NAREE University Webinar Series
NAREE's May Roundtable Recap
How to Stand Out and Avoid Sensationalism
By Michelle Jarboe
Crain’s Cleveland Business and NAREE 2017 President
Eileen Woods used to line up cover stories for the Boston Globe’s Sunday real estate section three months in advance. Now, building on the ever-shifting foundation of coronavirus, the farthest the newspaper’s real estate editor can see into the future is six to seven weeks.
That’s longer than many journalists can fathom right now, during a pandemic that has upended government, the U.S. economy and large segments of the real estate business – along with the already-ailing newspaper industry.
During a May 7 NAREE virtual roundtable, Woods joined other editors and reporters in a discussion about tossed-out editorial calendars and creative approaches to a ubiquitous story.
At the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, investigative reporter J. Scott Trubey’s longer-term real estate stories are in limbo. For more than two months, his beat has been dominated by the novel coronavirus. He’s focused, in particular, on Georgia’s struggles with testing and tracking.
Plan to Pivot
Trubey said he can plan only in two-week increments. Even on that modest timeline, a story he’s working on can quickly change directions, or end up in the scrap heap.
With news breaking at a frenetic pace, the staff at Multi-Housing News and Commercial Property Executive began holding daily morning news meetings as the crisis deepened across the country. By early May, the pressure had eased somewhat, said Suzann Silverman, who serves as editorial director for both C-suite-focused publications.
The planning meetings had dropped from five to three each week. Reporters and editors were attempting to take forward-looking approaches to stories and to track down sources who weren’t being quoted everywhere else.
Longer-term projects remain the biggest challenges, Silverman said, noting that digital monthly magazine stories can be updated until just before publication. The company’s printed mid-year guides, traditionally distributed at conferences, are another matter.
Beyond questions of relevance, it’s unclear whether conferences will even happen this year – or whether people will think twice about picking up a magazine.
While fielding questions from moderator and NAREE President Catie Dixon, of Bisnow, panelists talked about the importance of standing out while avoiding sensationalism.
Keep It Local
Business journalists are mining data to tally up missed rent payments and lost jobs. They are using social media to put faces on the numbers and chronicling how Americans are living – and inhabiting spaces – differently, from the roommates spending far too much time together to the families separated by fears.
“Our approach is to make everything local,” Woods said. “Local sources for everything.”
At the Las Vegas Review-Journal, reporters have interviewed laid-off casino workers, struggling renters and anxious homebuyers. The newsroom is using interactive graphics to give readers a quick snapshot of dwindling tourism and mounting unemployment claims.
Finding relevant real estate data can be more difficult, since industry reports tend to lag by a month or two, said Eli Segall, the Review-Journal’s real estate reporter.
He’s tried to anticipate the future while reporting on the past, in stories that predicted sagging home sales before the local data looked bleak.
Segall has also been drawing on history, including Las Vegas-area newspaper accounts of the 1918 flu pandemic and the Great Depression, to add colorful and sometimes uncannily familiar-sounding details to articles about potential fallout from this public-health emergency.
Longtime housing and mortgage writer Lew Sichelman questioned whether publications are allocating too many resources to coronavirus coverage. At this point, he asked, is it possible that some real estate readers are tiring of the virus?
“I’m hearing that,” Dixon said. “But the numbers of readership say otherwise.”
NAREE President Catie Dixon, Bisnow Managing Editor
Eileen Woods, Boston Globe Sunday Real Estate Editor
NAREE Board Member
J. Scott Trubey, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Reporter
NAREE Board Member
Suzann Silverman, Commercial Property News/
Multi-Housing News Editorial Director
|Eli Segall, Las Vegas Review-Journal Reporter|
NAREE's April Roundtable Recap
'How to Do our Jobs in a Change World'
By Riley McDermid, Bisnow Media
Reporters and editors who have been stuck in the throes of covering the coronavirus pandemic while working from home need to be alert about burnout, a panel of experts said during NAREE’s most recent webinar in April.
