Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Boycott Cambridge News!

Did you just click through to this page to see what the fuss is all about?  Gotcha!

Online newspapers use shocking and irresistible headlines to attract us through to their site to generate advertising revenue. Some go further, painting a picture of a something terrible that tugs on our stereotypes and prejudice (travellers! parking charges! lazy yoofs! pavement cycling!), and provide a comments section to have you visiting time and time again. Kerching kerching.

We find ourselves sucked in to reading, perhaps even commenting on this shameful click-thru journalism. All it is achieves is division in our communities. Lets try an experiment, all together for one month. Let's boycott !  My local paper is the Cambridge (Evening) News.

Feb 2013
Boycott Cambridge News.

How do I boycott Cambridge News?

Avoid visiting their website for the entire of February. Their website metrics are unique visitors per month. Just one click and you've funded click-thru journalism.

A guaranteed way to prevent their site working is to change your hosts file.
Instructions: Windows XP/78, Linux and Mac.
Use IP: and hostname: www.cambridge-news.co.uk

How can I help?

Spread the message. Retweet. Cambridge News gets visitors from anywhere in the UK. Cyclists raising issues across the country often link to CN in digust. Find other sources if possible. Don't provide links. Use the #boycottCN tag.

But they've said something about [minority group] cyclists, I must change their minds!

First of all ignore the story, don't visit the home page, then you won't find out. The world will seem peaceful when you are not told other people are bad.

You'll likely come across links to their stories in many places, e.g. Twitter, another site like road.cc, BBC News related stories. Check links before you click on them. If your heart rate rises as you read a headline, don't click through. Beware obscured redirection URL's (t.co bit.ly) and use your instinct.

How do I keep up with my daily local new fix ?

There are many sources of local news. Local papers often copy press releases just adding a little bit of spin, setting the scene with a careful crafted headline to hook you in. You can go to their sources direct. See the bottom of this page for alternatives for Cambridge.

If you want to share a link to a story that is not Cambridge News, put it on twitter. Use the hashtag #boycottCN and we can all see your story.

I still want to discuss a story

Humans thrive on communication and Twitter is a great place to do that albeit in 140 characters. Find or put up stories with hashtag #boycottCN and reply. Get involved, lets have a debate, no one person is right but we can start our discussions from a truthful and honest platform. Twitter is free and open, your [reasonable] comments won't be moderated by a newspaper's agenda to drive advertising revenue.

Twitter actually has a major advantage over a controlled newspaper environment. Your local councillors and MP's are on there. Find them and you can have a direct conversation on local issues.

But, newspapers keep politicians in check

We had a major debate during Levenson about the usefulness of newspapers. They do play an important role in democracy.  I wouldn't like to see politicians and pressure groups just put out unchallenged press releases, but what we have in Cambridge News is often worse. They do not put forward all sides of the argument, their primary agenda is create click-thru stories that generate comments, trolls and repeat argumentative visits.

Cambridge News has actually been holding back debate recently. An example of this is how they continuing to put out anti-cycling stories such as red-light-jumping without ever painting the full picture. They do not explain if the law breaker was causing danger to others or just to themselves for convenience, and they have never compared this to the danger posed to others by red light jumping motor vehicles. When a story is biased, correcting the bias prevents us getting to a sensible debate.

CN does not also ask simple questions that we need to know answers for when our politicians fail to ask.  The Police and Crime Commissioner has cracked down on cyclists without lights in the name of lowering casualties with road accident data as the justification. I personally analysed the road safety statistics for Cambridge city and found very little statistical support for the crackdown. Cambridge News has not used this information to question our PCC and create an interesting story and be a catalyst for sensible discussion.

My focus is from a cycling perspective, but I also see other groups being treated in the same way. Travellers, youths, the unemployed. The Police, Councillors and Cycle Campaign need to use the press but their - often good - messages are lost to make an enraging article.

It won't make any difference

We don't know until we try. Even if we don't change Cambridge News we can have a debate. We might learn something. We might inspire someone to start a better paper.

I hate this, I disagree, I hate cyclists, grr!

Good for you, come onto Twitter to have a debate. This is not an independent forum, it is controller by me. I can delete your comments when I feel like it. It's just as bad as Cambridge News.

