The Journalism Foundation

The Journalism Foundation, a non-for-profit organisation that promotes, develops and sustains free and fair journalism across the world, launched in London this morning.

Its founding Chief Executive, Simon Kelner, former editor-in-chief of The Independent, said

I am delighted to lead this new body, which will show that journalism can be a force for good by supporting initiatives that have a direct and positive effect on people’s lives.

The Foundation, which is backed by the Lebedev family, has a board of Trustees chaired by Evgeny Lebedev, chairman of The Independent and the London Evening Standard. Other trustees of the foundation include, Baroness Kennedy, the renowned human rights lawyer, Lord Fowler, former chair of the House of Commons media select committee, and Sir John Tusa, former director general of BBC World Service.

The Journalism Foundation is launching with two initiatives to show the scope and range of its work. The Foundation, in partnership with the department of journalism at London’s City University, is establishing the first practical training courses for journalists in Tunisia, teaching local journalists how to report in a free and open society.

The second project sees The Journalism Foundation supporting a grass roots website in an effort to increase interest in local politics in the British town of Stoke-on-Trent. The site, Pits n Pots, was set up in response to a lack of coverage of local council matters, and the Foundation is supporting its development with the aim of bolstering public engagement in the area.

Mike Rawlins from Pits n Pots said

I’m delighted that Pits n Pots is going to be supported by the newly launched Journalism Foundation. Having the support of the foundation will allow me to do three things.

First, I am hoping to investigate ways for Pits n Pots to become a more sustainable public service business model while improving the awareness and reach of the site.
Second, I will be looking to find ways to promote better democratic, popular engagement across sections of the population who have not traditionally been engaged with democracy.
Finally, I will hope to use The Journalism Foundation’s support to create a template that can be used by active democratically engaged people across the country.

The launch of the Foundation has been acclaimed by figures across the political and cultural landscape.

Salman Rushdie said

This is an important and valuable – and needed – initiative that aims to uphold and propagate the highest journalistic standards. I wish it the very best.

Jemima Khan said

A vibrant democracy and a free press go hand in hand. I applaud the work of The Journalism Foundation in trying to strengthen this relationship.

Lord Ashdown said

There could not be a better time for an organisation like this to be set up to ensure we get the balance right between strengthening what is best in journalism and rejecting what we all now know to be bad.

Alexander Lebedev said

I am delighted the Journalism Foundation is launching. For over 20 years I have argued that democracy cannot flourish in countries without a free press. And it is only by championing brave, investigative journalists across the globe that international corruption can be tackled effectively. Now more than ever, we must support journalists who hold the powerful to account – and I am certain this foundation will do that brilliantly. 

Of course you will read and hear a lot more about this over the coming months here on Pits n Pots.

Site Update

As many of you have pointed out, the site has been a bit quiet since August, this was down to work and personal commitments on my part and Tony stepping away to concentrate on other projects.

While we have been having a break we have been continuing work on the next version of Pits n Pots which had been in the planning since earlier in the year. Over the past week we have been busily making changes to the back end of the site that will enable us to deploy the next version in the near future.

The site has been off line on and off for the last 24 hours while we made some pretty significant changes to the hardware configuration and the server operating system. If you are reading this post then all being well everything has gone to plan and the site is back up and running.

As far as we can tell we lost a couple of comments that were made in the period while we were moving the database, but other than that everything should be just where it was before.

Unfortunately for site visitors, you won’t see a great deal of difference initially as almost everything we have done has been to get the site ready for the next version, but things you will notice are:

Shorter user profiles, we have removed a lot of the profile fields as they are not really needed. Any data in those fields was deleted during the upgrades.

Less clutter, we have removed quite a lot of sidebar clutter as it isn’t needed.

Improved Search, we have added Google search to the site as this gives far better results, so you should be able to find archive content more easily.

Additional login options, we have added the ability for you to link your Twitter account to your user profile, or use Twitter to create an account so you can log in using your Twitter ID.

