Cycle lanes are everywhere – in many places there will be two very wide cycle lanes, leaving space for only one narrow lane for cars travelling in both directions.  As a car driver, you have to give way to cyclists pretty much all the time.  I've been caught out more than once by a cyclist pulling out in front of me with no warning. 

The end result is that cycling really does dominate the city.  Here’s nine facts you might not know about Utrecht:
  • ·        The two busiest bicycle routes of the Netherlands are situated in Utrecht
  • ·        33,000 cyclists go along the busiest bicycle route in the city centre every day
  • ·        125,000 cyclists go through the city centre every day
  • ·        Cyclists get speed advice as they go along telling them what pace to go to avoid red traffic lights
  • ·        96% of the households in Utrecht has 1 or more bicycles; 50% 3 or more
  • ·        59% go to the city centre by bicycle
  • ·        43% of all journeys shorter than 7.5 kilometres are made by bicycle
  • ·        Bicycle parking places near Utrecht Central Station: 12,000 today; 33,000 by 2020
  • ·        Utrecht is building the largest bicycle park in the world (12,500 bicycles)
Which is all great … except that I’m driving a massive great mini-bus which barely fits down most of the roads!

Monday, April 03, 2017

Suicide reporting: know the facts, save a life

One person kills themselves every 90 minutes in England.

There is compelling evidence that irresponsible reporting of suicides by media leads to extra deaths. Get it wrong and people die.   

When I was editor of regional newspapers, I don’t think I knew this.  I was vaguely aware of evidence that linked the reporting of suicide to imitative deaths in a cluster of suicides in South Wales.

However, there is now no doubt and there is no excuse for not knowing.  The increasing evidence has led to changes in the Editors’ Code of Practice which now explicitly states that ‘to prevent simulative acts, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used.’

The Samaritans have worked tirelessly in recent years to build a detailed set of guidelines for reporters on how best to cover suicide.  They also offer a full media advisory service, which includes both media training and pre-publication advice.

However, they find it difficult to get their message out to reporters working in local and regional media.

So, having heard the compelling evidence, I am working with Lorna Fraser, media adviser at The Samaritans, and IPSO, the main press regulator in the UK, to put on a workshop to explain the guidelines and the code rules.

It is aimed at regional and local journalists – and anyone who teaches young journalists – and is free to attend.  The workshop is being run by the Journalism department at the University of Derby.

It is open to Journalists working for newspapers, or working as freelances.  Academics who teach student Journalists are also welcome.

It is on Monday, April 24th, at 11am and will last about 90 minutes.  It will be held at the University of Derby’s main Kedleston Road campus – there is free parking, a frequent bus service from Derby train station, and a free lunch.

The workshop will include a presentation by Lorna, and Prof David Gunnell, of Bristol University, on the evidence which demonstrates the importance of journalists getting it right.  There will also be a Q&A session with a panel including the main speakers and somebody from IPSO.

We already have about 30 regional newspaper editors signed up for the workshop.

To join them, and receive more details, please go to the University’s website.  Sign up today.  Save a life.

  • If you are affected by any of the issues raised by this article, please contact The Samaritans any time of night or day:  Call 116 123 from any phone.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

State regulation scheme threatens future of local press

A blind hatred of parts of the national press could be about to destroy one of the pillars of local democracy in this country – the local press.

Nobody doubts the important role played by local newspapers in holding local councils to account and underpinning the fundamental human right to fair and open justice.  At the end of his 18-month enquiry into the ethics and behaviour of the press, Lord Leveson had nothing but praise for regional newspapers:

“… I must make a special point about Britain’s regional newspapers. In one sense, they are less affected by the global availability of the biggest news stories but their contribution to local life is truly without parallel.  

“… Many are no longer financially viable and they are all under enormous pressure as they strive to re-write the business model necessary for survival. Yet their demise would be a huge setback for communities … and would be a real loss for our democracy.

“…Although accuracy and similar complaints are made against local newspapers, the criticisms of culture, practices and ethics of the press that have been raised in this Inquiry do not affect them: on the contrary, they have been much praised.”

