Turning dog poo in to stories

I’ve been spending a lot of time doing prep for teaching and training that I’m doing at the moment. So expect the slow appearance of a backlog of posts on video and other related issues. But I thought I would share something that has been in my radar for a few days.

I’ve been doing a lot of talking (shocking for me I know) about using the web for research – journalism toolbox stuff. And one of the things I have been stressing is that the web will very rarely just ‘give’ you a story. It will give you lots of data and information but the story is in the way you, as the journalist, put the things together. The phrase that I heard last week that best summed that up journalists are sense makers. Phil Trippenbach has a nice post on this so I won’t labour the point.

But whilst I was browsing for resources and examples to show my students and delegates I came across a site that made me wonder if I had to re-think that position – fixmystreet.co.uk

Fixmystreet.co.uk is a site by the fantastic Mysociety group who specialize in socially aware, achingly web2.0 sites. Top stuff on a number of levels and their other sites are worth a visit. Anyway, here is how they describe fixmystreet:

A site where people can report, view, or discuss local problems like graffiti, fly tipping, broken paving slabs, or street lighting.

Nearly 25,000 problems have now been reported across the UK, with our users following up many thousands with updates, news and notifications that problems have been fixed

Here’s an example of an ongoing problem with litter.

Fixmystreet.co.uk - tracking local problems
Fixmystreet.co.uk - tracking local problems

You can also sign up for an RSS feed or email alerts for a location. Told you it was brilliant.

So I’m showing my students the site today as we discussed ways that you can get a handle on a patch. They enjoyed it, not least because it offers, what must be, the most accurate geographic mapping of poo that I have yet to see on the web. With pictures! Anything scatological is a hit with students it seem.

I made the point that it shouldn’t replace physically getting out on the patch but it could provide some insight and a conversation opener when wandering around. But it wouldn’t throw up a story. Then we came across this entry.

Is this just about dog poo?
Is this just about dog poo?

Take a look and ask yourself if there is a story in that or not and if it’s a story about dog poo.

Locating the meaning

In terms of the way you would work a beat to get a story to pitch to an editor this site serves up a hell of a lot in just a few lines of comment. Perhaps it’s the fact that the story is located that adds the context you need. Maybe it did take my eyes on the story to make the connection. But one thing is for sure, fixmystreet proves that locally focused geo-mashups work.

So if the embryonic geotagging of your content or the occasional attempts at mapping this kind of thing have fallen of the radar or been dismissed as gimmicks, maybe it’s worth looking again.

Take more of a healthy interest in your audiences poo.

UPDATE:Because I am that plugged in at the moment I didn’t see this great interview with one of My society’s developers Francis Irving on Journalism.co.uk/ (thanks the Alex Lockward for the nudge)

10 thoughts on “Turning dog poo in to stories”

  1. Is it just me that has concerns for the people who take the shots of the “poo” and then take precious time out of their life to submit them to fixmystreet? I know a picture is a thousand words, but this is surely an exception?!

  2. I guess if you stood in the stuff you might be motivated to do something. The web makes it easy to complain in that way.

    I’m not sure that I would take the time to take pictures of poo but, hey, everything is important to someone. And (engage serious lecturer voice) maybe that’s a lesson for journalists to learn in an increasingly local world.

  3. To tell you the truth, last year, when i was working at a local radio, one of the last field reports i did was about dog poo. A local board launched a campaign – with flyers showing a close up of a fake specimen – appealing to civic counscience regarding owners and their pets, that created real “mine fields” on the city streets (as a matter of fact it was directed at the area i live in).

    I thought that was crappy assignment, had to interview a council man, who promptly used the issue to attack the city hall cuts on the sanitary department. Long story short, it was a no show BUT it had it’s density (poor choice of words…).

    It earned 2 minutes airtime, and i went back home to wash my hands from such dirty tactics. By the way, the campaign caused more litter than effect.

  4. Lol – tonnes of flyers to stop litter. How many times has that one cropped up.

    I guess litter and the like are always going to be staples of ‘local’ coverage and the web is not going to make them any less frustrating to cover :)

    What I liked about the fixmystreet stuff was that the little bit of extra info they allow means that you get more of the tone and the agenda. Something that is often missing from the info heavy web.

  5. Consider camera-phones with internet connection, sometimes even GPS. Interfaces for reporting that way are in the making, if not already available! Imaging walking on the street, maybe writing an sms or otherwise not keeping eyes glued on the ground and your phone beeps you just a moment before you step into it (poo, gum, other hard to clean off stuff). I’d sign up for (hopefully discreet) beeps to warn about light-poles in the middle of the street, and those knee-level car blockers which I run into now and then.

  6. I think this is a fantastic idea because it addresses the roots of urban blight and how neighborhoods slide into slumminess. Dog poo may not be the most important part of this, but litter and broken windows and out-of-control graffiti are signs that a neighborhood is starting to go bad. If this site becomes the primary site for these reports and complaints, it’s possible that the politicians will be unable to ignore it — and then they must act, and then the neighborhood gets help.

    While the photos might seem silly, it is so easy to take a snap with your cell phone — why not? And it is a form of proof. I could write in every day that there is a new painted eyesore on a wall between my house and the bus stop — but a photo proves it is true.

  7. Mindy,

    I totally agree. It’s the ease of use tied in with a useful application to the technology that makes it so great. If someone is committed enough to take the snap and upload it then they are ignored at your peril. If they will take the time to do that, imagine how much time they would put in to bugging you if you didn’t do anything about it :). Even better though, how much time would they put in to helping you if you got them on side.

    Equally interesting to me was the comments which added an interesting take on the relationships in the area. That is gold dust to a journo looking to get deeper in to the communities they serve.

  8. We can argue about the merit of spending too much time providing services to report one piece of dog poo. But if it was happening every day, and it was the park where YOUR children play, then it might be one of the most important issues in your life. I’m serious.

    One of my favourite examples of “hyperlocal” reporting is: http://ts10.gazettelive.co.uk/2008/04/plea_over_redcar_play_area.html

    Great example of a story that is of almost no interest outside a 500m radius of its subject, but which is of MAJOR importance to the people who live there.

    And look at the comments. Yes, they get a bit “raw” at times, but that is life.

    But I also get a real sense that the technology is helping people with shared interests and needs talk to and understand each others’ position.

    That hasn’t happened since the days when “everyone left their doors unlocked” and spoke over the garden wall. That is, if those days EVER existed..

    But I think the real potential might come in being able to do more than just report problems. What about something more positive?

    The house round the corner from me just had a loft extension. I would LOVE to see the result, because I would like to do the same, but I don’t feel comfortable chapping on a stranger’s door.

    But what’s the bets the guy is keen to show off what has been created?

    And wouldn’t the builder he used love a service that allowed satisfied customers to earn rewards if they took the time to post before/after pics that led to new business from neighbours?

    Who is going to create the street-level service that connects all three of us?

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