Any chunk of text that includes ‘delighted’ or ‘excited’ in the first sentence looks like a dull press release. So how about this: I am chuffed to announce the commercial launch of the first service from Public Service Intelligence Limited, a joint-venture between myself and Boilerhouse Media, a marketing communications consultancy.
The service in question, Council News Monitor, is an email sent first thing each workday with news on local authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and every region of England in every edition. For the last few weeks, we have been sending it on a free trial basis.
But now, we are opening Council News Monitor to subscriptions, at just £2 a month (£24 a year… I understand it’s compulsory for all prices to have the word ‘just’ in front of them). There’s more information here, on our stylish new website with its extraordinarily short domain name. You can also follow @CouncilNewsUK for a selection of stories every day.
Making this product has confirmed some things I previously only suspected, primarily that journalism could do with a lot more technology. The only bit of specialist software used by many online publishers is a content management system, often written several years ago and struggling to cope. Print publishers have software to produce what goes on paper, but it is rare to find specialist IT used upstream, for gathering leads or information – the important bit, really.
For Council News Monitor, we built a bespoke email production system and developed a range of technological methods for automating story-gathering on all the top-tier local authorities in the UK. Both have involved substantial amounts of code cutting, by Boilerhouse’s staff and myself. If we hadn’t developed all this, the only way I could produce the email first thing every morning would be by not going to bed.
However, the technology is designed to save time, rather than digitise editorial judgements. Technologists sometimes get obsessed over trying to automate processes completely, and while the technique has its place, it also produces such delights as automated telephone services that fail to deal with your question. The better option is horses for courses: get computers to do the donkey work, and let humans do what we’re better at – in this case, picking the winners.
If you have a professional interest in the UK’s local government, then Council News Monitor will provide you with nationwide news for a fraction of the cost of other paid-for titles. And if you have a taste for far more stories about life in Britain than I could ever write about on Beacon, why not give it a try?
The tweets below provide a taste of some of the less serious stories we’ve covered recently…
— Council News Monitor (@CouncilNewsUK) October 27, 2014
— Council News Monitor (@CouncilNewsUK) October 23, 2014
— Council News Monitor (@CouncilNewsUK) October 21, 2014
— Council News Monitor (@CouncilNewsUK) October 17, 2014
A version of this article also appears on Beacon