Category Archives: journalism

Amazing! The council read this man’s comment beneath a news story, and now they’re changing their entire policy!

Yes! It finally happened. After this local resident left a comment underneath a news story, the council have announced that they’re changing their entire policy direction. After years of people saying it couldn’t be done, the critics are now having to rewrite the rulebooks, as this story turns everything we thought we knew on our heads.

When Cambridge City Council introduced plans to introduce an access charge to central roads in the Romsey area in order to help curb congestion at peak times, one man took a stand. Mr John Pevensey was sick of democratically elected officials making decisions on behalf of local people, and he just had to say something.

In a statement to cookywook’s blog, Mr Pevensey said: “Look, I’m all for cutting emissions, but I don’t understand why the council think this is a good idea at all. I don’t have access to any of the facts, studies, or expert opinion that the council does – but I do have a car. And I like to drive that car wherever I want, even if I don’t need to. That’s my right, right?”

He continued: “I pay my council tax just like everyone else. That means I’m literally paying the wages of the council. Which means they literally work for me. Which means they’re not allowed to do anything I don’t like. That’s how the system works.”

But what was the comment that changed everything? Underneath the article on the Cambridge News website, Mr Pevensey wrote:

ife had it wiv the concil (more like CLOWNCIL) tellin us how 2 live are lives. they shud NOT bring in this plan. its a bad plann! i h8 it so much.

The quote sent shockwaves through the city council halls. One city councillor is reportedly still off sick after apparently having become violently ill on reading  it. Needless to say, the council is having to rethink its entire strategy.

An inside source told us, “it’s just…. we’ve never seen anything like this. It’s chaos, just pure chaos. How could we carry on after a comment like that? It’s too much.”

The withdrawal of the policy is expected to cost thousands of pounds in fees,  but the good news is that Mr Pevensey is once again free to drive his car down the main road during rush hour. But he’s keen to not let the power go to his head. “I’m no hero,” he said, “I’m just a man with a keyboard who took a stand.”

Mr Pevensey is 40 years old, unmarried, and lives with his mother.

I submitted a silly Freedom of Information request about books and now I feel bad

In Week 11 of my ‘#Richards2016‘ project, I had to get in touch with the local council. It was Freedom of Information Day, so I sent a request to the council for information. My request was thus:

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A pretty dumb request, I’m sure you’ll agree. I submitted it fully expecting to get a “this is a dumb question and we’re not going to do it” response. But I didn’t. Like absolute madmen they decided to actually do it for some reason.

DISCLOSURE: My friend and housemate works at the council and is well-connected with the FOI department. So yeah, basically you could say this was an INSIDE JOB. But still, I can’t believe they really did it.

I mean, I pay my council tax and all that. (Well, my landlord does on my behalf). So I guess I should be able to march up to any public servant and demand them to do whatever I want, right? Yes I know that’s not really how it works, but I think the principle is sound.

After all, beyond picking up my bins, planning out transport infrastructure, maintaining public spaces and utilities, developing local art and culture, looking after stray animals, eradicating pests, securing housing for the vulnerable, providing health and welfare, licensing commercial enterprises, dispensing planning permissions, provisioning sports and leisure facilities, controlling public noise and nuisances, and generally looking out for me and my local area, what does the council ACTUALLY do for me?

So yeah, you’re fully entitled to do this kind of thing I reckon. They’ll probably appreciate it.

ANYWAY ENOUGH CHIT CHAT WHAT DID I ACTUALLY LEARN?

I guess I’m allowed to share the outcome of my request. What would be the point otherwise? So, here are my KEY findings.

Notes:

  • The data provided covers all books that have been checked out at least once. (I assume, as there are no books with a zero check-out value, and I’m sure there are books in the library that have not been checked out).
  • The data covers 78,702 books. That’s a lot.
  • The data covers pretty much all the types of books too. (eg. Adult Fiction Hardback, Junior Large Print, etc.)
  • The information I have is Title, Date Item First Made Available, Total Loans, Days Available, Loan Frequency (ie. loans / days available), Collection.

