Tag Archives: Diary of a real estate journalist

Why I am most hated journalist?

Posted on by Track2Realty
Diary of a real estate journalist

View Point: It is a matter of choice to live as the most hated journalist in Indian real estate where ethical journalism & expectations of professionalism ruffles many feathers.

Ravi Sinha, Real estate journalist, Real estate blogger, Real estate analyst, Real estate brand rating, Diary of a real estate journalist, Property journalist diary, Open letter to builders, Buyer writes to builders, Journalist writes to builders, Property journalists credibility, Credibility of real estate journalists, Media and real estate, Media and property market, Journalists in the property marketA journalist friend recently reminded me, “You know what! You are most hated journalist in Indian real estate.” Yes I know! Even the most corrupt real estate journalists in this country are not as much hated within the reporting beat/sector as me for the serial offence of dropping truth bomb with all ferocity.

I nevertheless sounded ignorance to ask her, “What do you mean by this? Have I ever been unethical or corrupt?” “No! But you are hated for being too straightforward with the habit of giving the offence back. This world does not like someone like you. Most of the PR and Corporate Communication professionals bitch about you.”

It is not that I don’t know about it; I don’t care about it. I have rather consciously developed this image over the years. I am never ashamed or apologetic about my identity or public perception. I very much enjoy the fact that not so professionals within the built environment, fellow corrupt journalists, shady builders and most stupid breed of PR and Corporate Communication specialists (sic) maintain a safe distance with a rude journalist like me.

Everyone is conscious of the fact that I practice ‘free, frank & fearless’ journalism. Any expectations of undue favour, any provocation to question my critical assessment of the business or any attempt to get negative stories dropped could only invite more critical evaluation and land them in trouble.

It is not that I don’t pay the price of practicing the now dying art of ethical journalism. Whenever there is any issue of revenue growth within the company, or rather lack of it, the marketing team looks at me with a gesture that suggests you are the culprit.

A senior colleague often reminds me, “You are the editorial face of the company. The responsibility of company’s acceptability rests upon you.” Probably what he resists saying is that he doesn’t interfere so long my style is earning revenue for the company.

Thankfully, the quality & ethical journalism that I practice has not defeated me so far, even though I constantly face resistance from many corners. Today, we are globally acknowledged for being most objective, comprehensive and ethical media group in this notoriously maligned world.

Does this ethical journalism earn me goodwill of stakeholders on the other side of the table? Well, I am equally on the hit list of a number of so-called homebuyers’ associations. Reason is pretty clear: I equally despise the kind of consumer blackmailing that is all pervasive in today’s property market.

Safeguarding self against vested interests and not to be used by the kind of buyers’ associations who function like de facto consumer courts and ask for money from gullible homebuyers is another challenge for me. And since I don’t mind exposing such rotten eggs, I am being hated by the homebuyers’ associations as well.

Tailor-made traits of most hated journalist 

An ethical journalist is a problematic element for a sector that has cultivated a number of ‘yes men’ in media

Labeling as ‘Negative Person’ is the most convenient option to a journalist who doesn’t fall into the trap of buying goody goody stories of the builders

Homebuyers’ association also dislike a journalist who question their locus standi for exceeding legal & ethical limits

Mediocrity in PR & Corporate Communication loves to have like-minded journalists than an ethical journalist who could catch them on the wrong foot 

When I first landed up accidentally into real estate journalism around a decade back, the first thing that hit me was the fact that there is a complete lack of professionalism in this space. Needless to add, most of the journalists in the sector lack respect. I am still not sure whether this lack of respect is more for their lack of integrity or lack of courage to take on what is not acceptable.

But the very fact that being a journalist with old school ethics and temperament, I am still not comfortable with the way real estate journalism is practiced in this country. Forget the builders’ culture of secrecy to share information, as it is a universal phenomenon within the businesses, there is a serious crisis of communication professionals. I am hated by this lot the most as I don’t want to compromise with my level of professional integrity.

Barring a few exceptions in Indian real estate, I maintain a professional distance with the PR and Corporate Communication of the developers. I don’t share my personal space with them; don’t go to parties as personal friends. These are the traits which would make any journalist being despised in a sector where a large share of the developers have the PR and Corporate Communication with MEA (Media Entertainment Allowance) to keep the journalists in good humour.

But wait! My distance beyond work is not why I am today the most hated journalist in Indian real estate. I am being hated because I have the bad habit of calling a spade as spade; calling unprofessional behavior as stupid; often blacklisting those who are not committed to deadline; and overtly mocking the lack of knowledge and/or substance in public forum.

