As a writer for a trade publication, I know it is often fascinating and always rewarding work — but few would consider it glamorous. Usually, it is overshadowed by general-interest publications — until your industry beat becomes a matter of vital importance to society at large.
Then, suddenly, these other journalists are beating down your door (or so I hear).
That’s what happened to the previously unsung editors and writers at Inside Housing, a British trade magazine for the residential construction industry. Their reporting is now center stage in the national news media. It follows the horrific fire which killed at least 30 residents of Grenfell Tower, a public housing high-rise in Kensington in West London on June 14.
The spectacular images show what is literally a towering inferno, accompanied by wrenching accounts of people trapped in the upper stories as the fire rose through the structure. The fire galvanized public opinion in the UK, triggering angry protests at the evident neglect of fire-protection and safety measures.
And it appears Inside Housing, rather than big national newspapers, is driving the narrative.
In recent years, the trade pub has regularly warned that “council flats” were vulnerable to exactly the kind of disastrous fire that gutted Grenfell Tower this week, due to scant regulation and oversight. Those failings allowed the management groups that run the buildings to skimp on needed fire protection and safety improvements in order to slash costs.
For example, one investigation published in 2015, now widely cited by newspapers and broadcasters, found that less than 1% of public-housing towers had been outfitted with fire sprinklers. Another article noted that London’s top fire officials had warned managers that certain exterior façade materials constituted a fire hazard — including those used on a recent renovation of Grenfell Tower.
Following the fire, an investigation by Inside Housing reporters discovered that Grenfell Tower hadn’t received a safety inspection in over a year, in violation of the housing code. It also revealed that some fire-protection sealant in the tower was apparently “temporarily” removed during the renovation — raising the question of whether it was ever actually replaced.
With all eyes on Inside Housing, its reporters must now approach their jobs like a high-wire act — and their redoubtable past performance suggests more revelations are on the way. Editor-in-chief Emma Maier tells the Guardian: “The national media has been focused mainly on the situation at Grenfell, what might have happened and the need for an inquiry. What the trade press can offer is the context.”
Score one for the humble trade press -- if only it were in happier circumstances.