Archive for December, 2009

Computer Assisted Reporting

December 14, 2009

As is usually the way in the UK, we catch on to something the US has been doing a good 50 years after they started doing it.

Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR) has been around in The States since 1952, delivering raw information on local communities and making it searchable to others. CAR is a way of communicating data effectively and was originally developed from journalists using tools like databases and spreadsheets. It gets others involved in what you’re doing, while inadvertently helping you to cut down your workload. Instead of being the lowly intern who has to weed through 458,832 pages of MPs’ expenses, by using CAR other people can gain access to the material and you can sift through it together.

Freedom of Information Act requests make documents available to the public and can form the backbone of a great story. Data like restaurant inspections and police league tables show the public what is going on and local people can see how their community is performing compared with neighbouring ones. It’s a great way of getting the community involved.

By using a new tool we can revert back to the meaning of old journalism – getting information to the masses.

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Capturing Cardiff: R ‘n’ R – Reduce and Recycle

December 5, 2009

Whether you bin it, recycle it or compost it – your rubbish has to go somewhere. But Cardiff’s landfills are filling up fast and residents have been told they need to do more to help the situation.

The Welsh Assembly Government has recently been given new powers to impose financial penalties for local authorities who fail to meet recycling targets. They’re launching a new waste strategy scheme aimed at making Wales 70% waste-free by the year 2025 and 100% waste-free by 2050.

However, as Highway Operations and Waste Management Press Officer for Cardiff County Council, Ian Lloyd-Davies says: zero-waste is the far element and there are a number of targets to achieve before attempting this mammoth goal. Cardiff currently recycles 40% of its waste which means it has met the Landfill Diversion Target set out by Welsh Authorities, but needs to look at ways to recycle at least 30% more.

Listen to the full Interview with Ian Lloyd-Davies here.

As well as recycling glass, tins and plastics, households across the county have recently been issued with composting bins for leftover food and teabags. While the inclusion of composting in the recycling system is a step forward for Cardiff, too many households are either refusing to participate or participating minimally in the scheme. Binman Paul Jones says: ‘students and the elderly are among some of the worst’ offenders.

How can recycling in Cardiff be improved?

  • By giving incentives – some areas of the UK offer the chance to win an iPod for the household that recycles the most in a certain area. Lloyd-Davies says this is bribery.
  • By introducing fines – Kent County Council has proposed introducing fines for those who refuse to contribute to the scheme. Lloyd-Davies says County Councils do not have the legislation to impose such charges.
  • By increasing adverts for a waste-free Wales – leaflet drops in places with the lowest rates for recycling across the city.
  • By encouraging shop owners to produce less packaging.

If Cardiff fails to reach the targets set by the Welsh Assembly Government, and exceeds their landfill, there will be financial consequences for the whole county and residents’ pockets will suffer. Landfills are running out, so local authorities need to find new ways to treat waste without using landfills like they have in the past. For this reason alone it is essential that we recycle more.

But what can be recycled, when can it be recycled, and why should people recycle?

I went along to Cardiff’s biggest landfill site on Lamby Way to find out exactly what happens to our rubbish once it leaves our street.

I arrived at the location in Rumney on a typically wet and windy day. As soon as I’d donned a pair of steel-toe capped boots, a hard hat and a ‘hi viz’ orange tabard I was given a tour of the site.

The piles of rubbish that greeted me were overwhelming. Even though they had been repeatedly compressed into garbage blocks the sheer volume of them dominated the landscape.

The waste was divided into three types: recyclable, non-recyclable and food waste. The recyclable items were sorted into different categories through various magnetic machines, compressed and then sold on to the highest bidder. The non-recyclable waste was compressed and emptied in the landfill, while the food waste was driven up to Derby for treatment.

Yes that’s right, Derby . Since Cardiff does not yet have the facilities to deal with the compost it collects, the food waste is driven for three hours up the M5 to a place that can process it. Such unnecessary pollution seems to be at odds with the council’s new greener outlook. Surely it would have made more sense to wait until Cardiff was able to handle its own food waste before introducing the composting scheme?

The route from Cardiff to Derby:

Lloyd-Davies wouldn’t give an answer for when he expects the compost treatment plant to be finished in Cardiff. So, for the foreseeable future it seems as though our food waste will be taking a costly tour of the M5, while Cardiff citizens are educated about the essential role they play in the recycling process.

Recycling saves energy – when we make new paper from old we use 60% less energy than making it from virgin timber. On a global level, by increasing the amount we recycle we will save energy and reduce our need for raw materials (like trees). On a local level, by increasing the amount we recycle we will prevent our landfills from becoming full and Cardiff County Council from being heavily fined, which could increase our council tax.

Lloyd-Davies assures: “it’s in everybody’s best interests to recycle and compost, both for the environment and for the money they have in their pockets.”

Bring On The Wall??

December 1, 2009

You wouldn’t expect to have a drink at a bar without handing over some money first, nor walk past a supermarket till with a basket full of groceries. We’d never stroll out of a newsagent and not pay for our newspaper, so why is it that we’ve come to expect to get our news for free?

It’s no secret that ever since digital media evolved the way we consume our news, newspaper publications have been in catastrophic decline. But what’s the solution? An increase in advertisement, the Press Association pitching for public money, or are pay walls to become the online norm?

It’s been announced that Times Online will bring in pay walls from the Spring, but the UK Editor of Paid Content, Rob Andrews, has conducted extensive research which suggests this method won’t work for the majority of publications. When asked: what would you do if your favourite news site started charging? 74% of people admitted they would find another free site and only 5% said they would pay to continue reading.

Whilst it is true that The Financial Times and Wall Street Journal have subscriptions, business titles are able to do this since they have wealthy customers with a more disposable income, something which readers of other newspapers might not.

Andrews believes that B2B professionals that publishers are targeting with niche information, like Farmer’s Weekly, do have a future because customers are willing to pay for the unique information they receive. But can you also charge for general consumer news like The Mirror and The Sun? Probably not.

And even if people are willing to pay something, there’s not as much value placed on digital content since much of it is easily replicable elsewhere.

Even as a journalism student, I’m not convinced I would pay for online content – it’s just not as satisfying as reading something that you yourself are holding and I don’t feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. Pay walls won’t convince me to buy online news, I’d rather revert to the old school practice of buying a newspaper.