Council Reporting

What services are the council responsible for?

County Council

They are responsible for services across the whole of a county which include:

  • Education
  • Social Services
  • Roads and transport
  • Waste disposal
  • Economic development
  • Countrywide planning and the environment
  • Protecting the public
  • Libraries

District, borough and city councils

Cover a smaller area than county councils, services include:

  • Rubbish collection
  • Leisure and amenities
  • Collection of council tax
  • Environmental health
  • Planning permission
  • Tourism
  • Housing needs services

Parish and Town Councils

Parish or town councils are elected and can help on a number of local issues:

  • Allotments
  • Bus Shelters
  • cemeteries
  • Children’s playgrounds
  • Grants for local projects/organisations
  • Halls for social clubs and meetings
  • Parish lighting
  • Recreation/sports fields
  • Traffic calming measures
  • War memorial maintenance

What do councillors do?

Day to-day running of services carried out by council officers/employees

The policy/decision makers are the locally elected councillors.

Councillors are usually elected under a political ticket ie Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem etc … Each major party has its own ‘group’ on the council which includes offices etc and employs admin staff and policy researchers

Approximately a third of the council is elected every year.  There are no elections every fourth year.

A councillor’s term of office is usually four years before the seat is subject to elections again.

Councillors are democratically accountable to residents of the city and their ward. The overriding duty of councillors is to the whole community, but they have a special duty to their constituents, including those who did not vote for them.

How would you report on council?

  • A principal role of local press is to hold council to account
  • Attending council meetings
  • Investigating through FOI requests
  • Democracy sites
  • Through local people’s campaigns and complaints
  • Press releases, from council and political parties

What makes a good community reporter?


  • Meetings do matter’- Every meeting will be discussing something that effects a section of the public.
  • punctuality It will allow people to get to know your face and build a connection. Potential for more ‘off the record’ comments etc.
  • Go beyond the press release and question agenda of every decision.
  • Don’t re-hash and regurgitate news story, try to find a personal angle.
  • Try be-friend local trade union leaders.
  • Don’t neglect Parish councils.
  • Read the minutes on council websites and local planning applications.
  • Build direct contacts and get interviews.
  • Utilise social media to gauge opinion and build contacts.
  •  Utilise ‘ Freedom of Information Act’ requests.
  • Check ‘Hyperlocal’ websites.

Why is council reporting important?

  • Report issues that affect the local community and raise local concerns.
  • Unravel the jargon and lay out stories in layman’s terms for the public.
  • To find out where tax payers money is being spent.
  • Gives an insight into election candidates.

What happens when the ‘fourth estate’ fails to hold local authority and government to account?

They will knowingly or inadvertently get away with things. The public need to be informed.

Hold individuals to account.

Allows systematic failings to continue e.g. Grenfell Tower Block

Without reporting it, it can allow propaganda and PR to be spread.

Useful websites:

Fix my street– Allows people to report local issues. Potentially a source of stories.

What do they know – Allows you to place Freedom of Information requests.

My society – Allows you to write to politicians for free.

They work for you – Gives MP details: what they voted for/against, recent appearances, who has contributed money to their campaigns etc.



Freedom of Information Act 2000

The government first published proposals for a Freedom of Information Act in 1997.

“Openness is fundamental to the political health of a modern state. This White Paper marks a watershed in the relationship between the government and people of the United Kingdom. At last there is a government ready to trust the people with a legal right to information.”  (Your Right to Know, The Government’s proposals for Freedom of Information Act, 1997)

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public access to information held by public authorities.

It does this in two ways:

  1. public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities; and
  2. members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.

The act gives you the right to access recorded information held by public sector organisations including:

  • Central government and its departments
  • Local government ie councils
  • Schools, colleges and universities
  • health trusts, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries
  • publicly owned companies
  • publicly funded museums

For more information see:

The Leveson Inquiry

Notes from Power Point

The Leveson Inquiry was a judicial public inquiry into the cultures, practices and ethics of the British national press following the News International Phone Hacking Scandal, chaired by Lord Justice Leveson

In 2007 News of the World Royal Editor Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire were convicted of illegal interception of phone messages.

According to News of the World, this was an isolated incident. The Guardian though, claimed it extended beyond these two.

