Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Finding News That Really Hits Home

Reducing housing market conditions to rabid rhetoric aimed at the media robs real estate consumers of their right to know. Here's how to spot real realty news.

by Broderick Perkins
© 2007 DeadlineNews.Com

• See what Seeking Alpha commentators have to say on this subject.

Deadline Newsroom – Which of these three sets of comments are most relevant for housing consumers in today's real estate market?

No. 1: "Builders cannot allow the national media to report what it deems to be the proper perspective on the value of real estate. Builders must get out in full force and spread, with repetition, one simple message: 'Real estate is the single best investment one can make.' "

No. 2: "Can't wait to read how the local papers will handle the news that closed sales are up (in the San Francisco Bay Area) from Sept. to October. These stories won't be written for a few weeks. I am sure they will find a way to turn positive news into a negative."

No. 3: "If you're a repeat buyer that's going to be in this community (Silicon Valley) for the long haul and you're looking for a home, this is as good a time or perhaps a better time than anytime in the last two or three years. But don't assume (that in) the better-priced, better-condition homes in neighborhoods where conditions favor the seller, that you're necessarily going to get a deal."

Well, obviously, No. 3.

All three sets of comments are the real words of real estate industry leaders who are experts and professionals in their field.

As such, they are also media sources or likely to be. Because the public generally looks up to industry leaders for direction, the media has a duty to call industry leaders on spurious, misleading comments that could hinder the public's grasp of the issues.

The media's job, in part, is to provide all the relevant information possible so that media consumers can both understand issues in the news and make informed decisions about those issues.

Two sets of comments above are suspect for obvious reasons. The first suggests censorship and, seemingly from the Twilight Zone, myopic mantra chanting.

The second professes to see the future, before the ink on the first draft of history (journalism) is dry.
With eloquent credibility, the third set of comments trumps them both.

It's sobering, balanced, market-local and without broad strokes painted in neither rosy pinks nor hues of blue.

It is a recent quote from Colleen Badagliacco, president of the California Association of Realtors, responding to questions from real estate writer Sue McAllister for the Q&A article, "Realtor: 'Just Be Cautious' " in the San Jose (CA) Mercury News.

It's a good example of credibility from a source, a key element in the best real estate news coverage.

There's no need to out the two real estate media detractors offering the first set of sample comments. Ironically, because the media is not censored, they live free to step forth, identify themselves and opine in the same media spaces they would like to see restrained from housing market coverage.

The point is, just as consumers must always do their housing homework -- and check it twice -- they should also learn how to spot media coverage that will best help them with their homework.

Right now, that's more true than ever.

There's no time for blame gaming, fault shifting or finger pointing. News sources, professionals from the residential real estate community and the media all have a credibility responsibility to those who really pay the bills, the real estate and media consuming public.

Here's how the public can find news that really hits home.

• Credibility is key. Seek out real estate news that's credible.

Track records of journalists, media outlets and their sources can help determine credibility.

Just as you should examine a housing market's past to understand the present, don't judge a journalist or media outlet solely by the story in front of you. Don't judge a source by single sound bite.

Just as you want a licensed or certified professional helping you buy or sell a home, choose professional media outlets and writers schooled and experienced in the field. Seek sources who provide relevant, balanced comments and information rather then self-serving rabid rhetoric and emotional barbs.

Examine journalists' and media outlets' bios, online "abouts," and past articles as well as their current attention to the housing market.

Journalists who choose real estate as their primary or only beat tend to have the most experience, much like any specialist. Media outlets that devote more time, resources or space to housing market coverage tend to do a better job.

• Balance bolsters credibility. Balance -- wrong-right, good-bad, up-down, all sides of the story -- isn't always black and white. If a journalist or media outlet provides 50-50 balance in every story, every day, all the time, be wary.

Media experts say the global warming issue was buried so long because the media gave "equal time" to quacks, naysayers and overnight climate change "experts," at the expense of valid information from scientists who spent decades studying the issue.

A news story is simply not always a 50-50 proposition. Some stories are complicated, multi-tiered events that require a series of articles to unfold. Others are a simple set of facts.

Instead of seeking 50-50 balance in every story, determine how well a journalist or media outlet manages balance over time. With balanced coverage there may be "good" news today and "bad" news tomorrow. In the end, after a relative short period of time, a good journalist or media outlet will cover all the bases.

