This post is probably the most academic I’ve ever attempted so apologies in advance — there will be no laughs. (Well, unless you find my attempt at theory-based argument laughable. You might. Again, apologies.)
Up until now, I’ve kept my hype attacks limited to specific condo, townhouse and real estate ads. Today, I examine an equally important component of the condo hype machine: The media.
I bring up the media, aka MSM, because over the weekend the Vancouver Sun served up 15 Real Estate Myths and Realities as its top story. The piece is essentially a Q&A on how to maximize opportunities in the market. Overall, it is positive in tone. Already, the local blogosphere is buzzing with reaction. Over at the lively Vancouver Condo blog, some commenters are so furious they are demanding the article be attributed as a paid advertisement by Rennie Marketing Systems.
Among the bearish, this article is yet another example of media bias. To me, allegations of bias miss the larger point — that the media is structurally determined to provide favourable coverage. The Sun, like all commercial media, is a business whose job is to deliver audiences to advertisers within confines of journalism. This means that coverage is approached with a certain kind of audience in mind. When it comes to real estate, the assumption is that the reader is in the market and is looking to invest. If you consider this kind of reader to be the average reader, then the Sun article can be seen as existing within a realm of objectivity. After all, Rennie isn’t buying $7-million worth of ads in the Sun annually so he can reach the wrong kind of reader.
And therein lies the power of the MSM. It is not through direct bias — there is no conspiracy, no reporter changing facts due to a heart full of malice — but through a frame that positions a certain kind of reader as legitimate and natural.
Now think about what kinds of sources the “average reader” will consider valid. In the competition of credibility, said reader will naturally value “official” sources. Of course, the only official sources are those with a formal role in the real estate industry. Thus the media is obliged to act as stenographers for the likes of Rennie and Muir. Is this bias or the fact that the dissenting voices don’t maintain similar positions of status and authority?
If there is anything remarkable about the Sun article, it is in how representative it is of the paper’s overall approach to real estate coverage. The examination of issues is not only consistent with past reporting, it is entirely in line with the expectations and interests of the paper’s target audience.