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

  • Kurt BarlingEmail author


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?


  1. Annual Report. (2018). Centre for community journalism. Cardiff University.Google Scholar
  2. Author Interview with Dominic Ponsford. (2018). Editor-in-Chief Press Gazette UK, December.Google Scholar
  3. Barling, K. (2009, September 28). Who’s judging the judge. BBC online. Retrieved from
  4. Barling, K. (2017a, June 15, 19:47 BST). BBC News Channel. On June 15 I called for a public inquiry on Radio 5 Live and on R4 PM Programme.Google Scholar
  5. Barling, K. (2017b). We’ve been here before. British Journalism Review, 28(3), 37–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barling, K. (2017c). Investigation of the Lakanal House fire. Middlesex University. Retrieved from
  7. Barling, K., & Rathnayake, C. (2018). A topic model analysis approach to understand Twitter public discourse: Grenfell Tower Fire case study. Research Paper presented at Oxford Internet Institute Conference, September. Retrieved from
  8. Bell, E. (2017, June 25). Grenfell reflects the accountability vacuum left by the crumbling local press. Guardian.Google Scholar
  9. Dutton, W. H. (2009). The fifth estate emerging through the network of networks. Prometheus, 27(1), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Feller, G. (2017). Who demands answers now?. British Journalism Review, 28(3), 13–18.Google Scholar
  11. Local Media Works. (2019). Retrieved from
  12. Mair, J., Keeble, R., & Fowler, N. (2013). What do we mean by local? The rise, fall—And possible rise again—Of local journalism. Bury St Edmunds: Abramis.Google Scholar
  13. Media Reform Coalition. (2019). Who owns the UK media?. Goldsmiths University.Google Scholar
  14. Monbiot, G. (2009, November 9). I, too, mourn good local papers, but this lot just aren’t worth saving. Guardian.Google Scholar
  15. National Assembly for Wales. (2018). Read all about it: Inquiry into news journalism in Wales. Culture, Welsh Language & Communication Committee, May.Google Scholar
  16. News Media Association, NMA. (2018). Annual report.Google Scholar
  17. Nielsen, R. K. (Ed.). (2015). Local journalism: The decline of newspapers and the rise of digital media. London: I.B. Tauris.Google Scholar
  18. Press Gazette. (2018, October 17). Google’s UK boss says tech giant ready to partner with Government over outcome of Cairncross Review.Google Scholar
  19. Preston, P. (2017a, September 10). A new silence at the grassroots as papers fade away. Guardian.Google Scholar
  20. Preston, P. (2017b, July 2). A functioning local press matters. Grenfell Tower showed us why. Guardian.Google Scholar
  21. Rusbridger, A. (2018). Breaking news: The remaking of journalism and why it matters now. Edinburgh: Canongate.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Middlesex UniversityLondonUK

Personalised recommendations