Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Crime Stats and Stories

This morning the story on crime figures shows there are conflicting views from Mark Easton, BBC Home Editor, Prof Marian Fitzgerald of Kent University, Professor Mike Hough who started the survey and Sir Ian Blair, the retired policeman.  The answer may be more complicated than a 3 minute interview can suggest so as the listener we may opt for the most compelling argument rather than the most accurate. 

Yesterday I went to the Open Data Institute's course http://www.theodi.org on Open Data Journalism and we looked exactly at this topic.  LIsa Evans, a data journalist and data researcher from the Guardian, talked of the importance of getting "trusted" data and how difficult that can be.  These crime figures seem to be a case in point. 

We discussed how there may need to be 2 strands to journalism - the quick reaction piece to news and the considered data driven reaction to news.  We need to have robust and trusted open data to work because the story is only as good as it's data!  We need to demand good data journalism from all elements of the press. 

Things have got better when I was in the broadcast media a glossy magazine could do a survey and it would get talked about, now we are more aware of the importance of how data is collated.  

After yesterday's course I'm excited that with more data becoming open and more free tools to make sense of it, we will increasingly get to a story at a much deeper level. 

For those of you interested in the various strands of the story here they are: 

 Mark Easton, the BBC's Home Editor asked on the Today programme if the increase in world communication might be increasing peace and with it a more tolerant people.  I love this argument and would love it to be true.  We are often attracted to positive leadership messages so I can understand why I wanted to believe this.  See his blog:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/correspondents/markeaston/

In the Guardian's page  http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jan/24/fall-uk-crime-rate-baffles-experts Professor Mike Hough who started the Home Office Crime Survey agrees that online crime is probably on the rise, and the Whitehall statisticians acknowledge their figures are not as comprehensive as they might be.

Professor Marian Fitzgerald disputed Mark Eastons answer.  Violence is always down in recession because we dont have money to go out and get steaming drunk and be violent to each other.  She says the crime survey is limited and doesn't tell the whole story

The retired British policeman Sir Ian Blair thinks that there is a slow change in the way society views and abhors violence.  He suggests societies choose what crimes they are willing to cope with and sites US's outrage at Boston's bombings but their relative acceptance of gun crime. 

It reads to me that the figures are not robust enough and there is much more to this story than the figures suggest. 



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