Recognizing the role the media plays in moving markets, legislation and the perceptions people hold about the multifamily industry, the 2016 NMHC Fall Board of Directors Meeting program included a media panel with three leading housing reporters-The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Kusisto, Bloomberg’s Joe Light and Vox’s Mathew Yglesias. Here’s an excerpt of the Q&A.
Q: While the country is roughly 60 percent homeowners, 40 percent renters, new coverage is probably more heavily weighted toward for-sale real estate. Do you think that renting and apartments are generally under covered?
Matthew Yglesias: If you look at modern mass media, it’s typically published by young people living in New York, D.C. and sometimes San Francisco-in apartments-so in that respect there’s probably some over coverage. ... But if you talk to a typical member of Congress, their perception is that the constituents in their districts are homeowners. There’s a big and growing disconnect between what is interesting to people writing media content and what is interesting to Congress.
Q: How do analytics drive coverage decisions? How do you balance “important” topics that may not drive clicks versus the sexy but less substantive stories?
Joe Light: We have metrics, but if there’s something that’s important but not sexy, I’m still going to write about it.
Q: A common complaint is some version of “I thought the article was fine, but, that headline was atrocious.” How do your organizations create headlines?
Laura Kusisto: Don’t blame me for the headline, my editor writes it. [laughs] Most of the time we’re able to give suggestions on the headlines, but then the editor will re-write. But it’s sometimes helpful to have someone who isn’t involved in the story to take a look and come up with the takeaway.
JL: Editors are competing with other headlines, so I think that’s always in the back of their minds.
MY: As we get more and more digitally sophisticated, headlining is becoming more complicated. We can run different headlines based on different platforms-the website versus Twitter versus Facebook and so on. And eventually we will run different headlines for different audiences.
Q: How have the challenges in the media affected journalism in general?
JL: We haven’t been hurt as much as the local papers. Earlier in my career, I worked for a local paper in Florida; it’s now got half the staff they had when I was there. So that really hurts coverage of local issues.
MY: The biggest changes haven’t been just damages to local institutions ... but rather the whole de-localization of the news diet. It used to be that, regardless of what you were interested in, you would see a ton of stories about tons of things that were happening in your community.
Now, you’re more likely to see stories on just the topics you care about. For example, today, U.S. soccer fans have access to so much info from the English Premier league, but they might not have that much on their local governments. So it’s gotten more specialized.
Q: Why hasn’t housing been a bigger part of the election conversation?
JL: [Housing] is a hard story to sell for a politician. There aren’t a lot of levers to pull. If you want to increase homeownership rate, what are you going to do? Are you going to lower credit standards? Lower interest rates? The big unresolved part of the housing crisis is Fannie and Freddie and those two are very necessary but very demonized.
MY: We have a campaign that hasn’t been focused on any issues at all. [laughs] ... In some ways you need to consider yourself lucky that you’re not part of this campaign. ... The best bet for a political discussion of housing is after the election the dust clears. Something needs to be done with Fannie and Freddie.