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Is Local Journalism Failing? Local Voices in the Aftermath of the Grenfell and Lakanal Fire Disasters

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Media, Journalism and Disaster Communities

Abstract

When the Grenfell fire tragedy struck in 2017, the world watched in horror. Social media buzzed with comments, questions and demands for meaningful intervention. The local press was also blamed for failing to identify a disaster ‘foretold’. This chapter compares local press treatment of the previous major fire in London at Lakanal House in 2009 with its response to the Grenfell fire. After Lakanal House voices were amplified by local media creating a running story and investigating the causes and consequences of the fire. None of this translated into an adequate public policy response to fire safety. It asks if an emerging fifth estate can fill a news deficit and broaden public discourse to effect change? And whether local voices are, or will be, heard any more clearly to find remedies to disaster? Significantly, it considers whether local journalism can really matter if public authorities ignore the evidence it puts before the public?

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Notes

  1. 1.

    On June 14, the author was among the first commentators to call for a public inquiry on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC R4’s PM Programme, BBC Radio London and the BBC News Channel.

  2. 2.

    This is how the forward firefighting station at a major incident is described. In a tower block this would usually be established within the building so that breathing apparatus and other essential firefighting equipment can be assembled close to the seat of the fire. At Lakanal, this proved impossible to maintain as the fire spread along the panels outside the building and also through cavities within it. As a result of the Lakanal blaze, firefighters training was revised to recognise that fires could not necessarily always be contained within the ‘compartment’ of the individual flat as originally envisaged, hence ‘compartmentation’.

  3. 3.

    The author was the chief investigative journalist with BBC London at the time and ran a number of investigations into Lakanal over a period of four years. Longevity assists with credibility in getting sources to open up, but also brings with it a measure of hostility from those whom journalists investigate.

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Correspondence to Kurt Barling .

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Barling, K. (2020). Is Local Journalism Failing? Local Voices in the Aftermath of the Grenfell and Lakanal Fire Disasters. In: Matthews, J., Thorsen, E. (eds) Media, Journalism and Disaster Communities. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-33712-4_11

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