On media, myths and realities

15 Real Estate Myths and Realities

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.

24 Responses to “On media, myths and realities”

  1. jadeeast Says:

    I personally feel that the MSM has treated real-estate as a “lifestyle” issue and has been operating from that frame. The market fundamentals and history are ignored or diminished as they simply are not part of the lifestyle “beat”.

  2. RobBennie Says:

    Does anyone really think the media is objective?
    Newspapers are vehicles for advertising.
    The difference these days is anyone can broadcast their opinions and bias’s.
    ( as we witness here )
    What’s required is a good dose of common sense and scepticism.

    Personally I get all my news from TMZ

    http://www.tmz.com/

  3. vomitingdog Says:

    It’s an article on buying and selling myths and realities. It doesn’t set out to examine economics, market fundamentals or anything else related to everyone’s speculation of what a market will do next.

    Of course, they don’t set it up within a context of a declining US market, a market that has collapsed in Ireland and Spain and that is poised to decline in the UK. Maybe it is this omission that is bothering you.

    I don’t see that they’ve done anything wrong, technically speaking. And if they ran stories that were the opposite, that more or less predicted a crash, they would ensure one. That would be irresponsible too.

  4. dingus Says:

    “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.”

    Spot on. And that reader is a consumer whose main task in life is spending decision. That is the dominant view of citizenship — the citizen as a micro-business in this great progress-oriented project called the modern economy, whose role in supporting that project is to maintain the visible hallmarks of middle class status. Look at the sections the Sun has on Saturday. Driving, Homes, Style, Entertainment, Travel, Technology etc. All of it geared to evaluating products or services so the reader can participate fully in society as a consumer by making sound choices about what (but not whether) to consume.

    The identity of the citizen as consumer is one aspect of the paradigm. The other is as the citizen-as-small business, whose goal is also to accumulate “wealth”. The Sun also supports the citizen-businessperson by assuring him/her that housing is a sound investment. That purchasing housing is as valid and justified a means of obtaining a place in society as buying a new car, watching the Superbowl or going on a Mexican vacation. Questioning that it might not be a wise “investment” would subvert the whole citizen/consumer/businessperson identity and is akin to questioning the very ethic of progress. Of course housing goes up! Things only improve, don’t they?

    As someone once said, getting and spending we lay waste to our powers…

  5. Johnnyrent Says:

    As an ex-owner of an advertising agency, I am highly sensitized to the commercial imperative that appears to us like “advertorializing” versus objective journalism. Frankly, I think the Sun in this instance pushed the envelope in the extreme by flagrantly promoting a “don’t worry, be happy about RE” perspective on the unsuspecting masses. Its not so much what they said, its what they didn’t say, even though they know full well what could have been said, and should have been, in order to strike an appropriate, accurate balance. It was highly selective journalism designed to blindside the public on behalf of a major advertiser and I for one thought it was reckless and unconscionable.

  6. condohype Says:

    If you’re interested in a giggle, take a look at the reader comments on the Sun article. It’s a tempest of fury! These won’t be online for very long. This is nothing special; the Sun doesn’t keep comments public after two or three days. Enjoy them while you can.

  7. Larry Yatkowsky Says:

    Yet nobody questions how Rudy a private citizen, gets so close to BC Assessment to have all their data on his computers. If true, what is that about?

    Oh right – Research!

    I’m just sayin……

  8. dingus Says:

    Those comments are quite something!

    Looks like a lot of folks are capable of doing their own thinking. People really don’t like being talked down to, do they.

  9. “Anyone have relatives in Alberta that want a downtown condo?” « Vancouver Real Estate Anecdote Archive Says:

    […] the links at RE Talks, condohype, vancouvercondoinfo & the Sun itself for this […]

  10. slade Says:

    Looks like they have stopped posting comments on the 15 myths at the Sun. I think they got the message, but the hype will continue.When the real correction begins their spin will be interesting. Will Rennie start up a rental company to handle all the incomplete or unsold projects when they convert to rentals? That is the trend in Portland and Seattle.