State regulation scheme

Despite this, urged on by anti-press lobbyists, the Government used the Leveson enquiry to introduce a state regulation scheme which threatens to destroy many local newspapers.  Hidden behind the pretence of voluntary self-regulation, the Government is actually attempting to force local newspapers to join a regime which would threaten their very existence. 

Newspapers which refuse to join up will face punitive costs even when they have done nothing wrong.  Complainants will be given a free pass to take newspapers to court because the newspaper will have to pay not only their own legal costs, but also those of the complainant – even if the newspaper wins the case.

This, of course, tilts the scales of justice so far in the complainant’s favour that it is absurd.  Why wouldn’t they go to court?  They have absolutely nothing to lose, even if their case is wafer thin.

The alternative for newspapers is to join a regulator approved under the state scheme, which insists on an arbitration process which allows complainants to ‘sue’ local newspapers.  Again, there is no cost to the complainant, but the newspaper – even if it wins – must pay for the process. 

The threat these alternatives pose to local newspapers is very real.  Mike Sassi, Editor of the Nottingham Post, recently wrote that the likely result of this attack on a free press would almost certainly lead to a situation where local papers could not risk writing anything controversial for fear of having to pay out.

Insulting to local newspaper editors

Those blinded by their hate of some national newspapers, choose to scoff at the fears of local newspapers.  The Chair of Hacked Off, Hugh Tomlinson, QC, responded by insulting Sassi – and all other local newspaper editors – by dismissing their claims, implying they could not possibly believe what they were saying – they were simply ‘dancing to the tune of their masters’.

Revealing a complete lack of understanding of the situation faced by almost all local newspapers, Tomlinson said the costs of the state regulation scheme’s arbitration system would be tiny.  Almost 200 local papers have closed in the UK since 2005, and many of those left make very little profit. Tindle Newspapers, for example, runs about 220 local newspapers, which, last year, made an average of less than £10,000 profit per paper.  Leveson himself said that many local newspapers were no longer financially viable.

An arbitration case for a local newspaper could cost as much £3,500, even if it wins.  If the case has little merit and is dismissed at an early stage, the newspaper will still end up paying out, not the full £3,500, but quite possibly £2,000.  Given again that there is no risk to the complainant, it is not unreasonable to assume newspapers will face a number of claims every year.  Two or three cases a year would be enough to wipe out the profits at a Tindle newspaper.  

And if you think it won’t happen, spend five minutes reading this article by Martin Trepte, editor of the independently-owned Maidenhead Advertiser.  In December, his paper was threatened with libel by a convicted sex offender who did not like the details of his court case appearing in print.  The paper’s lawyers simply dismissed the complaint.  Their advice will not have been free, but it probably cost no more than £100.  In future, papers like the Maidenhead Advertiser face one of two choices: sign up to the state regulatory regime, under which this case with no merit will almost certainly be dismissed, but not before racking up a £2,000 bill to be paid by the paper; or stay outside the state scheme, and risk an even more expensive court case, in which they are forced to pay huge court costs, both theirs and the complainant’s, even if the court finds the newspaper did nothing wrong.

Convicted heroin dealer

It’s a no-win situation.  Oh, and it was not the only complaint Trepte dealt with that week.  He also received a threat from a convicted heroin dealer who did not like the fact that his court case was on the newspaper’s website.  Again, the paper dealt with the complaint, but in future, it would be faced with a bill of, at best, a few thousand pounds … despite the fact that it had done absolutely nothing wrong. 

Tomlinson, in his attack on Sassi, tries to dismiss this by saying: “If people bring bad complaints (whether in the courts or in an arbitration scheme) they will be struck out and they will have to pay the costs.”

This is simply untrue. 

The regulations of Impress, the only regulator approved as part of the state regulation scheme, say clearly:

“An IMPRESS decision to offer access to its arbitration scheme will be based on an administrative assessment of whether a claim is covered by the scheme. For the avoidance of doubt, it will not be based on an assessment of the merits of a claim. “ (My emphasis)

So, when the convicted sex offender seeks redress for libel, Impress does not care whether there is any merit in the claim, only that libel is covered by the scheme.

