The issue of working-class representation within the UK press has become more pertinent than ever, with the mainstream coverage of events such as the Grenfell tragedy proving divisive. It’s been three years since the fire, which caused the deaths of 72 people and left many more grieving the loss of relatives, friends, their homes and possessions. However, it has since become clear to many that the fire was far from a freak accident.
The Grenfell fire is emblematic of a widespread issue within social housing in the West — that of private construction companies and governments willfully disregarding safety regulations in favour of cheaper, flammable materials and higher profit margins. Since the Grenfell tragedy, fires, which have been exacerbated by dangerous cladding materials, have destroyed student accommodation in Bolton and led to the deaths of 5 people in Minnesota, the centre of recent anti-racist protests.
In response to the Grenfell tragedy, prominent figures in the media, such as Jon Snow, voiced their concerns over the disconnect between the media and the working class.
A longstanding blog called the Grenfell Action Group, which continues to advocate for those affected by the fire, had catalogued unsafe living conditions in the area since 2012, and had tirelessly fought for the rights of tenants and against the criminal ineptitude of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) and the local council.One blog post, from November 2016, had suggested that only with a horrific event, such as that which occurred on the 14th June 2017, would the crimes of the KCTMO and local government become public knowledge. They even mention Grenfell in their predictions:
“It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice! The Grenfell Action Group believe that the KCTMO narrowly averted a major fire disaster at Grenfell Tower in 2013 when residents experienced a period of terrifying power surges that were subsequently found to have been caused by faulty wiring.”
It is important that we respond to the failings of the media to document localised social issues.The long and well-documented struggle between residents and the KCTMO highlights more than just a lack of sufficient investigation on the part of journalists; it indicates a disregard for issues that are outwith the interests of the elite and the intended readership, and, moreover, the eradication of influential regional platforms. The later issue had been expressed within the mainstream press in response to Grenfell, but it is hard to imagine how such a discourse will continue in today’s broadsheets, with many receiving hefty bailouts under the guise of a public information campaign that overlooked independent press bodies.
Academic and independent research into inequality in print and online journalism has highlighted the prominence of those from privileged backgrounds within the profession.
A number of dedicated studies revealing the full extent of the issue. Figures from the 2014 Labour Force Survey show that journalists are almost twice as likely to have at least one parent from the highest earning work classification than the average worker, with over half of the UK’s top journalists privately-educated. In fact, it is thought that only around 11% of UK journalists come from a working-class background.
The failure of the mainstream press to represent and advocate for the working-class is indicative of the continued academisation of journalism. Pathways into the press have become the main sites for the reproduction of elite authority within the profession, with almost all journalists working for the major UK newspapers holding undergraduate degrees. Furthermore, higher education work placements have been described as “filtering sites” by academics and almost all recent entrants into the profession will have completed an internship, in which they will not have been paid for their work.
Measures need to be taken to revive and safeguard the regional press to ensure social mobility in the profession. Regional journalism outlets act as platforms and sources of vital information to those in deprived areas, sustaining local representation and opportunities amid a media landscape, whose elite workforce succeeds in serving only a reflection of itself. Without a stable and functioning regional press, we will see a consolidation of elite authority within national newspapers, and the continued discouragement of those from economically-deprived areas from pursuing a career in journalism.
The concept of the native reporter, most commonly found in alternative forms of journalism, could also ensure a more representative national press through proper integration.
The native reporter refers to a journalist who acts as an authority on behalf of their community, subverting the power afforded to experience and social-standing within the UK press. It was in fact a journalist for the Observer, Robert Chesshyre, who, upon his return to Thatcher’s Britain, coined the term for a type of localised reporting that engaged communities in conversation about subjects to which they were “reliable witnesses”.
The proper integration of such a concept may have given the extensive body of writing and activism from Grenfell residents and locals the platform it needed. With a growing number of media publications moving to online-only formats, a more representative form of journalism, that moves beyond its current professional location and into the hands of participants in local democracy, should not just be a utopian notion. The government’s decision to ignore the Cairncross Review’s suggestion of an Institute for Public Interest News, however, likely means that public dissatisfaction with national newspapers will continue to grow, as will the influence of alternative media.
As a movement, DiEM25’s participatory initiatives in press, copywriting and ‘television’ offer a way through which Europeans can highlight their matters of concern.Their copywriting platform offers a space through which members can publish articles about the local and regional issues that DiEMers have a stake in. Furthermore, as a part of DiEM25 TV, the DiEMTV goes local! initiative is a grassroots project that brings together DiEMers from all over Europe to create television shows for audiences online, on topics such as economic democracy and migration. The newly launched Progressive International movement, which aims to ‘unite progressive forces’ also has a WIRE that translates articles, stories and essays from its members and partner publications.
Photo by anissa on Twitter.
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