If you do link your Twitter account, this site does not have any access to your account details, the link is read only using the authorised Twitter oAuth application. You can de-authorise the Pits n Pots application at any time by logging in to your Twitter account and removing it.

We are also in the process of adding Facebook connect to the site so that you can login using your Facebook account, I’ll post more details on this once it is implemented.

Hopefully things will get back on track over the next few weeks and you will see more content appearing on the site and the discussions starting again.

Of course if you have any problems or things don’t work, leave a comment below.

Site Down Time

Our server was so grief stricken with the news that Tony was no longer going to abuse it and try to kill it any more, that it fell over in a fit of rage.

We have applied some updates and all seems to be well now. You may experience some strangeness as we push everything back in to the right places.

Site Update – Moderation

A (very) small number of you will have noticed that some of your posts are being held for moderation on occasion.

As tonyjohnt has worked out,

Post more.

But keep it clean my friend. Filthy ideas are acceptable – filthy language is not.

we are clamping down on bad language on the site, there is no real need for gratuitous swearing, occasionally some swearing is acceptable as we are all adults and it can add some humour or depth of feeling to a comment, but the general rule of thumb is no swearing.

If you do decide to swear then the chances are your comment will be stopped by the site, it may or may not be released, Tony and I are not going to spend a huge amount of time dealing with comments held.

Also anonymous comments are not going to be released as often, people often hide behind the Guest option to come on to the site and hurl insults at people. We have noticed there has been a marked increase in this recently and are going to put measures in place to stop the abuse.

Tony and I both strongly believe that there should be and always will be, a facility for people to post anonymously on the site if providing personal details would cause them problems, IE in cases where they are whistle-blowing. It won’t however be a route to hurl abuse or insults at other people who post or comment on the site.

We are going to be rolling out some new options for being able to log in and use the site over the next few months.

Site Updates

Every 12 months or so I normally post something about updates to the website, and so as not to disappoint you here is this years update.

We have a lot of things planned for upgrading & improving over the next few months that we hope will allow for a better visitor experience as we roll them out. I’ll write more about these as we get ready to launch them.

The main updates on the site currently are, the way we handle audio and links to our new councillors.

Audio
We have made the decision to move our audio hosting over to SoundCloud, this gives us better workflow when it comes to uploading, it allows us to upload longer audio clips while taking the strain off our server and more importantly the clips are downloadable.

Now rather than having to sit in front of your PC to listen to the audio clips, you can download them and listen to them on your iPod/Phone/Pad or MP3 player of choice as and when you want.

To download the audio clips just click on the small arrow on the right hand side of the player.

Councillor Links
We have changed the way that we provide links to our Councillors, previously there was a list of councillor links on the right of the page, this has been removed and will be replaced by contextual links.

Each time a Councillor is mentioned in an article a contextual link will be inserted that takes you to the Pits n Pots page for that councillor, on that page there is a feed of any articles they are tagged in and links to their Stoke-on-Trent City Council website page as well as any personal blogs they run or twitter feeds. A good example is Abi Brown. The contextual links will be rolling out over the next 36 – 48 hours, in the mean time you can find details of all our newly elected councillors by clicking on the Councillors link on the menu bar at the top of the page.

Kindle
if you have a Kindle E-reader you can subscribe to Pits n Pots and have it delivered to your device every day. There is a link at the foot of the page or more permanently on the side bar to the right.

If you have any ideas or features that you would like to see us add to the site, leave a comment below and we will look at them to see what is achievable also if you have any problems with the site let us know.

Website Updates

We have been running a few updates and patches to the site over the past 24 hours, so apologies if you have had any problems, we have tried to keep the down time to a minimum.

While we have been doing these updates we have made a few other changes to the site that you need to be aware of.

Profiles
Profiles are now viewable publicly. The only field that is hidden by default is your surname. We have made this change to allow us to add some further features in the near future.

