I’m always surprised if I’m speaking to someone who works in real estate and they say something that reveals they don’t understand how mortgages are funded today and the crucial role Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac play in the process.
When I’m writing about Fannie and Freddie — as in this recent article about President Bush signing the historic housing bill — I rarely take the time to explain what they do or — love them or hate them — why they are so important right now. I figure it’s just too complicated to bring people who don’t know up to speed each and every time I write about them.
That’s one reason I was blown away by this article on the passage of the housing bill by Mario Ritter of Voice of America News, which came to my attention via a Google alert.
In 361 words — extreme brevity for any topic, let alone one so complex — Ritter presents not only a wealth of relevant statistics, but the context you need to understand them. Somehow, he even manages to throw in a little bit of history on Fannie and Freddie’s origins and touch on the debate over their quasi-public-private structure and management.
Here, after he has explained the origins and evolution of the companies, Ritter gives you a primer on Fannie and Freddie’s role today:
"Fannie Mae and the smaller Freddie Mac buy loans from banks and other lenders, then sell them as securities to investors worldwide. This secondary market provides money for lenders to make new loans. Now, few investors are interested in mortgage-backed securities without government guarantees."
This is not a staggering revelation to anybody who has glanced at a newspaper since last August. But if you are a real estate agent or loan originator who blogs, it may be just the kind of context your readers need to understand the news they are hearing about the mortgage and financial markets, and how that relates to housing. The article is packed with similar little explanatory gems.
Like all the text, audio and video produced by voanews.com, it’s public domain and yours for the taking (watch out because Voice of America does license some material that’s copyrighted, from Associated Press and other sources).
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like VoA devotes a ton of coverage to U.S. housing issues — after all, its primary audience is outside of our borders. But if you blog, I think VoA can also help you improve your own "content."
I was so impressed with Ritter’s skill at packing so many statistics and concepts into a tiny little article that I Googled him and found this New York Times article that sheds some light on why this piece is so good. It’s written in "Special English," which employs a limited, 1,500-word vocabulary to broadcast news to people outside the U.S. with limited English skills.
That doesn’t mean it’s dumbed down at all.
A Voice of America editor put it this way to the Times: "There is a fine line between simplifying and simplification. It’s not so much simplifying, but clarification. Simplifying can seem somewhat demeaning. You’re not dumbing it down, but you’re making it understandable to your audience whether they have Ph.D.’s or are in middle school."
That’s great advice for anybody who writes or communicates with others for a living.
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.