And there is nothing in the arbitration scheme which allows the costs to be passed back to the complainant.  Indeed, the arbitration scheme specifically says the claimant will not be liable for any costs, and that the publisher will pay the costs even if the claim is “struck out, dismissed at a preliminary stage, or resolved.”

So, in a single week, this small independent newspaper would have faced bills of a few thousand pounds whether it joined the state scheme, or refused to be bullied into giving up its rights.  You might – like Hugh Tomlinson – think a few thousand pounds is neither here nor there, but the Maidenhead Advertiser belongs to a company which made about £100,000 operating profit last year.  Its revenues were down 7.5% on the year before, and it cut its staff by about 10% to cope with the reductions.

Punitive legislation

How can it be right that newspapers like the Maidenhead Advertiser – and the rest of the 1,000 local and regional newspapers - can face such punitive legislation?  The simple answer to that is that it can’t be right. 

And let’s remind ourselves of what we are talking about here.  Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, recognised in many places, including the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), and the UK’s Human Rights Act.  Here’s what the ECHR says:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

“The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society.”

The law is clear – governments can interfere with the right to free speech only when it is necessary, and there is plenty of case law to show that any such interference must be proportionate.  In plain language, this means that governments cannot use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, if a nutcracker will do.

Despicable behaviour

So, what nut is the Government trying to crack here?  What the Leveson enquiry uncovered was despicable behaviour by a group of national newspapers.  It was clear that these newspapers had broken the law … and the law was dealing with them.  Despite this, the Government, along with opposition parties, met up with anti-press lobbyists, and hastily drew up a regime which clearly interferes with the right of all newspapers to freedom of expression.

There is nothing proportionate about the solution.  About 1,000 local newspapers are having their right to freedom of expression interfered with, despite the fact that they did nothing wrong and have not displayed any behaviour that suggests that laws are needed to regulate them.  The laws risk denying these newspapers their right to freedom of expression because they will either have to stop writing about anything controversial or risk being put out of business.

It is not just the newspapers, the owners, and journalists whose rights are being interfered with.  The ECHR specifically says the right is to receive information as well as impart it.  Every day, millions of people choose to receive their information from local newspapers and their websites.  The importance of this information is recognised by everyone – including Leveson himself.

It is fairly obvious that the issue that Leveson sought to resolve was the behaviour of some parts of the national press – we have to assume that the Government was trying to do the same thing.  Everyone is agreed that the behaviour of the local press was not the issue. 

By law, any move to undermine the fundamental rights enshrined in the ECHR must be proportionate.

Less intrusive measures

Generally, it is accepted that there are four criteria that must be met for an action to be proportionate.  Perhaps the key one is:

·        Whether a less intrusive measure could have been used without unacceptably compromising the achievement of the objective

So, why did the Government cast its net so widely, catching 1,000 innocent newspapers in a regulatory regime in an effort to control so few? 

It was not as if the politicians and anti-press lobbyists who drew up the state’s role in press regulation thought they could not limit the new rules to certain sectors of the news industry.
They specifically decided the new rules should not apply to everyone.  The new regime covers only ‘relevant publishers’, defined as a ‘person or organisation’ which:

·        Publishes news related material, and
·        Publishes material in the course of a business, and
·        Produces material written by different authors, and
·        Produces material which is subject to editorial control

It is not exactly clear who is covered, but it is clear that all local newspapers are included.  No attempt was made to limit the rules to those newspapers castigated by Leveson.  It would have taken almost no effort at all to add another line to the definition of ‘relevant publishers’, limiting the new rules to ‘publications whose primary audience is national’, or something similar.

I personally* don’t agree with the state playing any role in laws or regulations drawn up specifically to limit the freedom of speech of newspapers, but, given the background to the new rules, I do not see how it can possibly be argued that they are proportionate.  And, if the new rules are not proportionate, they are also not legal. 

Leveson spent 18 months looking at the ethics of newspapers and concluded that the vast majority had done nothing wrong.  Despite this, the Government, has brought down a huge sledgehammer which is likely to destroy completely innocent local newspapers, denying both the newspapers and their readers the fundamental right to express and receive information and opinions.

It is simply not right. 

