With Americans taking advantage of low interest rates to buy homes,
the media's coverage of real estate is also on the rise, with editorial
taking different local and national angles. David Ward reports.
Those who view real estate as one of the less exciting journalism
categories may want to think again. Few beats combine Donald Trump-size
egos, back-room deal-making, a smattering of history, and an insider's
view of the moves that shape where people live and work. It's no
surprise that real estate - whether it's people displaced from their
homes or companies needing to find new office space - emerged as one of
the major side stories in New York after September 11.
"I used to write about real estate, and before that rock n' roll; real
estate is much more interesting," says Roxanne Donovan, who covered
commercial real estate for the New York Daily News and other outlets
before moving into PR and founding the Great Ink agency. "You get a
chance to cover the change of the landscape of cities. There's also
passion and lying and cheating, so it's great. You'll never go to a
cocktail party without somebody talking about real estate."
Real estate writing, especially on the commercial side, has become
increasingly complex, thanks in large part to the intricate financial
and mortgage vehicles that many developers use to fund the buying or
building of new properties.
The sector has also become very competitive. "In the past, certain
dominant publications would not necessarily have been put off by a story
if someone else had it," explains George Shea, partner with New
York-based Shea Communications, which represents Julian J. Studley, Inc.
and other commercial real estate developers. "So instead of starting off
at the top (of the journalistic hierarchy) and walking down the ladder,
the approach was to start at the bottom and walk all the way up to the
top. If the story was good enough, you'd get them all. Now the number of
reporters covering commercial real estate has increased significantly in
the last five years, as has the number of reporters wanting a first look
But along with this growth in coverage has come the opportunity to pitch
what previously had been local or regional stories on a national
"The trends that you're seeing in New York can be adjusted and used in
San Francisco or LA," adds Shea, citing building security and power and
energy costs as themes with nationwide appeal.
More than just numbers
Both PR professionals and real estate journalists stress that real
estate public relations is far more than just faxing the buying and
selling prices of buildings and homes. "Numbers are one thing, property
is something else, and the trend in real estate journalism is to
understand that," says Peter Slatin, editor-in-chief of Grid, a glossy
New York-based magazine that has expanded nationally over the past year.
"That's why due diligence is so important in reporting real estate.
Journalists want to know the owner's standing and the full background of
Donovan points out that great real estate reporting requires a passion
for the business. Indeed, most of the top commercial reporters have
spent years acquiring not just political, business, and developer
contacts, but also a detailed, building-by-building knowledge of the
cities they cover. Among the most respected journalists today are Grid's
Slatin, the New York Post's Lois Weiss, John Holusha and Charles Bagli
of The New York Times, and Peter Grant, Motoko Rich and San
Francisco-based Sheila Muto of The Wall Street Journal. There are also a
handful of writers, like The New York Times' David Dunlap, who write
about commercial buildings from an architectural perspective.
Coverage of residential real estate may lack some of the drama of
commercial reporting, but may be more important. Home ownership is one
of the prerequisites of the American Dream, and each year, millions of
people face the major event of either buying or selling a house. Many
media outlets devote a great deal of resources to covering homes either
in lifestyle, metropolitan, or dedicated sections in weekend editions.
All it takes is a quarter-point drop in mortgage rates to trigger a
flood of coverage, all aimed at providing consumers with information and
advice on how it affects them and their homes.
Although there are national trend stories comparing home prices in
different regions of the country, the bulk of residential real estate
journalism is local. "We have a lot of news releases that are targeted
to a certain community," explains Steven Carlson, account supervisor
with Cushman/Amberg, which represents Coldwell Banker Residential
Brokerage in the greater Chicago area and beyond. "Almost every major
paper has a dedicated real estate journalist, as do most of the suburban
papers, although we are noticing that some of the real estate
departments are getting rolled back or cut."
Carlson adds that these cuts in print are being offset by increased
opportunities in other media, especially TV, where Coldwell Banker
executives are offered up as consumer-friendly experts on home buying
"We've found that weekend morning shows have been incredibly
beneficial," he says. "That's when the house hunters are getting up and
getting ready, and because of the nature of the information we provide,
which is very advice-driven, we tend to fit that style of news."
But residential real estate issues can also be a lightning rod for
controversy, especially for developers looking to build new housing
tracts. The approval process for new home construction is a lengthy one,
and most developers face some opposition.
"A lot of housing development battles take place in the local press,"
says Joan Gladstone, president of Gladstone International, which
represents residential developers in and around Orange County, CA.
Gladstone points out that much of the coverage of the approval process
for new homes is handled not by real estate reporters, but by community
beat and city hall writers, many of whom are in their first journalism
jobs. "The younger reporters are more polarized," she notes, "and they
often tend to be more pro-environment than pro-business."
The key to combating any anti-development slant is to get out ahead of
the story. "When we know that something is going to circulate, like an
Environmental Impact Report, we tell our clients we need to brief the
local reporters on the plan before this information gets circulated,"
Gladstone says. "Because once it's out, everybody with an ax to grind is
going to comment on it, and the reporters won't have the time to talk to
you and understand what it is you're trying to do."
Grid's Slatin also advises PR professionals to bring as much as they can
to the table when reaching out to real estate journalists. In addition
to background (such as the history of the building and a developer's
past track record), Slatin says it helps if the principals are willing
to sit down and talk in detail about the project. "They should also be
prepared to include art or make sure that high-quality art is lined up,"
"It doesn't substitute for seeing a building, but you can't go see
Also see Market Focus, p.15.
WHERE TO GO
Newspapers: The New York Times; The Wall Street Journal; The Washington
Post, New York Post; San Francisco Chronicle; LA Times; Chicago Tribune;
Magazines: Grid; Business Week; Architectural Digest; Business Week;
Forbes; Fortune; New York and other urban-centric publications; Crane's
Chicago Business and other regional business journals
Trade titles: Commercial Mortgage Alert; Mortgage Alert; Real Estate
Investor; Real Estate Weekly; IPG Direct; Real Estate Forum; Commercial
Property News; Realtor
Wire services: Bloomberg; Dow Jones News Wire
Web: Readi.com; atlanticstation.com; Globest.com; Homestore.com;