MEDIA: REAL ESTATE - Media Roundup. Real estate coverage builds onwide range of media

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

at something."



But along with this growth in coverage has come the opportunity to pitch

what previously had been local or regional stories on a national

level.



"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

a property."



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.



Staying local



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

and selling.



"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,"

he adds.



"It doesn't substitute for seeing a building, but you can't go see

everything."



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;

community dailies



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;

Reits.com; Commercialrealestatedirect.com.



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