  11. Deliverator Says:

    It sounds like you’ve read (and understood) “Manufacturing Consent”, by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0375714499/ref=sib_dp_pt#reader-link

  12. Perrick Says:

    It was only a matter of time before they took down the comments. That article is yesterday’s news. Nothing but a developer perk and pay back.

  13. condohype Says:

    I’ve confirmed that the comments on the Sun article have been removed.

  14. dingus Says:

    Yet the comments seem to be open — there’s a couple of new ones.

    Deleting critical comments? It’s almost enough to make one cynical.

  15. musky Says:

    Just went to the comments section of the article on the Van Sun website and there’s no comments at all. What’s up?

  16. Disbelief Says:

    The best comment of the article in Vancouver magazine… ” It’s Bob’s world we just live in it…” If that were true you would really have to watch where you walk so as to not step in $hit… What a messy world that would be

  17. Inwonderment Says:

    Does anyone have an idea how much in advertising money is spent by the RE industry in this region. The figure must be staggering when you look at the Sun, Province, GS, all the community newpapers, and local radio. If the figure is $7m for the Sun alone the figure must be double all told. I’ll leave it to others to calculate how much per square foot is spent on advertising.

  18. Carioca Canuck Says:

    Well……..to sort of help you with an answer…….here in cowtown, the Calgary Herald sells a full 35-40% of it’s weekend paper page count to RE ads…..at $10K a page….that is $400-500K each weekend.

  19. Disbelief Says:

    Biased realtors don’t control the market at all …. Thank god for blogs like this where real unbiased opinions flourish.

  20. QickShift Says:

    Though somewhat off topic, last week when the local rag trumpeted a headline on food prices, yours truly thought it was a pertinent comment to post on their site the observation that the provincial Liberal government continues to pave over portions of the ALR.
    Three guesses as to whether the post made it through the “editors” filter…

  21. Cindarellarockafella Says:

    Comments are back up on the Sun site. You should catalog the good ones for archival purposes.

  22. Michael Randallbard Says:

    “Comments are back up on the Sun site. You should catalog the good ones for archival purposes.”

    The fact that they were somehow “lost for 2 critical days” is what everyone is upset about as most perceive this to be a delaying tactic so that the story will cool down during which time its best not to see the whole town slamming the story and the city. That’s the issue. Everyone knows (at least intelligent people) that the MSM here is part of the hype (call it brainswashing) and the stories are paid for by the industry. I think what the paper did wrong was not label these types of stories as advertisements because they certainly aren’t what one would call news and so what is it doing on the front page.

  23. doug r Says:

    Shameful. Just shameful. Just take a look at what’s already happened in Southern California:
    http://calculatedrisk.blogspot.com/2008/05/orange-county-ca-prices-from-front-page.html

  24. Red Frog Says:

    I stumbled on this blog after looking at several blogs from Seattle where both some realtors and clients critiqued new projects. While this blog has many interesting takes on the industry, there is nothing whatsoever about condo units themselves. Am I the ONLY one who feel like Munch’s “The Scream” whenever I see ANOTHER bathroom with a sink, toilet and tub/shower (with a single fixed shower head yet) in a row, something that has been done in Metro Vancouver millions of times for at least the last 50 years yet is presented by the Sun and Real estate agents as something absolutely stunning! Dare I mention a microwave oven (that doesn’t even also, as in other countries, bake and broil) above a stove, a location that is extremely unsafe (especially with a gas stove), or a sink and a stove across from one another, a design that is wrong according to Universal access regulations (ever heard of it?), ergonomic design, common sense and even Feng Shui. I should actually start with entrance doors that don’t have a reinforced steel core, a crowbar proof frame and at least 3 deadbolts operated by one key in one keyhole (this is pretty much standard in many countries since the 1980s). Why are the layout of the newer condos more and more appalling and impractical ( one has to squeeze by an open kitchen to enter the living room?. We don’t even have the choice , as in Ontario and Quebec, of being able to buy a place in sturdy old buildings with high ceilings, good size rooms, real wood everything (floors, doors and windows). As anybody here actually lived in other cities and is older than the SkyTrain?

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