The Somme and the Age of Anniversaries


One of my proudest achievements as a journalist was to have led our data unit’s World War I project. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission kindly supplied us with the records of all the servicemen and women from Britain and the Empire – now the Commonwealth – who were killed in the Great War.

We used it to create these widgets where you can search for the names of those who died, or who died in your area.

That was for the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 2014.

Since then we have gone back to the records as the anniversaries of Gallipoli, Loos, Jutland and now the Somme have come and gone.

I’ve realised more fully now that we are entering into what I’d call the Age of Anniversaries. Continue reading “The Somme and the Age of Anniversaries”

4 Observations from the General Election Spending Data

The Electoral Commission has just published the spending of the main political parties for the 2015 general election last May. I had a brief look at it earlier today, but I thought I’d go back to it and pick out a few interesting tidbits.

1. Conservatives dominate social media

social media spending

This pie chart tells the story. The Conservatives trounced their competitors in spending on social media and Google ads in May.

Labour were a distant fifth, behind the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.

Ed Miliband’s former party spent much more on social media marketing companies, such as £155,611.20 on Experian Ltd and £74,400.00 on Alchemy Social, which also features on Experian’s website.

2. Travelling in style

The Tories spent a hefty £119,634.48 with Sovereign Business Jets. Based in Biggin Hill, Kent, they offer private jets and helicopters to charter. David Cameron’s party also spent another £14,688 with Eastern Atlantic Helicopters Limited.

They weren’t the only ones to take to the skies. The Scottish National Party spent £35,450 with PDG Helicopters, while UKIP spent £16,055 with Jota Aviation.

There was no sign of air travel in the Green Party’s records. The pro-environment party’s largest transport expenditure was £13,000 with The Big Red Bus.

3. Starting early

2014 campaign spend

Not only did the Conservatives outspend their rivals overall, they also started much earlier. This chart looks at the dates that expenses were marked ‘paid’. By the turn of last year, the Conservatives had already spent almost a fifth of their final total. Labour had spent just 1.8%.

Getting off to an early start wasn’t essential for success. The SNP spent all their money in 2015 and virtually swept the board in Scotland.

4. Value for money

Cost per seat, 2015 general election
Cost per seat, 2015 general election

The first-past-the-post electoral system rewards parties that have concentrated support in certain areas and makes life difficult for parties whose support is spread out around Britain.

UKIP, the Greens and the Lib Dems found this out to their cost. They spent £7.5m between them for a grand total of just ten seats.

The system is much kinder to the parties that compete in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Their support is concentrated in these areas. This means more chance of winning seats, as well as huge savings on transport costs as candidates don’t need to zip from one corner of Britain to the other. The SNP’s ‘Sturgeon-copter‘ may have looked presidential, but her party could afford to splash out – the SNP spent less than a tenth of Labour on transport.

Concluding thoughts

There is much to ponder in this data for Labour strategists trying to work out why they lost in May. The Conservatives spent heavily on Facebook and started burning through their war chest much earlier. According to BuzzFeed, the Tory focus on Facebook was deliberate – Twitter was thought to be the domain of journalists and political activists rather than undecided voters.

Coincidentally, the Beckett report into Labour’s election defeat was also published this week. Here is what Dame Margaret had to say about social media:

We should develop and promote the possibilities of social mediafor communicating with the public at large, while recognising the risk it carriesof self-reinforcing messages and assumptions.

Lastly, there was no data for the Ed Stone. The widely-ridiculed stone pledge was missing from the Electoral Commission data – an ‘administrative error’, Labour said.

The party is seeking to ‘rectify this error as soon as possible’ – no doubt political hacks will be keen to learn exactly when they do.

Here is a copy of the spreadsheet I used. You’re welcome to download it and run your own analysis.


FOI consultation: why saving Freedom of Information is important

From Wikimedia Commons member Sailko. Reproduced under Creative Commons
From Wikimedia Commons member Sailko. Reproduced under Creative Commons

Back in October, the Government started a consultation on the future of the Freedom of Information Act, which closes on Friday 20 November.  Before the deadline, I wanted to share why I think it’s important for those who may not know too much about it. Continue reading “FOI consultation: why saving Freedom of Information is important”

Guardian Witness and Thatcher’s funeral: how did it do?

A screenshot of Guardian Witness
A screenshot of Guardian Witness

Lady Thatcher’s funeral today was the first big test for Guardian Witness, the Guardian’s app for users to contribute their own content to Guardian stories, galleries, live blogs and other content. Joanna Geary introduced the app in a blog post yesterday and discussed it further with Adam Tinworth (a tutor of mine). Below the line of her blog post, a fair few Guardian readers were unhappy yesterday about the idea of unpaid contributors passing photos or text for the Guardian to use.

Very cool for journalists not so for the contributors. Brilliant Idea to lighten the workload and enrich the story, shame the contributors wouldn’t gain anything out of it. Velo Rapid

Is this but a cynical move on behalf the Guardian and yet another step closer towards journalism as a collage of low quality images, opinion, ‘tweets’ and various other weak and questionable sources, that ultimately adds up to very little? LaNausea

I notice there’s no answer yet to the questions about whether contributors will be paid.

Which leads me to conclude that under all the shiny packaging this is just a way of ripping people off. A pretty disgraceful position for the Guardian of all papers to be in. YorkshireCat

Continue reading “Guardian Witness and Thatcher’s funeral: how did it do?”

Telegraph Technology round-up: week 2

I perused Google's map of North Korea for one story
I perused Google’s map of North Korea for one story

On Friday I finished my second week at the Telegraph on the Technology desk. Happily I got just as much on the website as I did in week one. I’m very grateful to Matt Warman and Chris Williams for allowing me to come in and for all their help over the last fortnight. Continue reading “Telegraph Technology round-up: week 2”

Telegraph Technology round-up: week 1

Mark Zuckerberg. Kind of a big deal, so I've heard. Image: SOCIALisBETTER
Mark Zuckerberg. Kind of a big deal. Image: SOCIALisBETTER

This week I’ve been lucky enough to spend the first of two weeks at The Telegraph on the technology desk. Matt Warman, the Consumer Technology editor, and Christopher Williams, the Technology Correspondent, have given me lots of things to do, which is exactly what I wanted. Continue reading “Telegraph Technology round-up: week 1”

Islington round-up: week 3

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 18.10.59
Islington Now’s homepage. Image: Islington Now/Rob Grant

This week I was Deputy Online Editor at Islington Now during our third and final production week. A lot of the work I did was behind the scenes, helping making sure content came through steadily and doing my bit to make sure it was put up and broadcast through our Facebook, Twitter and other social channels at a even rate.

This week went much more smoothly because the online team had more experience of scheduling content, tweets and posts to space things out (or to give the illusion we were in the office 24/7, which wasn’t too far from the truth!)

I wrote this story about electric cars in Islington. I discovered that nearly £100,000 has been spent on electric car charging points that require a £17 annual license to use. The number of Islington residents who have paid for that? Just 10.

That’s it for the Islington round-up. Production week is over. It’s been a hugely enjoyable three weeks and very satisfying to draw together so much of what we’ve learnt so far on the course.