It’s a beautifully formatted excel document that I’m sure someone spent ages on.

*** TOP TRUMPS TIME ***

Book with most total loans

Scandinavia, living design by Gaynor, Elizabeth – 224 loans.

Well, that’s unexpected. Some random book about Scandinavian design is the most checked out book? Why? What does that tell us about the Cambridge zeitgeist? To be fair, the book has also been available since 1989, so it might be winning just on time alone. It’s got a loan frequency of 43.33 days. So, it’s checked out basically every month and a half? Not bad! Though I do wonder if the book’s Scandinavian design tips are still relevant 27 years on.

Interestingly, the fourth most checked-out book is The architectural history of King’s College Chapel and its place in the development of late Gothic architecture in England and France by Woodman, Francis which makes much more sense for Cambridge. It’s also like the longest book title in the world.

Book with fewest total loans

Joint winner between 1,980 books. I guess that makes sense since it’s just the bottom of the data set. Some highlights:

  • Teapots. The collector’s guide to selecting, displaying and enjoying new and vintage teapots by Carter, Tina M.
  • Big Pig on a dig by Tyler, Jenny
  • 100 questions & answers about gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) by DeMatteo, Ronald
  • How not to die : discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease by Greger, Michael, author
  • Yo by Martin Ricky [i guess this is one book that’s NOT living da vida loca LMAO]
Book that has been available the longest

Battalion at war: Singapore 1942 by Moore, Michael – since 23/2/1989

This book actually occupies the top two spots on the longest being-in-Cambridge-library lists. I guess they just started with two copies of that book they had or something. Oh, and apparently it’s not THAT Michael Moore.

110 loans, with a loan frequency of 90.5.

Book that has been available the longest and only been checked out once

The changing face of Britain : from the air by Gardiner, Leslie –  since 12/05/1989

Only 1 loan in 9827 days, giving it a loan frequency of 9827. Eesh!

If you’re ever in Cambridge Central Library in the near future, do consider checking this book out and making Leslie’s time worthwhile.

Book that is loaned the most frequently

How is this different to total loans, you ask? Well, we’re looking at the loan frequency specifically, so it’s weighted against time available. Thus a book that’s new and popular will rate higher than a book that’s just old and been checked out loads. Anyway, it’s

The humans by Haig, Mattloan frequency 6

Pretty sweet LF there. But the book has only been available since 20/3/16. SO I GUESS THIS STAT IS NOT ACTUALLY THAT INTERESTING AT ALL SORRY.

Most checked out books about Batman

Because I might as well, right?

Well, the top book with “Batman” in the title field is actually Your Body’s Many Cries for Water : A Revolutionary Natural Way to Prevent Illness and Restore Good Health by Batmanghelidj, F. who is a FAKE Batman.

The real top Batman book is Batman: Arctic Attack! (44 loans). I have never heard of this book. Batman: Year One (the definitive modern Batman story) only has 36 loans. Sorry Frank Miller, guess you shoulda set your gritty retelling of modern comics’ most iconic origin story at the north pole! Or made it a pseudo-scientific study into the magical healing properties of water.

Erm, I guess that’s everything I can think of then. I know this isn’t quite the Panama Papers, but I think it’s pretty interesting nonetheless.

In short, it turns out that the FOI system does work. You can make sensible requests and get a sensible response in a sensible time. But it is totally open to abuse I think, especially if you’re some crazed lunatic with nothing better to do and a vendetta against the council. I’m sure you could ask for all kinds of crazy things to prove that the council (MORE LIKE CLOWNCIL) is wasting money and generally rubbish.

But please don’t do that.

What’s the deal with Metro articles?

Ah, the Metro. That free paper you get on trains. A nice little read that gets you caught up on the day’s events and celebrity non-happenings.