Contact Forms
After a number of requests, we have set up user contact forms. This means that, registered users who are logged in are able to contact other registered users through the site, without needing to share their E-mail addresses.

The contact form is secure and is only between the users.

You can turn the contact form on and off by editing your profile, the form is set to on by default.

Sidebars
We are cleaning out some of the rarely used content from the sidebars, items such as FOI requests & Fix My Street requests for the various councils. We will be adding links to these sites but there is so little use of them on the front page we feel it is better if we remove them.

Feature Requests
If you have any ideas of other features or tools you wold like to see on the site, as ever leave a comment below and we’ll look at each one to see if they are viable & useful.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Slammed Over Election Coverage

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been slammed for the poor election coverage on its own website during the Local & General Elections in May this year.

In a damming report from SOCITM, who surveyed a number of councils before, during and after the elections, Stoke-on-Trent City Council was singled out by the report authors who said of the council:

Communication of the results was patchy. Stoke on Trent City barely acknowledged that elections were taking place. Even on results day it still only carried an insignificant link to ‘Election notices’. Fortunately this site was an anomaly as by now elections were featuring pretty heavily on most sites

The survey was carried out on 42 council websites in 4 rounds which coincided with key dates over the election period.

  • Round 1- 10 April, the final day to register to vote
  • Round 2 – 4 May, two days before the elections
  • Round 3 – 7 May, election day
  • Round 4 – 8 May, the day after votes had been counted

The survey also looked at the use of social media by each council and finally whether they were taking part in the Open Election Data Project.

In the copy of the report seen by Pits n Pots it does not contain detailed league tables for each council surveyed but does cite good and bad practice with Stoke-on-Trent being used as an example of bad.

Pits n Pots are disappointed that Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been highlighted as an example of bad or poor practice, especially after we attended a Spotlight Review with the Press & Communications Department back in March. The review was to cover a number of items such as, developing a consistant approach to dealing with all media organisations, and use of social media especially to engage with young people.

As part of the review the Press & Communications Department were asked to spend some time speaking to us about how we use social media tools and offer advice on how best to utilise them within the council. The Press & Communications department did not contact us to continue this discussion.

The City Council were also asked by Pits n Pots prior to the election if the council would be taking part in the Open Election Data Project, so that the data would be available in a standard and easy to use format. The Council did not respond until they were contacted a second time where they explained that the Open Election Data Site was blocked, so they didn’t know what it was all about and couldn’t use it. This is despite the fact that the software used by Stoke-on-Trent City Council had been updated by the suppliers to automatically provide the election data in the format required by the Open Election Data Project.

We asked the Council if they would like to provide a quote or statement in response to the quote in the SOCITM report but they have not yet responded.

New Home Page

We have been making a few changes to the site over the past couple of weeks to improve it. A lot of the changes you probably won’t have noticed as they are background changes in the way the site works and functions and adding small things like a Facebook button, so you can post stories directly to your Facebook wall.

Today we are making a bigger change that you will all see. We are launching a new home page.

As you can see we have added a coloured header to each of the stories, this we hope will make it easier for you to find the content you want on the page.

Red headers denote news stories, Orange headers are for blog posts, Reviews are yellow and content about green issues are, surprisingly, in green.

You will also see that at the top of the page we have lost the picture banner and there will be a new area for the latest and most popular articles on the site. This will be updated during the day to reflect what news is breaking or what the most popular stories and discussions are.

Once again Eric our web guy has worked tirelessly to get these changes done for us and get the site ready for some new features.

As ever if you have any problems, spot any bugs or want to suggest new ideas, use the comments below.

48,000 view Pits n Pots Rally Coverage

UPDATED STATS.

48,000 people have viewed our You Tube channel footage of the EDL & UAF rallies in Hanley this weekend.