*I am a board member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), the independent regulator for the newspaper and magazine industry in the UK.  However, the views expressed above are my own – I have not discussed them with IPSO.  To read IPSO’s view, see here.

*The Government is currently consulting on whether or not to introduce the laws which would seek to force newspapers to join the state regulation scheme – the post above will form the basis of my response to the consultation.  If you would like to make your views known, visit the Government’s consultation page.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Does David Cameron owe his 2015 General Election win to Rupert Murdoch and the Sun newspaper?

  • Ed Miliband told Russell Brand that Murdoch is much less powerful than he used to be
  • The Sun's daily circulation is down 34% since the 2010 election
  • National newspaper sales are down more than 3-million in the past five years
  • Newspaper readership is down even more
  • Two-thirds of voters do not read a national newspaper
  • Less than 10% of voters read the Sun
  • The Sun probably directly influences fewer than 1.2% of voters
The Sun did not win the election for David Cameron.  Well, at least, not directly.

In his interview with Russell Brand, Ed Miliband claimed that Rupert Murdoch's power has diminished and many social media commentators went on to say that the then Labour leader was set to become the first prime minister who owed nothing to the media mogul.

It was a point that Brand pushed him on, but Miliband was adamant, saying that Murdoch is 'much less powerful than he used to be.'

So, given that he stood up to Murdoch's papers, and they attacked him mercilessly, was Miliband right about Murdoch's power?

On the face of it, he's obviously right.  National newspaper circulations have plummeted by almost a third since the last general election in 2010,  The Sun, Britain's biggest selling newspaper has seen its sale fall by 34% from just over 3-million to a little under 2-million.  The Mail has lost 20% (down to 1.7-million), and the Mirror is down 24% to just 922,235.

You might think this has something to do with the hacking scandal and lack of trust people now have in newspapers, but the biggest fallers over the past five years have not been the tabloids, but the so-called quality papers.  The Guardian, for example, has lost almost 40% of its sale since the last election with the number purchased each day falling to just 185,000.  The Independent has suffered even more, losing 67% of its daily sale and now struggling to sell more than 61,000 each day.

In total, national newspapers sales are down more than 3-million a day since the 2010 election, falling from about 9.8-million per day to about 6.8-million.

Of course, sales is only part of the story.  Newspapers like to talk about readership because each paper sold tends to be read by more than one person.  Coming up with a readership figure is not an exact science, relying as it does on surveys. So, at the last election the readership figure looked as if it was about 2.5 times the circulation.   However, readership has been falling even faster than circulation - may be even twice as fast.

So what percentage of the voting public was reading which newspaper at the last election?  The following charts are based on the number of  readers for each paper who voted and the fact that there were about 30-million voters at each election.

 And what does that chart look like now?

When it comes to voting influence, we need to consider the number of newspaper readers who voted. In 2010, according to an Ipsos Mori poll, about 64% of newspaper readers voted.  That being the case, in 2010, about 53% of the voters were reading a newspaper.  In yesterday's vote, the number had fallen to 33%.  It is obvious that the direct influence of newspapers is falling rapidly and now two-thirds of people who vote are not even looking at a national paper.

But, of course, it is Rupert Murdoch who is seen as the devil incarnate by most critics of the press - and it was Murdoch who so concerned Brand. So what percentage of voters read his papers: the Sun and the Times?  And is that falling?

According to that Ipsos Mori poll, only about 57% of the Sun's readers voted at the last election, suggesting that the Sun was talking to about 4.3-million voters at the time of the 2010 election, about 14% of those who voted.  This week, that figure had dropped to  2.4-million voters, or about 8% of all voters.

But, the same poll suggests that the Sun has not been able to get more than 45% of its voting readers to vote Conservative in any of the past five elections.

Even when the Sun threw its weight behind Labour, about 30% of its readers still voted Tory, suggesting that it influenced about 15% of its voting readers.  At today's levels, that would be about 365,000 voters, which is about 1.2% of the turnout.

If those voters are evenly spread around the country, it is difficult to see how anybody could claim that the Sun had much of a direct influence on this week's result, let alone that it was the Sun wot won it.  However, it is unlikely that they are evenly spread.

