Sensationalist Journalism in the Chronicle

This week's Real Estate section had me SO annoyed, partly as a homeowner but moreso as a journalist. The cover story had a huge headline, BAD TIMING. The article was about a couple that is being forced to sell a house because of a job relocation, and how screwed they are because it's a bad time to sell. A couple of problems I had with the article:

  • The couple bought for $424,000. They're disappointed that the listing price is $858,000. They bought in 2002. Poor saps... only making about 400 grand in 5 years. What did they expect?
  • The article states that the owners have an "old world" ethic of keeping a home in the family for generations, and it supports this with a sappy quote from the owner about defending his turf. Unfortunately, the article says, the bad job situation in the Bay Area is forcing them to abandon hope and move to Arizona. Except earlier in the article, it states that the owners investigated selling a year ago, but decided to wait. Now they're disappointed the recommended asking price has gone down. If they're so committed to defending their turf, why were they thinking of moving last year?
  • The article says that their change in attitude was caused by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The guy, a pilot, has had all sorts of job troubles because of the troubled travel/airline industries. But remember how they bought in 2002? Yeah, something doesn't add up there...
  • These people bought in a subdivision, and made all sorts of non-traditional modifications to their house. Even though they'll be doubling their money over 5 years, they "barely break even" because of all the money they put into it. Especially because several identical homes without the weird modifications are also for sale in the same 'hood, for less money.

  • Why does this all bug me so much? This article should have had the headline along the lines of "UNWISE REAL ESTATE SPECULATORS GET COMEUPPANCE AS MARKET CORRECTS." From what I could tell, those are the facts of the article. These poor people bought a dime-a-dozen tract house at a time when they lacked job stability; remodelled in a short-sighted manner and with an extravagant budget; and have unrealistic expectations of the profit they should be making on their house, which they didn't really seem to think of as a home but was more of an investment, and an unwise one at that.

    But instead of using this article to truly inform and educate, it's used to support a sensationalist and fear-mongering headline that improperly feeds hype about the real estate apocalypse. I mean, if that's what the Chronicle Real Estate editor believes is happening, fine--it's the editor's job to give readers evidence that SUPPORTS this. But don't take an article that tells a totally different story, give it the wrong, scarier headline, and try to get us to swallow it. It's cynical and misuses the power of the printed word--especially since the Chron editors may know that the "sexy" headline that supposedly proves all the real estate naysayers right will make those naysayers pick up the paper, skip that entire article, and head straight to the (undoubtedly lucrative for the Chron) Open Homes guide because, "Finally," they think, "we can afford a house in the Bay Area because it's such a bad time to sell!" (Which, as they'll then see in the Open Homes guide, is actually still not true.)

    It just bugs me that, in wrongly labelling a true (and badly edited) story, they are in effect telling lies.

    OK, maybe I'm ranting now. It's late and I haven't been editing this post too closely. Good night.

    1 comment:

    Carrie S said...

    You should send this post to the Chronicle. You make good points. That couple sound like jerks.