In 2011, after a civil settlement with Sienna Miller, the Police set up a new investigation “Operation Weeting”. In 2011, it was revealed that News of the World reporters had hacked the voicemail of murder victim Milly Dowler.

On 13/07/11 it was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron there would be a public inquiry, chaired by Lord Justice Leveson.

There were  2 main parts:

1. The cultures, practices, ethics of the press. Including contacts between the press and politicians and the press and police. It is to consider the extent to which the current regulatory regime has failed and whether there has been a failure to act upon any previous warnings about media misconduct.

2. The extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International, other media organisations or other organisations. It will also consider the extent to which any relevant police force investigated allegations relating to News International, and whether the police received corrupt payments or were otherwise complicit in misconduct.

In November 2012, following the Inquiry, the Leveson Report was published. It reviewed the general culture and ethics of the British media, making recommendations to replace the Press Complaints Commission by a new independent body to be recognised through new state laws.

David Cameron P.M declined to enact the requisite legislation.

Leveson’s recommendations were:

New independent  body with a range of sanctions

Membership voluntary but incentivized schemes like kitemark and inquisitorial arbitration service for handling tort claims like libel and breach of privacy, and by allowing exemplary damages to be awarded in cases brought against non-participants in the scheme, something not usually part of the English law.

His proposals were deemed by many as ‘statutory regulation of the press’. As a result a new body was set up, the Press Recognition Panel.

As a counter newspaper’s formed ISPO in 2014 which claims to be an independent regulator of the newspaper and magazine industry.

Are MP’s right to be concerned that IPSO has never fined a newspaper? Has the behaviour of the press improved since the phone hacking scandal?

IMPRESS is the only one of these formally backed by Press Recognition Panel .

The application by IMPRESS to become the UK’s first state approved press regulator was approved and it was granted a Royal Charter in October 2016.




Advanced Social Media

Community management

– building relationships with readers and working with them to produce best possible journalism (collaboration & curation)

–  PR role, focussed on maintaining  brand across social media channels

– managing audience interaction across comment threads, stimulating and moderating  discussion in forums, social media etc.

Melmelin and Villi (2015) identify four different roles that journalists adopt when dealing with audience community …

1. Observer-Monitors audience discussions to identify interests, needs and concerns

2. Developer- helps to improve online platforms and service to users. This increases likelihood of them contributing.

3. Facilitator-helps start and maintain online discussions and feed back to editorial team

4. Curator- Might highlight best work by members of the community

Strong relationship with readers – open journalism.

81% of financial Journalists were engaging on a regular basis with readers thus fostering online communities. (Greenslade 2011)

Why is it important?

Sense of belonging ‘people like me’

Connection with others


Helps strengthen engagement

Journalists get a deeper understanding of their audiences making them quicker to respond to trends and better at identifying stories for the audience

Identifying Your Community

People- Who is the community? Where do they congregate online? What social media channels do they use primarily?

Objectives- What do you want to achieve?

Strategy- How are you going to achieve these objectives?

Technology- once the first three steps are done we can decide on the tools to use. For example, will Twitter or Facebook be the best

Different publications have different audiences and levels of community e.g specialist magazines/blogs, national publications. 5 broad categories could be:

  • Location
  • profession
  • Interest/hobbies
  • Cause-charitable, fundraiser etc.
  • Issue-shared problems or concerns

Is the community transient v ongoing, personal v anonymous, diverse v homogenous, physical v virtual, local v global?


  • Existing Facebook pages/groups
  • Hashtags in their profession/geography
  • Blogs
  • Forums
  • LinkedIn for professionals
  • Soundcloud for musicians
  • Profession specific networks e.g.
  • Local Football Club forums

Get to know your community starting with a few key individuals. Trace what they do, who they follow, who follows them..their habits and behaviour, #’s. Facebook insights-pages to watch, audience insight tool, demographics. Offline-meet-ups, events, key organisations….communication!! On your own site/forum-data, activity, contributions.



Tweetdeck and Hootsuite

Both are popular tools for social media management.

Tweetdeck, as the name suggests, is solely for the use of Twitter accounts whereas Hootsuite allows you to manage multiple networks from a single platform.