We know for example, that few copies are sold in Liverpool and it may just be a coincidence, but the city was one of the areas which bucked the election trend with incumbent Labour candidates increasing their majorities.

Despite this, my own view is that Miliband is correct in his belief that Murdoch's power is much diminished and, as sales continue to fall at something like 10% a year, that direct power will go with it.  By the time of the next election, sales of the Sun would be down to not much over 1-million if the fall continued at the same rate as the past 12 months.  That would leave it influencing not much more than 90,000 voters by 2020.

Indeed, Labour's former spin-doctor-in-chief, Alistair Campbell is already pretty dismissive of newspaper influence, describing the tabloids' coverage of the election as 'beyond parody,' and saying:  'the media is certainly not trusted like it was.'  According to an article in the Guardian, Mr Campbell said:
“My complaint about newspapers has never been that they are biased, I was a very biased journalist on the Daily Mirror. My complaint has often been to the broadcasters to allow that bias to impact on them.” 
And, that, I believe, is the crux of the matter. The tabloids in themselves - and Rupert Murdoch, for that matter - don't have anything like the influence they once had, but those around them, even those who claim to despise them, give them power by constantly talking about them.  And it is not just the broadcasters and social media, politicians are just as bad.  It's probably true that there is no such thing as bad news for the newspapers when it comes to talking about their influence.

Oddly, Mr Campbell seems to recognise this phenomenon when he says that critical media coverage of Ed Milliband's interview with Russell Brand, simply drove people to watch the interview on YouTube.
“Something like that Russell Brand interview, the mainstream so-called media gave it massive hype, and the fact it was mostly negative hype didn’t matter because people who then decided to watch it made the choice to do that."
And yet he, along with many, many others, continues to prop up an ailing press by constantly discussing it and giving it a power it doesn't have in itself.  Perception is reality.

Some things to remember:
  • This is nothing more than a back-of-a-fag-packet calculation.  I don't have the time - and may be the brains - to complete a more detailed analysis.
  • I looked at 10 daily titles, but excluded the i, the Metro, anything in Scotland, and the Standard - this was because I didn't have enough data at my fingertips and, anyway, I don't consider them national.
  • I made an assumption on readership.  I multiplied the average daily sale of each newspaper by 2.5 to give me the 2010 readership, and by 2.3 to give me the 2015 figure.  This was because of this article.  I think, if anything, I have understated the fall in readership.
  • I calculated the number of voters from each newspaper by multiplying the number of readers by the percentage given in the Ipsos Mori poll.
  • I have assumed a turnout of 30-million.
  • I got the latest circulation figures from Press Gazette
  • I got the 2010 circulation figures from Wikipedia even though I constantly warn my students that this is not a reliable source!
  • I know News International, or NI, is now called News UK, but I wanted to avoid confusing those readers who don't follow the media business closely.
  • The FT's voting turn out is based on 2005 figures because the data sample for 2010 was too small.
Murdoch picture: By Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia (Rupert Murdoch) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Appointed to the board of UK's new press regulator

I have been appointed to the board of the Independent Press Standards Organisation - the new press regulator that has been set up following the Leveson inquiry.

I am honoured, if a little daunted, to be appointed at such a crucially important time for the future of press regulation.

In a press release today, the chair of the independent panel set up to find the first board for IPSO, Sir Hayden Phillips, said: "I am confident the new Directors have the stature and experience to bring into being a tough and independent regulator that will stand the test of time."

The majority of the new 12-strong board are people independent of the newspaper industry, with the other five having knowledge of different sectors of the press.  

According to the press release: "The Board includes people from business, diplomacy, consumer rights, the pensions sector, academia, the voluntary sector and the publishing and newspaper industries. 

"Experience is drawn from across the United Kingdom."

Obviously, my main experience is within the regional press.

Sir Alan Moses, the chair of IPSO, said: “I am delighted to have the chance to work with such a talented group of independent-minded people, committed to provide rigorous and strong  regulation. 

"Now we must start our work of preparation. We plan to use the coming period to listen and engage with the public, experts and the industry before IPSO’s formal launch in September. 

"This will be a new era of self regulation of our newspapers, ready to provide the independent regulation to which the public is entitled.”