Titled“How to Do Our Jobs in a Changed World" and moderated by NAREE President and Bisnow’s Catie Dixon, it hosted panelists Dion Haynes, Washington Post real estate editor and NAREE 2018 president; Stefanos Chen, New York Times reporter and NAREE member; Beth DeCarbo, Wall Street Journal columnist; NAREE chairman of the board; and Steve Brown, Dallas Morning News real estate editor and NAREE 2016 president and Jeff Collins, Orange County Register and NAREE Vice President.
All five panelists weighed in to an audience of members about how to stay sane in the middle of one of history’s most tumultuous periods, all while working from an entirely virtual newsroom.
Many reporters and editors have been closely following and reporting COVID-19’s spread since the middle of January. That kind of extended coverage marathon can lead to both mental and physical exhaustion while working longer, staying up later and trying to cope in an ad hoc newsroom -- possibly with children and spouse sharing that space and jockeying for attention.
“It’s rough. My wife and I are both working from home, so it’s kind of just regimenting the day and thinking about what hours you can give up [for childcare],” Chen said about reporting while being quarantined with two toddlers. “Be transparent with your editors, too, [is important]. I think everyone is pretty understanding right now about what you can and can’t do … Everyone, I assume is working a lot more right now. I just fantasize about the day that the kids go back to school and I can just stare at a blank wall and not say or do anything and it’s quiet.”
Chen said that reporters might even appear more human to sources if they are honest about the challenges they’re facing in delivering the news. Using the tools you have on hand can lead to better, more honest reporting, he said.
“One reporting trick that I’ve noticed is that if kids do actually barge into the room, that it actually helps build rapport with the people that you’re interviewing,” Chen said. “ I think everyone lightens up when they know that your life is hell ... they actually open up more, so you might get better quotes or information from them. So in some ways, the kids can be an asset.”
It’s also important that editors and reporters take the time they need to recharge, Haynes said. Being aware of the day’s stressors and doing what you can to decompress mentally at the end of the day can pay dividends, speakers said, as can letting your colleagues know if you’re facing burnout. DeCarbo said most editors not only want to know that information, they may be able to help.
“Companies have been all over the spectrum in terms of what they’re offering employees [to cope],” she said. “So you need to be mindful of what you need, and not taking risks that you shouldn’t take, taking advantage if your workplace has EAP programs, there’s no shame in asking for help or looking for a gut check. That’s what they’re there for.”
Brown added that changing up your coverage areas can help exhausted journalists and readers alike. While the pandemic is certainly the biggest news right now, it is not the only news, Brown said, and providing variety can help bring context and meaning to a news pipeline starved for different content. DeCarbo added that even reassessing the lens that you have been using to cover the pandemic can be shifted in subtle ways to help readers make sense of a rapidly changing news environment.
Jeff Collins said it’s all about, "keeping your head right.” To do that he falls back on what one of his former editors said, “Look for stories that tell a little bit more.” Like DeCarbo, Collins is one of many real estate journalists who is also writing about other topics these days.
“It's about what we choose to write about and what we say. The obvious stuff is behind us and we are now in for the long haul [on coronavirus] and figuring out, ‘What does this all mean?’” DeCarbo said. “So I’ll be interested to see what we come up with. Journalists are very creative people and it’s going to be interesting to see how this story is shaped going forward.”
Above all, try to remember that journalists are people, too. If you’re feeling worried or anxious about the future after covering the pandemic, try not to internalize it to only your reporting. Taking a mental health day or talking with a friend or colleague can go a long way toward putting what you are seeing and reporting into perspective, several panelists said. If all else fails?
“Take a vacation,” attendee and freelance journalist Marcie Geffner said during the event’s question and answer session. “Even if it’s just closing the door to your home office or where you work. Just don’t go there.”
NAREE President Catie Dixon, Bisnow Managing Editor
|Beth DeCarbo, Wall Street Journal Columnist and NAREE Chairman of the Board|
|Jeff Collins Orange County Register and NAREE Vice President|
|Steve Brown, Dallas Morning News Real Estate Editor and NAREE 2016 President|
|Dion Haynes, Washington Post Real Estate Editor and NAREE 2018 President|
|Stefanos Chen, New York Times Reporter and NAREE Member|