It reminds me of old school days, and the times I got the train from a friend’s house (my default commute was on the Harlow-Chelmsford bus, sadly devoid of any complementary news correspondence).

But recently, something weird has happened to the Metro. Specifically, their online offerings at Metro.co.uk. I’m talking about things like this:

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Huh? This is currently the 2nd article in their ‘Trending’ section. I’m not sure what trending means in that context though. Maybe it means most read, or most shared? By comparison, here’s the current BBC top read:

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Where’s the spot-squeezing article at, yo? I’m confused. It’s just bad news and death!

But maybe it’s unfair to compare the Metro and BBC in this way. They cater to different audiences I suppose. And the taxpayer-funded BBC doesn’t quite have the same financial pressures as the free online version of a free print newspaper. The reliance on clickbait in the Metro shouldn’t be surprising.

BUT WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE SO WEIRD?! Here are some more.

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Legit an article about a muscular bird.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 15.22.48ISIS? What ISIS? This is news about Chinese runners eating soap.

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No…. she doesn’t?

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MUST READ lol. All the lads getting their online clickbait in.

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Sounds like some good science.

They also have some strange fascination with aliens.

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Oh, and demons…

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 15.32.58 Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 15.33.01 Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 15.33.04

It’s that last one that gets me the most. DEMON USES TEXT MESSAGES. Putting the bit after demon in quotes doesn’t mean it doesn’t look like you’re endorsing the existence of demonic entities. You’re meant to put the WHOLE thing in quotes.

Unless the Metro genuinely does believe in aliens and demons. And the straight way they report these articles makes it hard to see otherwise. Hmm.

There’s only three possible conclusions then:

  1. The Metro is secretly run by aliens and demons, who keep forgetting that writing stories about aliens and demons isn’t a typical thing that humans do.
  2. The Metro is run by humans but to cater TO the alien/demon market. This implies that the Metro journalists are least aware of the existence of these creatures, and are partially complicit in their concealment from the wider populace, OR perhaps are psychically controlled to be ‘news-slaves.’
  3. All of the above.

But if any of that were true, you’d think they’d make it a bit more obvious. Maybe a hint somewhere. Hiding in plain sight and all that. Perhaps a little note in their website banner or something?

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 15.11.00

Oh, right.

Let’s not write all our opinion pieces like this

Something has happened in the news and I have an opinion about it. I’m going to try and convince you of my point, which you can tell because I’ve said “let’s not” in the title. This partisan polemic will be punctuated with lots of prescriptivist prose for pseudo-intellectuals to praise.

I’ll start by demonstrating how this thing that has happened in the news affects me personally. Perhaps something similar happened to me once, or I can get offended easily on someone else’s behalf. This makes me uniquely suited to telling you all what to think about it.

Next I’ll try and sum up the debate so far. I’ll go over the thing that happened in detail, even though you’re obviously already aware of what happened if you’re reading my comment. I’ll then explain what people have been saying about it so far. Look, here are some quotes from other comment-style articles! By laying out the debate like this I’m automatically making my opinion appear more valid; after all, I’ve surely considered all these opinions myself and still chosen to form my own. Patting myself on the back right now.

Now a whole paragraph in which I act as if I’m in any position to tell you how to live your life, or how government should form policy. So what if I’m massively over-simplifying how things get done? That’s not my problem. If I can write it, it can happen. I mean really, everyone would be better off if I just got put in charge of running the whole damn show.

Here are some statistics to back my point up. 25% of all statistics are used to prove points like this in comment pieces. Want a source for that statistic? Tough luck. I don’t need to back myself up, I just need to interpret the statistics in whatever way makes me look right.

But of course I wouldn’t say all this without thinking about the other side of the debate. Here are some imagined responses to my comment. Of course, they’re all straw men or ignore the nuance of real debate. But I win anyway! This makes it look like there’s no serious alternative to my point of view.

So that’s all pretty much case closed then. Here are some closing comments, even smarmier than the rest of the article. Feel free to let me know your point of view in the comments, which I have no intention of reading.