Sunday, January 2, 2005

Why Does the News & Record Give Free Advertising to Developers?

On many Sundays, the lead story in the News & Record's TriadHomes section appears to be nothing more than a press release from a developer. Today is one of those Sundays. The headline reads, Community Profile: Hobbs Landing. Luxury homes offer desirable location.

Here's the story's lead:

A unique concept in neighborhood living has arrived in Greensboro. Pierce Homes of Carolina is developing and building Hobbs Landing in the heart of the city. Hobbs Landing is an exclusive group of 16 luxury homes . . .
The body of the article describes in glowing terms how the new development is good in every way. Then comes the closing paragraph:
For more than 20 years, Piecrce Homes has served the Carolinas as one of the area's largest builders of condominiums, town homes, and single-family residences . . .
This is a news story? Only Brian Pierce, the President of Pierce Homes, was quoted. The reporter interviewed no residents of surrounding neighborhoods to find out what they think of the new development. No research was done on the quality of work in previous Pierce projects, or on the level of satisfaction among Pierce Homes buyers. Nor were experts knowledgeable about neighborhood and city planning consulted.

The quality of housing and the design of neighborhoods are issues that powerfully affect our quality of life in Greensboro. If developments are done badly, the city (and unhappy homeowners) are stuck with them for generations.

The N&R prints disinterested reviews of movies, restaurants, and books. But when it comes to something that's far more important -- neighborhood development --, the real estate industrty gets not only a free pass, but free advertising as well.

I just don't get it.

Update: Ed Cone notes that there's a narrow banner at the top of the TriadHomes page that says, "Classified Advertising Supplement." Thanks for the extra pair of eyes, Ed: I looked twice for visible indications that the story is an advertisment, and didn't see this (didn't have my reading glasses on). But I'm sticking to my complaint. The article in question has a headline and a byline. It's printed right next to a syndicated real-estate advice column by Robert Bruss. Below it are printed public-service announcements. In short, it is being presented as a news story, not as classified advertising.


Billy Jones said...

Seems to be the way of print journalism these days just as infomercials took over late night and Sunday morning television a few years ago. It's 99% profit. The commercial entity writes, produces, etc., and the media sticks it in a slot. The media doesn't have to pay journalist, cameramen, or editors-- just the man on the printing press or the guy who loads the film at the TV. station. Many magazines these days have no real stories in them at all. I still pick up copies of those no-news-magazines but instead of reading them I use them to line the litter box and start my campfires.

I used to rub sticks together but I've gotten lazy in my old age

Anonymous said...

My apologies for posting anonymously. This is John Robinson, editor of the News & Record, and I just can't figure out how to post a comment on Blogger without setting up my on blog.

Ed's correct. Our advertising department produces that section. We cover development in our businesses pages, on the front page and on B1. We cover neighborhoods on those pages -- see the piece on A1 today -- and in People & Places.

The TriadHomes section, which is primarily classified ads on buying and selling shelters, has been produced by our advertising department for several years. I don't know precisely what its mission is, but I believe it is to write about housing and development from a positive yet not inaccurate or obsequious.

If you have some stories you think we should write about neighborhood development -- perhaps about Summit? -- let me know. We actually write a decent amount of copy about neighborhoods. But we don't run it in TriadHomes.

David Wharton said...

John, thank you for responding. I'm glad to know that TriadHomes is not under your editorial control (and so, probably, are you).

Still, if I were a news editor, I'd be bothered by the fact that advertising in some sections of the paper is almost indistinguishable from news. *I* had trouble making the distinction, and I've had some (short) experience in the newspaper business.

I do appreciate the coverage that the N&R gives to neighborhoods. But I personally would like to see more aggressive reporting about new developments, especially as they are measured against the priorities of the Comp Plan and against general good practice as it's now understood among city planners.

That's a pretty specialized kind of reporting, I know, and maybe it's a little unrealistic to expect it from a paper and community of this size. But I think the city would derive great benefit from it, if only to motivate local developers to be a little more up-to-date in their work.

Anonymous said...

Newspapers support the pro-growth agenda for two main reasons. First, builders and developers spend a lot of money on advertising. If the paper is overly negative to the development community they risk losing advertisers. Secondly, they are pro-growth because it expands their readership. The more readers they have, the more papers they sell, the more advertisers they get, etc.

Bryan said...

Those sections are sometimes called "advertorials." I think trying to distinguish with a line that reads "advertising supplement" is lost on most readers. For most readers, if it looks like an news article, it is one. Blurring the lines between ads and editorial content is a bad idea, but I don't see them going away.