Sir Alan, an Appeal Court judge, was appointed to the post of chair of IPSO last month.  At the time, he said there was a difficult balance to be struck between protecting the public and defending a free and fearless press.

"The public and the press are entitled to a successful system of independent regulation. I recognise it is a big responsibility to achieve this. 

"I believe that such a system should be designed to protect the public against a repetition of the  breakdown in standards in some parts of the newspaper industry in recent times.  

"At the same time it should affirm and encourage the vital role of a free and fearless press. 

"I shall do my best to guide the development of  clear, simple but fair rules in an area where there are difficult questions and there are no easy answers.  

"But I am determined that there should be no hesitation in dealing with bad practice by newspapers and providing support and vindication for those who suffer as a result of any future  breakdown.  

"This new organisation will have to listen to and learn from  the Press and their critics in the period ahead.   

"To those who have voiced doubts as to the ability of IPSO to meet the demands of independent regulation, I say that I have spent over forty years pursuing the profession of barrister and judge whose hallmarks are independent action and independent judgment. I do not intend to do away with that independence now."

Those who know me, will know that I share Sir Alan's views on independence.  I have written about it before here on this blog and one of the main reasons I left my previous role as editor was because I believed my independence was being undermined.  Like Sir Alan, I have no intention of doing away with that independence now.

You can see IPSO's press release here, including short biographies of all 12 members of the board.

You can also see the response of HackedOff to the announcement here.

Friday, January 24, 2014

When live help on a website leaves you none the wiser

Live help on a website is a great idea: getting immediate answers is exactly what I want when I'm wondering about buying a new service or product.

But when it's done poorly, it is worse than useless.

Take this conversation I had with 'Andy' on the EE website today when considering switching my mobile from 'three' because I get such poor coverage where I live to EE's 'superfast' 4G service

I ask Andy if he can check EE's coverage at my postcode.  Here's what happened:

Andy: at 16:17:24
I'd be happy to help you on that
Andy: at 16:17:30
May i know your post code
keith: at 16:13:13
my postcode is DE...
Andy: at 16:18:39
you do have finer coverage of 4g but great 3 g
keith: at 16:14:34
Sorry, what does that mean?
Andy: at 16:19:39
you do have fine coverage for 4g only 3 bars and 3 g is great

Ok, that's not exactly clear, so I press on:

keith: at 16:15:37
What difference will 3 bars for 4g make?
Andy: at 16:20:35
It sis fine not great

Oh, now I understand.  Actually, I don't.

keith: at 16:16:53
I don't understand that. What is the difference between fine and great?
Andy: at 16:22:00
I will explain
Andy: at 16:22:21
you will get 4g but the network will not be storng
Andy: at 16:22:31
It may fall some time
Andy: at 16:22:48
And 3g it will be great

Right.  Go on:

keith: at 16:19:17
Will I always be able to browse on the internet?
Andy: at 16:23:55
yes you can\
keith: at 16:19:57
But it might be slow?
Andy: at 16:25:01
yes slow

Now I get technical.  I have no idea what it means, but I ask:

keith: at 16:20:58
can you tell me what speed I should expect for upload and download?
Andy: at 16:26:00
it will be 17 to 19 mpbs speed
keith: at 16:21:52
What would it be if it was great?
Andy: at 16:26:38
21 to 23 mpbs

Sounds impressive and there doesn't seem to be much difference between fine and great.  But Andy has got another idea:

Andy: at 16:30:31
you can go for 3 g plans
Andy: at 16:30:38
You have great fine
keith: at 16:27:02
what speed would 3g plans give
Andy: at 16:31:50
7.2 mpbs

I don't really know what I'm talking about, but that doesn't sound anywhere near as good! So I ask:

keith: at 16:28:02
And on my postcode I would definitely get 17 on 4g?
Andy: at 16:32:52
I cannot comment on  that

Eh?  Wait a minute - he just told me that I would get 17-19 on 4g.