I'm inspired, I want to boycott a newspaper.

Use the #boycott... tag. Add your own ending.

What can I do long term?

You may not want to avoid a paper forever.  Many online sites let Google provide adverts for their sites. You can avoid seeing some of these and perhaps reduce advertising revenue by installing a browser plugin called "AdBlock Plus" for desktop browsers.  I would advise adding exceptions for sites you like, because they rely on that revenue to run for free. Support them.

Where do I get my local news?

BBC Cambridgeshire. They also discuss many local issues on the radio breakfast shows that do not get published on the website.

Anglia TV News for East Anglia, Cambridgeshire, or Cambridge.

Heart FM carry local stories.

Cambridgeshire Constabulary: News, @CambsCops, @CambsCops_FOI

Cambridgeshire County Council News, Consultations, and transport consultations.

How about Cambridge University News.

Student papers, Varsity, The Tab, Cambridge Student.

Guided Bus Fix? See Travelling the Guided Busway blog.

Twitter. You can make your own mix of people, press releases and banter.

How about a plain search for Cambridge.

RadWagon has compiled lists. See Locals.

There are so many councillors on Twitter, I just don't have a list. One place to start would be @RTaylorUK, he exchanges tweets with many councillors that you can find and follow. You are not limited by political party. How about Nick Clarke and his blog, a favourite for the CN.

If you are not on twitter already, use February to explore and see the news ... unfiltered.

Do add your own suggestions, using the comment box.

Cambridge is a fabulous place with a world class University surrounded by innovative companies and intelligent people. Its prior status as a Cycling City with 25% commuting by bicycle makes it an interesting place to discuss cycling issues. Cambridge deserves better.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Questions and response from Graham Bright PCC

I asked via email:

The Police statistical database "STATS19" shows that in Cambridge City 2009-2011 there were 694 cycling casualties, and 155 pedestrian casualties. Statistical analysis shows that anti-social cycling (without lights; pavement cycling; passing red traffic lights) cause extremely low numbers of casualties. 
Will you [Sir Graham Bright] commit the Police to targeting the real dangers posed by motor vehicles to vulnerable road users such as the contributory factor "failed to look properly" which is accountable in 48% of accidents in the city ? 
Cyclists in Cambridge commonly report dangerous driving but find the Police unable to deal with subjective road safety. Examples of near misses and close-passing are common across the city but Cambridgeshire Police require courtroom levels of proof and thus never follow up with time consuming incidents. They are reluctant to issue fixed penalty notices which alleviate these problems. Can you help get better justice for vulnerable road users in the face of dangerous driving in the city?

The answer is below. The response took 12 days, and is very similar to his press release Road Safety: "You can't cherry pick the law" says Sir Graham dated 4th Jan 2013.  

Thank you for your email dated 10 January 2013 regarding road safety. 
Cambridgeshire Constabulary have various road safety enforcement initiatives running throughout the year. Operation Pedalo was implemented to tackle anti-social cycling following the expression of renewed public concerns. One of the main thrusts of the operation has been to increase the use of cycle lights across the city through the LIT scheme. This diversion from prosecution scheme allows people to purchase lights and use them rather than pay a thirty pound fine for failing to display cycle lights. information from our officers conducting these operations has been that they have stopped a wide variety of individuals during December, students, local residents and visitors to the city. During the month the Constabulary have issued approximately two hundred and fifty tickets for the LIT scheme as well as dealing with other cycling and traffic issues.  
I have stated previously that the law is the law, Whether you are talking about pedestrians, cyclists or motorists - particularly those using mobile phones whilst driving. You can’t cherry pick which bits of the law you will adhere to. The fact is that there are more bicycles per head of population in Cambridge than almost anywhere else in the world and dangerous cycling in the city was brought to my attention during my election campaign. As a result I asked the Chief Constable to tackle it. Dangerous cycling is a risk to all road users, including the cyclists themselves. All road users have a responsibility to Walk, cycle or drive safely.  
I hope that this goes some way to ease your concerns and reassures you that this is a matter I am devoting attention to.

Ask a politician a direct question, don't expect a direct answer. 

He missed an opportunity to mention his opinion on enforcement of 20mph zones which is looking favourable for vulnerable road users, but we have yet to see any concrete plans or action.