Imagine a scenario where a young PR girl approaches me the first time to interview an international client (one of the largest global brands catering to Indian real estate). When I meet the CEO of the brand on his India visit I am appalled to find that he has not even been briefed about me. A person who doesn’t know anything about the Indian media is requesting me to brief about media before I could interview him. Is it my job or the job of the PR?

I nevertheless interview him as it is a global brand and I am the first Indian journalist to interview him. After the interview is published online, the next day the PR girl whom I met only once during the interview sends me a text message, “Hi Ravi! Lots of love for your column.” Excuse me! Lots of love? Are you sure about what you just texted me? Was it interview or column?

This is not a one off incident that really turns me off. It is a repetitive practice in a sector where even a large majority of the builders are clueless about the stupidity of their PR agency and often the Corporate Communication. The Press Releases are mailed to self with BCC to hundreds of journalists without even realizing that such mass mailing often lands up in the Spam folder of mailbox.

A PR girl calls me for a client meeting and once I agree to it, she asks me by the way whether I still work for Track2Realty. “No! I have been sacked for non-performance and misconduct,” I could not think of a better answer.

Well, I think the next time she should also ask my name and whether I am a journalist or into some other business. Damn it! If you don’t know where do I work then why the hell have you approached me? Isn’t it your job to have some homework about a journalist whom you have approached? But I feel I am really worth being hated as I end up being rude with such lot.

Another one who heads the Corporate Communication of a Mumbai-based builder with a fancy designation of ‘Brand Custodian and Customer Delight Officer’ challenges one of my feature story with a question mark as to how much is the sample size? I wondered whether the gentleman even bothered to read the story to realize it is feature story and not survey? Whether he thinks a feature story also has the sampling of audience?

On being told that it is not survey and provided with a number of supporting facts, the mediocre with questionable academic understanding changes track to preach me that I should be more positive on the sector. Poor me! I end up being rude and being hated.

I am yet to come to terms with this constant preaching of being positive on the sector. What is the definition of being positive? Accepting expensive gifts with builders and being their cheerleader? Ignoring the pains and plights of the hapless homebuyers? I think I am quite happy being a negative person to the extent of being vindictive to the builders who are sitting over scores of consumer complaints and trying best to manage the media.

Communication in general and PR in particular continues to be the weakest link of Indian real estate. And since I am a serial offender to expose it every now and then, in one platform or the other, and don’t even think before giving a piece of my mind, I am naturally the most hated journalist in the Indian real estate.

On exposing the shallow brand understanding by marketing communication of one builder, I am often offered pearls of wisdom by the Corporate Communication of the other ones, “You see! They might be working so hard under pressure. If you can’t encourage then at least you should not discourage them.” Excuse me! I am not here to encourage the lack of professionalism. The builder has not appointed me as the ‘Official Motivational Partner’.

Living in an apartment I am continuously exposing the builder since last three years for his poor quality and pathetic maintenance. The generous (sic) builder has tried best to buy me out and silence other homebuyers a number of times. And I am so rude that I have exposed it in front of other society residents that the builder tried to bribe me out.

Isn’t it enough to make me the most hated journalist? Of course, it is! The hatred for me is so profound that not only the said builder but also many other builders are today cautious to not sell the apartment to a problematic element like me. I wonder whether I would be able to buy an apartment in the same market.

Where would this hatred towards a rude journalist end? Well, there are only two options. Either I change myself and join the cosy club of this unprofessional lot who are anyway more in number, or they raise their level to be more professional. Unfortunately, none of the two options seem to be a probability in near future. And hence, I will continue to be most hated journalist in Indian real estate.

By: Ravi Sinha

 

Diary of a real estate journalist

Posted on by Track2Realty
Track2Realty Exclusive

Bottom Line: It is challenging to be an objective real estate journalist when the business environment and media realities are constantly forcing to create a mutual appreciation club.  

Ravi Sinha, CEO & Managing Editor Track2Media Research Pvt Ltd, Track2Realty, Investment Magnet Report, Indian best housing projects, NRI investment in Indian property, Indian real estate market, Indian property market, Indian real estate news, Indian property magazinesIt was 9 AM in the morning and the repeat ring of call bell forced me to wake up. It is not easy for a journalist to leave bed so early after the occupational hazards of late night assignments. I opened the door with visible anger on my face, only to find a smiling PR guy whose smile actually made me even more angry.

But wait! The real anger was yet to come when he offered me a packet sent by his client – a builder. It was not Holi or Diwali; not even New Year or my birthday that the whole world nowadays gets to know, thanks to the necessary social addiction called Facebook.