keith: at 16:28:42
but that is what you said earlier?
Andy: at 16:33:32
yes but indoors it may be till 17 mpbs
keith: at 16:29:31
sorry, what does that mean? It may be till?
Andy: at 16:34:11
17 mpbs
keith: at 16:29:57
but what does may be till mean?
Andy: at 16:35:01
I will explain
Andy: at 16:35:10
As looking at your coverage
Andy: at 16:35:27
you may get till 17 mpbs speed
Andy: at 16:35:38
It may go higher and lower to

Now, I'm really confused.  And it's not just because 'Andy's' first language is obviously not English:

keith: at 16:31:24
I am sorry, I don't understand 'may be till' - it is not an English phrase
Andy: at 16:36:26
I will explain
Andy: at 16:36:36
As looking at your covarage
Andy: at 16:36:51
You may get speed till 17 mpbs speed

Oh, right.  Silly me.  Then nothing for 50 seconds until this:

Andy: at 16:37:04
May io know which plan you have selected

I press on:

keith: at 16:33:19
Earlier you said I would get 17-19 mbs
keith: at 16:33:30
Are you saying that is not true?
Andy: at 16:38:17
yes as looking at your covrage
Andy: at 16:38:33
Please click here
Andy: at 16:39:01
you can see
Andy: at 16:39:06
If you had fill bars
Andy: at 16:39:15
The speed will be 21 to 23 mpbs

And so it goes on for another 10 minutes until Andy asks me:

Andy: at 16:50:38
Did you selected any plan

The truth is that I am really unsure what he has told me.  He kept saying I would get 17-19mbs, which seems really fast, given that I can't even receive texts on 'Three's' network here.  But when I asked him if I would definitely get 17mbs he said: 'I can't comment on that!'

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

73 days and counting - the frustrations of the Freedom of Information Act

The law is quite clear: public bodies must respond within 20 working days to a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Despite this, I've been waiting 73 working days for a response to a fairly straightforward request sent to the Crown Prosecution Service on May 10.

What makes me say my request was straightforward?  I asked for information that the CPS stated publicly it had been collating centrally.

I sent my request by email on Friday May 10.  

I heard nothing until July 5, 30 working days later, when I received the following note:

"I am writing to apologise that your request dated 10 May seems to have been overlooked in our mailbox.  Please can you confirm whether you are still interested in the information requested?  If you are I will aim to progress a response to your request as soon as possible."

Encouraged by the apology

I responded on the same day to say that I did indeed still want the information.  At that point, I took the view that the delay was due to a simple oversight.  Human error.  We all make them.  I was encouraged by the apology and the statement that if I still wanted the information the CPS would 'aim to progress a response to (my) request as soon as possible.'

Hmmm ...

Having heard nothing by July 31, I sent another email:

"You said you would aim to progress my request as 'soon as possible' - it is now 18 working days since this exchange - and more than 55 since my original request.  Please could you update me on your response?"
The response on August 5 was not encouraging:
"I am sorry that I have still been unable to provide you with a response to your request.  I have read your email today after returning from a short period of leave.  
I thought I should briefly confirm that my email of 5th July was to inform you that unfortunately our Department had not actioned your request at all up until this date, because it had been missed.  
As soon as you confirmed, on the same date, that you were still interested in the information requested we started processing it.  
Within the last 20 days please be assured that this has been receiving our attention.  
Having made further enquiries today I am still unable to give you a precise date of when we will be able to respond but as soon as I have an update I will let you know.  
Thank you for your continued patience."

Formal complaint to the Information Commissioner 

 To be honest, my patience was running out.  My request related to something in the news and the delays simply meant that the news was moving on - this is perhaps the most frustrating thing for journalists using the FoIA: information often takes so long to arrive that its impact is lessened.

At this point (August 6), I also sent a complaint to the Information Commissioner: the public official charged with overseeing the FoIA.  I received an automated response ... and nothing since.

So today, I wrote again to the CPS and got an immediate response:

"Sorry for the continued delay.  We have scheduled a further meeting to discuss the request later today.  I would hope that we should be in a position to respond in the first week of September, or possibly by the latter part of next week."
A further meeting?  Clearly the CPS doesn't think my request is as straightforward as I do.

The first week of September? More than 80 days since my original request.

Should I hold my breath?  Any advice on next steps gratefully accepted.