• Analysis backs up balance. Analysis offers more in-dept "So what?" coverage. It goes beyond simply stating the facts and telling the story to explain what the news means and often, how to cope with what's been learned.

Not all news stories are designed for analysis, but the more the merrier.

Analysis is key in today's real estate market. For example, more than 2 million people are likely to lose their homes to foreclosure during the current housing downturn. So what? What does that mean to me? How can I determine if I'm a likely victim? If I am a likely victim, what can I do to prevent losing my home?

That's analysis.

Here's another example. Lenders are squeezing home buyers for more income and employment documentation, larger down payments and higher credit scores. A story saying so could also tell news consumers how to secure the newly required documentation (even if you work at home); how to find lenders not requiring larger down payments or how making a smaller down payment could cost more; how to raise credit scores and how to seek out more accommodating lenders.

News, in part, is designed to provide information that can be used to make sane decisions. Explaining the options and providing coping techniques aids in the decision making process.

• News vs. Opinion. Understand the difference between news, opinion and hybrid stories.
News stories are largely unbiased, objective articles comprised of facts from credible sources including experts and other informed individuals; documents, including studies, reports and polls; and often research to compare and contrast today's information with past information.

News stories can be one or a series of heavy, in-depth, investigative pieces with corroborated facts and information. They can be light features about people, places or things of interest, but again, based on reliable information and facts. And, they can be analysis pieces that offer fact-based advice.

A key giveaway? The professional writing or reporting a news story doesn't use adjectives. Adjectives are subjective, somewhat biased words based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

Seek news stories loaded with credibility, balance and, whenever possible, analysis.

Opinion, editorials, Op-Ed pieces and the like, are the stuff of editorial pages, broadcast shows with a single or combative pair of talking heads, and online, blogs. Opinion pieces are just that, an individual's beliefs, views, judgments or point-of-view about something, and not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. They take a stand.

The best opinion pieces are spun from facts or knowledge and don't just opine or blather on emotionally without offering some solution, alternative or hoped-for outcome.

Generally opinion pieces are labeled as such, or should be, but look for a flurry of adjectives.

Hybrids, like this wonderful article, are a mix of news and opinion, even analysis and can be useful to both make a point and share useful information helpful in making decisions.

Is The Housing Mess The Media's Fault? Toll Brother's CEO Says It Is
Media Still Not Responsible For Housing Woes
Savvy Consumers Don't Shoot The Messenger
Housing Mess Not Media Made

© 2007 DeadlineNews.Com

Broderick Perkins, an award-winning consumer journalist of 30 years, is publisher and executive editor of San Jose, CA-based DeadlineNews.Com, a real estate news and consulting service, and the new Deadline Newsroom, DeadlineNews.Com's new backshop. In both cases, it's where all the news really hits home.

DeadlineNews.Com's Editorial Content Is Intellectual Property • Unauthorized Use Is A Federal Crime


Matt Gentile said...

Great post. As the PR Manager for Florida's largest and leadign real estate brokerage, Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, I practice many of the things that you preach on a daily basis; however, there is one point in your post that I must respectfully disagree with. You mention that newspapers that devote more editorial space specifically to real estate are generally better capable of reporting on it with an unbiased viewpoint. Obviously, I'm in the camp that points out the advantages of buying now, and I am able to back up that contention with relavent statistics and facts regarding interst rates, selection and value, but I cannot recall the last time I read a positive article about any sector of the market in Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach. Granted these markets' home values balooned during the boom of '03 - '05, but there are still many great values to be had and it is nearly impossible to get a journalist to find any silver lining in the current market. The demographics favor a robust recovery in Florida, but I cannot break up the constant drumbeat of negative press coverage.

From the Beach Chair,

Matt Gentile

FloridaMoves.com - 300 Days of Sunshine

Deadline Newsroom said...

"Media outlets that devote more time, resources or space to housing market coverage tend to do a better job."

I guess the key word here is "tend." There are always exceptions to any rule. For example, if a media outlet's 20-page spread or 30-minute broadcast every week is devoted to real estate advertorials, well, obviously, they aren't doing a very good job.

Perhaps I should have said "most" or "generally," but you get my drift.

A study of the Wall Street Journal, LA Times, MarketWatch, Forbes, Money and specialists like RealtyTimes.com and (ahem) DeadlineNews.Com, well, they've got the beat covered and they do a good job.