“What is that?” I asked. It was…hold your breath! A gift that an ordinary journalist like me can not afford with hard earned money – an expensive Rolex watch. “Would like to speak to your client,” I said calmly.  This has been a prominent real estate developer and I had only last week done a negative review of one of his luxury property. My expose against his buyers’ grievances had also not gone down well with him only recently. And hence the gift was a surprise, if not shock, to me.

I asked the builder as to what prompted him to this largesse. Pat comes the reply, “a very small token of friendship.” I wondered when did we become friends. However, I said politely but sarcastically, “It will take time before we become friends.” Smart answer over the other side of the phone says “please keep it as a token of love from your younger brother. Had got one more piece for another journalist friend and so…” Younger brother? The man is at least 20 years older than me.

At this point of time I wanted to cut short the conversation. And hence a curt “No” was the best that I could think of.  “I think you should test the waters before throwing your cards boss. You can’t throw wild cards everywhere.” A brief pause over the phone at the other end and then a breaking voice, “Ok. Sorry.”

This is not a one-off incident when a real estate journalist faces the dilemma of not accepting the beyond one’s purchasing capacity expensive gift from a builder against whom one is writing on a routine basis.

It is not that I am not conscious of the media reality in this sector where even the press conferences are organized to dole out expensive gifts and even cash gift vouchers. Hence, it is not easy to be a journalist if you want to practice your profession with certain amount of dignity and professional pride. The fellow journalists do not want to be seen with you. How come you are not having tribal instincts while being part of the same tribe is something that is often a question in their eyes.

Dilemma of journalism 

  • If you don’t have a price tag, you are of no use in an eco system where survival of the most corrupt is the mantra
  • From tempting one’s personal integrity to marketing pressures, it is not easy being an objective real estate journalist
  • You are out of the journalists’ tribe if you don’t have tribal instinct to accept gifts and bribe
  • For a builder it is the price tag that alone defines the value of mutual appreciation club with the journalist 

Once the marketing head of a leading Gurgaon-based developer told me, “You don’t know my boss. He can change your life if he likes you.” I kept wondering that in the last nearly two decades of my career when none of my editors could change my life how come a builder would do that. I nevertheless wanted to make a fund of it and hence asked, “You mean he will gift me a house?” “Well, if only you add value to us. He is always generous to people who are beneficial in general and journalists in particular,” said the man with certain level of inquisitive look in his eyes, as if judging whether I can be bought or not.

These are the instances where you are directly being approached with a price tag. Then there are other indirect pressures through the necessary survival mechanism of media – the marketing.

A Noida-based developer once asked the marketing guy that he is ready for a cover jacket of Track2Realty Brand X Report if only his company figures into Top 3 of the yearly brand rating. The marketing guy definitely thought he had made a great deal for the company. “Ask them to give this offer in writing,” I said knowing that the developer would be either smart enough to understand what I mean or else if he will make a fun of his brand. The developer proved to be smart. I am deliberately not using the word cunning.

A Mumbai-based builder told me that his PR agency has conveyed that I am very blunt journalist who does not entertain them. “Thank you,” I said with certain degree of pride, “I am very satisfied with my kind of identity. It adds to my credibility as an objective journalist. I might be blunt many a times but never pointless. I will be really ashamed the day anyone said that I can also be managed with or without a price tag.”

Another marketing head of a Noida-based developer where the CMD is known to take a moral high ground on industry issues and is a champion of developers’ cause, told the marketing team, “Ask your editor to call me if you want advertising business. Other editors come to us.” Such overt & covert messages not only tell me a lot about the lack of professional practices, forget best practices, in the sector but also lack of integrity on part of those editors who go for ego massage to these second and third rank hierarchy of builders.

“I know my PR team could not respond to your editor’s queries on time but then he should not have blasted the PR team,” said the brand custodian of a developer. Incidentally this brand custodian of Noida-based builder claims to have worked with one of the leading TV news channels in Delhi. “Excuse me! Your builder might have delayed the projects for 7-8 years as a matter of this chalta hai (its ok) attitude. But journalism does not give liberty to such delays for inexplicable reasons.” I can just wonder what kind of journalism this gentleman might have done in his television career.

I can understand the primitive human instinct of survival of the fittest. But as a real estate journalist I am yet to learn how to live with the modern reality of ‘survival of the most corrupt’. After having weathered pressures ranging from personal temptations to marketing pressures, I often think I am not fit to be a real estate journalist in today’s world of mutual appreciation club.

Names of respective builders have been withheld in this diary 

By: Ravi Sinha