Certified guarantee of positive coverage is not journalism


Diary of a real estate journalist

Overtly criticising the corrupt media and the need to have honest journalists around, the built environment of Indian real estate is even more skeptical with the not-so-pliable journalists. After all, the quest for a pre congratulatory note of positive coverage (read glory story) is what keeps everyone in their comfort zones. Ravi Sinha wonders whether the developers and their communication team lack confidence with their own product to showcase it to objective journalists.    

I have taken up the challenging practice of evaluating the performance of the real estate companies through rating the respective brands. I often hear two very different voices about my professional existence within the sector. A group of developers, though minority community, not only take the learnings out of the rating & ranking but also endorse that the sector needs someone like me for the larger interests of the business.

“We need not just one but at least four to five Ravi Sinha for practicing this type of objective journalism. It rather helps us as cleaner players since this kind of journalism is differentiating us from the rogue players in the business,” says a leading voice of the sector in one of the WhatsApp discussions about Track2Realty in general and this journalist in particular. Let me admit here that I often snoop over the WhatsApp groups of respective industry bodies through some friends.

The other contrasting voice by a vast majority of the developers is that why the hell do I even exist. These are the set of developers to find in me arrogant, defamatory and a painful entity. And I am ok with it! I am conscious of the fact that in a sector where media meant unnecessary evil that could cost the developers for each and every glory story, my presence will always be unpleasant for vast universe of the developers. That also defines me as much as a journalist as the sector in its thought process.

There are only a handful of developers with a vision to understand as to what extent I am helping the sector with my objective and not-paid-for journalistic endeavor. I am indeed okay with both the likes and dislikes.

But what I am not okay or comfortable with is the “touch me not” lot that is friends on face but skeptical otherwise. There is this mindset among the  communication professionals of large universe of the developers to come across as very friendly but maintain professional distance. This is the kind of breed that does not find it unreasonable, forget being unprofessional, to  overtly ask for commitment of positive media coverage before any information sharing.

“My boss is very touchy with negative (read what he himself defines as negative) coverage. It is better not to have any coverage than engage with someone who writes critical stories. I want peace in my job,” admits one corporate communication professional.

Unfortunately, such acceptances expose the professionals and the brand at many levels. One is that your brand is neither professional in day-to-day functioning nor having confidence with its own project. Secondly, you as a professional are either survivor or unprofessional to make your management understand that objective media analysis is different than advertising and paid PR. Thirdly, most of your so-called positive coverage is actually a paid media coverage.

It is hence no surprise that these are the companies where press releases are selectively not sent to me, project showcase restricted and even the major news breaks (like say an IPO) is not shared. The lapse is often played down as either slip of mind or the fault of the PR agencies.

Some more forthright builders (more often than not through Corporate Communications) tell me, “But you know you have an image like that. We play safe to maintain a distance.” I really don’t know how to react over such simply stupid take, “My image? Am I a racketeer or what? Have I or any of my team members ever tried to arm twist you for personal benefits?”

“No sweet heart! Problem is not with my image but your own unprofessional conduct. For you journalism is an extension of advertising, only the methods get changed. But for me news is sacrosanct and has to be shared with the audience the way it is. It would not just be theft with the gullible home buyers but also grave injustice to my own profession, if I guarantee you in advance that I will only give you positive coverage.    

I often get the feeling that such unjust demands/requests have more to do with the organizational culture which flows from the top. The very feeling of being rich and powerful has gone to the heads of the developers and the professionals in the sector have no choice but to adapt to this mindset. As one of the top functionaries of a developer tells me, “Why will I not raise issue of negative reporting with this newspaper (name withheld) when we are giving them ad revenue of INR 50 crore every year? How can they report so negative about our brand?”   

Unfortunately, when they come across a media outlet like Track2Realty that simply refuses ad revenue of developers who wish to control the news room they get jittery. They have no justification other than the covert acceptance that the racketeer journalists suit them better in their scheme of things. When you know the price of the devil then it is much easier to deal with. Problem is with the kind of journalists who do not roam around with a display of one’s own price tag.

I just have one piece of advice to such rogues within the built environment of Indian real estate, “Grow up! I am the mirror and if your shady face is not as good as you would like it to be then don’t blame the mirror.” I am also conscious of the fact that what is more often than not apologized as slip of mind is actually well thought out and it is slip of intent.

#RaviSinha

ravisinha@track2media.com

#ravitrack2media

Track2Realty is an independent media group managed by a consortium of journalists. Starting as the first e-newspaper in the Indian real estate sector in 2011, the group has today evolved as a think-tank on the sector with specialized research reports and rating & ranking. We are editorially independent and free from commercial bias and/or influenced by investors or shareholders. Our editorial team has no clash of interest in practicing high quality journalism that is free, frank & fearless.

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