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.
A 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