Real Freedom of Information? The public services opening up their work on the frontline

Posted: September 10th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Journalism, social media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

As journalists we read and do a lot about Freedom of Information.

Mostly FOI seems to involve lots of dusty reports, putting out/searching through spreadsheets and finding parts of an act of government which can be used either for or against divulging information.

But the use of Twitter by a station manager at Preston fire station got me thinking. Is this real Freedom of Information?

Lancashire Fire and Rescue issue a latest incidents feed on their website – a bit clunky but available to subscribe to via RSS – which is great. They also tweet the incidents. But Shaun Walton takes it a step further.

I, along with a team of volunteers, run a community news site for Preston in Lancashire and what station manager Walton does deserves highlighting.

These incidents on their own provide the basic information but Walton tweets from the scene whenever he and his crew are deployed. He’s not a communications person, he’s not a press officer and he’s not a techy person. He’s someone who saves people’s lives and is paid by the taxpayer to do it.

The tweets from incidents, clearly taken once the fire has either been brought under control or Walton is no longer needed on active duty, give the public (and the media) a birds-eye view of what the fire crews face.

It’s simple. It’s free. And it’s incredibly effective.

For a hyperlocal news site like Blog Preston, and I imagine for other local media, the tweets by Shaun are vital. They add context to the incident reports, they provide pictures, colour and additional information. For the public they show what a vital job Walton and his team too.

We’ve used Walton’s tweets to add additional information to reports and regularly embed his tweets (giving his account exposure to a wider audience).

The nice thing about Walton’s account is it’s not all “fire here” and “fire there”. He gives an insight into the fire prevention work the teams do and even has time for some off-the-job tweeting too.

But his Twitter bio makes it 100% clear what his account is there to do and that you should not report fires to it and is not monitored 24 hours a day (good to know our fire fighters get some sleep!).

My question to the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service would be. Why are all your station managers not tweeting? Why are you not using this great content Walton produces and adding it to your site? Walton’s tweets are far more interesting and easy to understand than the incident reports (full of emergency services jargon) posted on their website.

So to Station Manager Walton, keep tweeting and to the people of Preston he’s one for your must follow list.

I am sure this isn’t the only example of a public service tweeting? What other examples are there? I’ve seen lots of examples of well-run official Twitter accounts (Solihull Police and their jokes being one) but not many individuals like Walton. Post them in the comments below

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One Comment on “Real Freedom of Information? The public services opening up their work on the frontline”

  1. 1 Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service said at 9:45 am on September 11th, 2013:

    Ed, thank you for your feedback. In April, we started a trial with a number of employees across the Service and so far most of the comments that we have received have been positive. Especially, when it comes to Shaun. The following people are all active firefighters who have been involved in the trial, please feel free to follow them; @WtchMgr_Preston, @FSM_Pennine, @StnMgr_Bburn, @StnMgr_Nelson, @SM_Bpool, @StnMgr_RbValley and @CFSP_Southern.

    As our Deputy Chief Fire Officer tweeted to you last night, we are hoping this can be rolled out to the rest of the Station Managers in the Service but there does need to be a cultural change within the rest of the Service.

    You can also keep up-to-date with larger incidents on the @LancashireFRS account, like the incident at St Mary’s school 10 days ago. We also used Shaun Walton’s pictures of the fire on Linton Street on our account and on our Facebook page too.

    The incidents that our posted on our website are published by our Control Room staff who have a range of other duties to undertake during a shift. With the move to North West Fire Control at the beginning of next year and the different technology that will be used, we feel that it would be better to make any changes to our incident pages at this time.

    Once again, thank you for your feedback.

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