The Lazy journalist index


 

Freedom comes at a cost

 

A few weeks ago I wrote a post decrying the sad state of a part of our great British media and in particular their favourite tool of laziness; the Freedom of Information Act.

As a part of this post I promised that if people sent in some nominations for those journalists who most often mis-used the FoI Act I’d come up with some form of ranking and publish it on the site.

That was three weeks ago and as the more observant of you would have noticed I haven’t yet written that post. The reasons are two-fold:

1) We actually got quite a good response from information officers and others from around the country and I needed to work out some form of ranking.

2) I suddenly had this feeling that writing a post about lazy journalists with a penchant for FoI requests was not a very bright idea.

However, after much thought I have decided to suck it up and not let down the people who have sent us e-mails etc. On the issue of ranking I have decided to us a very basic system and just give you the three top scorers as these were far and away above the others. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are the top three FoI related drains on the public purse:

  • Chris Hastings from the Mail on Sunday
  • Jasper Copping from the Daily Telegraph
  • Adam Thorne from the News of the World

I advise you all to check out some of their work and remember each FoI request can cost about £280 per authority and many of these requests go to over 400 authorities a time… That is over £80,000 per news story; I’ll leave you to judge whether the stories are worth the cost.

These journalists no doubt do a very good job and have hunted out some awesome stories but FoIs about biscuits, equality officers and people with climate change in their job title probably don’t add up to good value to the public purse!

On a slightly lighter note one of my correspondents suggested the following:

Maybe we should submit a FOI request to the major newspapers to find out a few things, namely:

  • how many FOI requests they have made to Local Authorities over the past 12 months;
  • the names of the journalists who made them (also their pay grades and job titles);
  • the nature of these enquiries;
  • how many were to confirm an existing story;
  • how many were speculative;
  • how many led to a positive news release;
  • how many to a negative news release;
  • the increase in circulation figures as a direct result of these stories, and;
  • the number of journalists who can sleep at night.

If only the FoI applied to national newspapers I for one would be the first person to submit that request!

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17 Comments on “The Lazy journalist index”

  1. citizenr Says:

    Ah,the biscuit FoI. What a waste of time and effort on an expose that revealed that people are offered a biscuit at council meetings. I’ve had to answer FoIs on ridiculous questions and the follow up stories have never been written because there was no scandal and everything was ticking along rather nicely and boringly.

  2. Dave Says:

    We, the people, own you.

  3. localgov Says:

    As I’ve said to those who listen to my rants, I’ve got no problem with FOI requests as they were intended to be used, but blanket, complex requests or those which at best could be described as frivolous should not only be stopped but the submitter should be charged the cost of responding.

    That way, should another of these ridiculous requests be submitted to 400 Local Authorities the person or newspaper would then face a bill of £80,000 – would stop them all pretty quickly.

    • scopello Says:

      Please clarify what you mean by “FOI requests as they were intended to be used” – I’ve never seen anything in the Act that prescribes how FOIA should be used. Indeed, it is motive blind – public bodies are not entitled to make judgements about the request or second guess motives.

      Incidentally, I’m with Eric Pickles who had this to say about one council that floated the idea of charging for FOI requests:

      “If town halls want to reduce the amount they spend on responding to freedom of information requests they should consider making the information freely available in the first place.

      “The simple act of throwing open the books, rather than waiting for them to be prised apart by the force of an FoI, might even save a few pounds in the process.”

      Yes, I am a journalist who tries to use the FOI Act responsibly. I accept there are some who use it lazily.

      • localgov Says:

        On open data, I’m 100% behind you: sensitive information aside (child protection, legal issues, etc…) there is no reason at all why we don’t publish data and I would say even go beyond that. Just publishing stats won’t achieve as much in my opinion as being frank and honest about what we are doing and why, as well as admitting mistakes.

        There’s an issue around any mistakes, no matter how small, being blown out of proportion, but that’s perhaps an issue for another post!

        It’s also a true point that FOI is motive blind, but that doesn’t mean that it should be used indiscriminately. Internally we make things too formal around them by e-mailing colleagues and creating hoops to jump through when a quick phone call would do; equally FOI requests can sometimes be submitted when a similar simple phone call could be made.

        And it’s also what is being requested, for what reason and to how many organisations which I often don’t like. For example, a request to one authority to find out how much funding was given to a controversial organisation in order to expose fraud is one thing; a blanket e-mail to all local authorities in the country to find out if any of them have, over the past three years, employed someone allergic to nuts is quite something else.

        Finally, just to make a point; most journalists and individuals use FOI responsibly, this piece is to highlight some examples of when we feel this isn’t the case.

        Thanks for the comment!


  4. [...] Blogger We Love Local Government’s amusing swipe at “lazy journalists” who mis-use the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, at great expense to councils. So how about a list of “lazy councils” who misuse FOI to [...]


  5. [...] Blogger We Love Local Government’s amusing swipe at “lazy journalists” who mis-use the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, at great expense to councils. So how about a list of “lazy councils” who misuse FOI to [...]


  6. [...] Blogger We Love Local Government’s amusing swipe at “lazy journalists” who mis-use the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, at great expense to councils. So how about a list of “lazy councils” who misuse FOI to [...]

  7. LocalHud Says:

    I’d re-arrange the order of the list, but good job WLLG – good to see my favourite in there.

  8. Fior Says:

    Great blog! I definitely love how it’s easy on my eyes and also the information are well written. I am wondering how I may be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which ought to do the trick! Have a nice day!
    00:24


  9. [...] FOI Man. A Blog about FOIs for those who enjoyed our lazy journalism index. [...]

  10. James Says:

    “I’ve got no problem with FOI requests as they were intended to be used” – this is exactly the problem. It’s not about local (or central) government deciding what’s best for us to know, but taxpayers – and that includes journalists – being able to decide and ask for themselves.
    If you’ve got a proper records management system, as by law you should have, and if you have a comprehensive publication scheme requests shouldn’t cost £280 a pop. Just cut out the legal advice trying to find a reason not to release the information and you’ll find in much quicker and cheaper.

  11. Murray Says:

    @James

    How precisely do you define a ‘proper records management system’? Would this be some sort of special box whereby a civil servant presses a button and an answer magically pops out three seconds later?

    This may work in Willy Wonka’s factory, but in the real world it aint so straight forward.

  12. Malc Says:

    The suggestion that journalists are lazy is outrageous. A journalist at my local paper has just submitted 4 requests in 55 minutes – that may be some kind of record but can hardly be labelled as lazy! Must be appraisal thime there and he needs to justify his existance!


  13. [...] post about journalism and the Freedom of Information Act seemed to excite all sorts of interest and led to a rather lengthy debate amongst journalists who [...]

  14. James Says:

    People criticising thisis wrong and the biscuits example exposes this lazy journalism.

    FOI request on how much councils spend on food for internal meetings is fine. But what about those with the public and consultaitons where we need to provide refreshments.

    Also, to be asked how much Local Authorities spend on the specific biscuits (i.e. Custard Cream and Bourbon), please tell me how we can do this with a ‘proper records management system’ as one comment suggests.

    This wastes my time and my colleagues and gives a bad impression of FOI requests to al lthat work in Local Authorities. This lazy journalism needs to stop


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