Anorak News | Grenfell: a failure of local journalism

Grenfell: a failure of local journalism

by | 26th, June 2017

Emily Bell points to why no-one was listening when the residents of Grenfell were campaigning for improved safety. The horror as preventable. But no-one was listening. No-one was reporting things in a local newspaper the powerful didn’t want residents to know.

She hears Ishmahil Blagrove tells Sky News:

“This is not just a story – this situation has been brewing for years … You the media, you are the mouthpiece of this government and you make it possible.” Later Blagrove describes the mainstream media as “a bunch of motherfuckers” to a small crowd surrounding him who break into polite applause. Channel 4’s Jon Snow faced an angry group outside Grenfell the same day, asking him where the press was when the fire safety concerns were first raised.

…the evisceration of any sustainable professional journalism at the local level creates both an accountability vacuum and a distance between media and the communities it reports on.

As well as council-owned outlets, a plethora of glossy lifestyle and housing media mop up the advertising revenue not ingested by Facebook or Google. The local publication Kensington, Chelsea & Westminster Today – listed as the only free newspaper in the borough – has no local reporting at all.

Grant Feller has more, recalling his time as a reporter on and then editor of the local Kensington newspaper:

I had forgotten about those stories until this week. And I had forgotten about my first week on the Kensington News, when the then leader of the borough’s Labour group, Rima Horton –inspirational, quick-witted and not a little scary – walked me round the area and conspiratorially said: ‘You can make a real difference here. A story in the local paper, getting their picture in somewhere, won’t just lift them, it will give them fuel to fight for what’s right.’

We talk about community and religious leaders as being the lifeblood of neighbourhoods but we forget that local newspapers are too. There are an essential ingredient in the fabric of society, a cornerstone of democracy. Or were. Recent research suggest that up to 80 per cent of UK local newspaper journalism jobs have gone since 2006, and almost 200 titles have closed in the past decade. According to research last year from media analysts at Enders, circulations of local titles have halved since 2007 from 50.5m a week to 26.6m. At the same time, print advertising has fallen from £2.7bn to £977m.

Because 20-odd years ago, local newspapers mattered. They had access to people, information and events that made genuinely important stories. It was why door-stopper council agendas sent in the post were among the most important documents local reporters received. We pored over every single one of them to find potentially interesting leads. Such as committee debates about whether or not to use flammable cladding in tower block renovation works and the suspect backgrounds of companies chosen to carry out those works.

Those stories rarely make it into the public consciousness unless an enthusiastic local reporter, seeking the thrill of bylined fame and fuelled by the hopeful expectations of a local community desperate for their voices to be heard, takes it upon him or herself to get it out there. And because their future career rested on it, the story would have to be water-tight.

News stories start locally.

Spotter: Journalists Could Have Prevented The Grenfell Tower Disaster – As I Tried To Do 27 Years Ago

Posted: 26th, June 2017 | In: Reviews Comment | TrackBack | Permalink