This is a free tool which helps you to manage and post to your Twitter accounts. It gives you a dashboard displaying separate columns for different accounts. This enables you to  see feeds, notifications, messages and activity all in one place. You can see what is trending, add or remove hashtags but more importantly schedule tweets. This is particularly useful for upcoming events.


Hootsuite is free for up to 3 social media platforms as a sole user thereafter it is free to try for 30 days but then you must choose a payment plan. For this reason it is more geared towards the business market.

Some of its features include:

Manage multiple networks all from one place. Schedule updates (including on a calendar and even upload from a spreadsheet (csv file) Collaborate as a team (delegate replies, tweets, mark as done, track messages etc) Customise analytics (including scheduled reports) RSS integration (post updates from an RSS feed)

The choice between the 2 different tools would be dependent on your social media presence. I have used Tweetdeck in a professional capacity to schedule tweets for Hull Minster’s cultural programme.

George Orwell Edit

The task was to read and edit George Orwell’s 13 page essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ down to 600 words. Having read the essay several times and highlighted the most important points I condensed it to produce the following piece:

George Orwell “Politics and the English Language,” 1946

The English language is in a bad way. Our society is in decline and our language inevitably suffers. The decline of a language has political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of an individual writer. Modern English, especially written English, is full   of bad habits which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.

The problems lie in the staleness of imagery and the lack of precision. The four main reasons for this being:

Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically “dead” (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being   an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness.

Operators or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, a verb becomes a phrase.

Pretentious diction. Words are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements

Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in   the style now fashionable.

The great enemy of plain language is insincerity. In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.” All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and  not  for  concealing or preventing thought. The present political chaos is connected with the  decay of language. Political language  is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits .


The edited version I produced does not make much sense as I used the same wording instead of rephrasing the essay into a modern understandable critique. I had highlighted the  important points he is making that are essential to writers but omitted the political comparisons and Orwell’s evaluation of the use of ‘foreign words’.  The essay needs to be rewritten as a more coherent, flowing piece which contains the important points but reads well.

I hadn’t really understood why we were doing this task and took it as a comprehension exercise. The group disusssion that followed made me realise that this was an editing/copywriting task. I now realise that it was an invaluable lesson for future editorial work. The finished example we went through illustrated perfectly what I should have produced.


Year 2- Feature Writing

What is a feature?

A feature is a longer piece of writing than a news story. It is everything that is not a news article. Features come in many different types and are widely used in magazines, newspapers and online.

A feature will often cover an issue in greater depth than a news story would do; or it might look at an ongoing story from a different angle.

News Story v Feature

Infographic explaining differences between news stories and features

An infographic explaining differences between news stories and features

A feature is also thematic, it needs to be shaped around a central theme. It needs to be interesting and finely focused. A feature will have an element of topicality, a Peg which is relevant and up to date e.g. the birth /death of someone famous, book/film launch etc.

Features are not meant to deliver the news first hand. Their function is to humanise, to add colour, to educate, to entertain, to illuminate. They often recap major news previously reported.

Features often:

  • profile people who make the news
  • explain events that move or shape the news
  • analyse what is happening in the world, nation or community
  • teach an audience how to do something
  • suggest better ways to live
  • examine trends
  • entertain

Types of feature

Personality profiles– bring an audience closer to a person in or out of the news. Anyone who’s interesting and newsworthy. Behind-the scenes look, warts and all.

News feature a feature article that focuses on a topic of interest in the news. Tend to focus on the people in the stories. e.g. heart disease in the news would focus on facts and stats whereas in a feature maybe come from individual perspective, their struggles etc.

Spot feature focus on breaking news events. Sidebar to main news focusing on certain aspects of the event.

Human interest stories– shows a subject’s oddity or practical, emotional or entertainment value.

Trend stories– examines people, things or organisations that are having an impact on society. What’s new, fresh and exciting. Light, quick, easy to read, capturing the spirit of whatever new trend is being discussed.

In-depth or Live-In– through extensive research and interviews provide a detailed account of a particular place and associated people…e.g. homeless shelters, camps, hospitals, prisons etc.

Backgrounder/analysis piece adds meaning to current issues in the news by explaining them further. Bring an audience up to date explaining how a country, organisation, person happens to be where it is now.