The video interviews on our YouTube Channel and rally footage recorded by the Pits n Pots team over the weekend have been viewed by over 48,000 people in just two days. One video alone has attracted over 22,000 views.

Today [Monday] our YouTube Channel is second to ITN as the most watched news/politics channel, with just under 50% less views than the National News Agency. We are also the 16th most watched channel over all categories.

Our photo gallery of the day has had over 10,000 views and the live coverage on the day had 1000 people watching our aggregated feeds at one point.

The site had over 5000 unique visitors on Saturday afternoon as people hit us to get the latest information from the rallies.

Tony Walley, founder of Pits n Pots said, ‘this is fantastic news for us as a local news site, to see that people are hitting us to get the latest information. We have been working with Staffordshire Police and the Stoke-on-Trent City Council to get information out to our readers on the run up to the rallies and did our best to cover the days events as they happened. Being able to use our site and technology to be able to report on the events almost live was a challenge and an experience to say the least. We had planned on covering things such as council meetings live not running around the streets of Hanley covering rallies!’

He went on to say, ‘we were able to use our local network of regular readers and commenter’s to help provide information and feeds from around the town on the day. We know the press office in Hanley Police station were monitoring our feed during the day on Saturday as well as a number of other news organisations.’

Underperforming Website Costing The Council Money

According to a recent survey by the Society of Information Technology Management, 21% of people visiting council websites across the country failed to find what they had visited the site for and a further 21% only found part of the information they were looking for.

The survey was carried out on the websites of 120 councils during September 09, during the survey 7.3 million unique visitors visited the websites.

With variations for different types of council like Shire & County, this equates to something like 20,000 unhappy visitors per council per month. If each one of the 20,000 people who were not able to find the information they wanted on a council website then decided to speak to a real person to get the information, assuming that it costs something like £2.50 as an average per call or face to face meeting in a local centre this would cost a staggering £50,000 per month for just one council. If you scale this up to all the councils in the UK that is something like 4.4 million failures that cost £11 million per month to service in other ways.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council was one of the councils that was part of the survey as they subscribe to the SOTICM service. Figures for individual councils have not been released, but I have done some calculations based on the survey findings against the reported visitors to stoke.gov.uk.

The council have not updated their website statistics since August 2009 (So I am now one of the 21%!) so it is impossible to use exact figures but I have used this table to calculate an average number of visitors for the 8 months data supplied for 2009.

This gives me a figure of 124,598 which I have used for this calculation. Looking at the trending of the visitors I think this is possibly a little high but all I have to work on.

Using the survey findings that 21% of visitors to the stoke.gov.uk website in September didn’t find the information they were looking for, means there are 26,166 people who need to be dealt with by other means to satisfy their requests.

If each one of these visitors then turned to a more expensive form of getting the information they wanted (unlikely I know)such as phoning the council or going to a local centre, using the £2.50 notional costing it is costing the city £65,415 each month because the council has such a poor website. If a portfolio holder went to the Council Leader on Monday and said they could save £400,000 I’m sure they would have their hand snapped off. £400k is only about half of what I have estimated the council are wasting over the year.

By investing in a better website the council could not only save money by not having to deal with these extra requests but could move a number of people away from the more expensive means of getting information. These people are people who have probably tired and failed to do things on the council website in the past and now just go directly to the phone or their Local Centre.

The survey also found that the web was the most important channel for customer interaction during the survey period.
70% of customer interactions came from the website
17% came from the telephone
13% from face-to-face

The web is also the least satisfactory channel for customers.
42% of visitors rate it as poor, compared with
21% of face-to-face visitors
And just 2% of callers by phone.

The main reason for dissatisfaction is failure of visitors to find what they are looking for.

While I was researching this piece I found that the website statistics that are being published look a little odd, in December 2008 a reported 79,470 unique users accessed the site yet in January 2009 this had risen by some 72% to 136,794 unique visitors.

I am not entirely sure how the figures are derived but I have asked for clarification.