Journalists and real estate professionals have long shared an image problem.

The stereotypes are a fixture in fictional TV shows and in the movies: the reporter who lies, cheats and/or steals to get the Big Story; the agent who will do anything — trampling ethics and laws and in-laws — to close that Big Sale.

The perceptions about the below-limbo levels to which professionals in these industries will stoop is pervasive, and especially ironic because trust and reputation are cornerstones for the success of these professionals and their industries as a whole.

Unethical practices by the few truly bad apples have left lasting scars on both industries.

There are many more parallels, too, to the challenges faced by professionals in both industries.

Both industries face newcomers and sweeping changes, ushered in by the Internet and changing consumer demands and interests.

Attention spans are shortened, divided — more and more people are getting their news in bits and blips, and from a wide variety of sources.

Likewise, searching for a home these days can involve a dizzying spectrum of online searches, from to your agent’s personal Web site to a variety of third-party aggregators to Internet Data Exchange-powered national and international brokerage mega-sites.

New media — blogs and citizen journalism — don’t always play by the same rules as the traditional news companies. Sometimes they are more like traditional media than traditional media would care to admit, performing that valued First Amendment service — and sometimes they make "TMZ" look like "60 Minutes."

Among the criticisms of new media: blurring the lines of opinion and objective news; demonstrating obvious and blatant biases; betraying sources; focusing on one side of the story; speculating wildly; jumping to conclusions; republishing large excerpts or entire articles from other sources; and bypassing typical grammar and style rules. Of course, critics would draw up a similar list, and perhaps longer, for the "traditional media."

Many "revolutionary" business models have tried to crack open the real estate brokerage industry vault over the decades — and many have found varying degrees of failure while some have squeezed inside and emerged as large, successful companies. Not all of the fledgling business models were embraced with open arms, and in fact the real estate industry (it’s not alone here: see news industry, et al.) has a reputation for fearing and attacking business models it deems to be a threat to its own well-being.

A lesson here for the news and real estate industries: Ignoring or hiding from new technology and innovation is not a good idea, is a bad business model, and can even threaten the industry’s core values.

We’ve heard too many times about conflicts between "traditional brokers" and "discount brokers" — the so-called discounters are criticized by some of the traditional industry players as not carrying their weight in transactions and lowering the bar for the industry as a whole.

Similar conflicts exist now between the traditional news media and the new news media — some members of the new media are working for free or very near to it, and that is perceived as a very big threat to the giant corporate enterprises that tend to run most of the news industry these days.

Traditional media and traditional real estate companies have taken heat for failing to embrace innovation with open arms rather than isolating themselves as latecomers — forced to adapt to technologies created by new entrants.

It is a painful thing to hear stories — almost weekly now — of a fresh round of layoffs at one major newspaper after another these days — newspaper companies and the real estate industry have been slammed particularly hard in this economic downturn.

Real estate companies have downsized, cutting staff and overhead, and some agents have left voluntarily to pursue other careers. …CONTINUED

We will be living in a different world once all of this dust settles.

And perhaps there will be a more united front within the news industry and within the real estate industry as we pick up the pieces.

In the demonstrations and violence that followed the election results in Iran, new media emerged as a powerful tool to carry the story, with major news outlets leveraging that user-generated, citizen-journalist content to piece together a bigger picture of what was actually unfolding there.

New media are we the people. They represent many voices on many channels — at once raw and democratic, reactionary and activist. There are calls to action; proclamations about pressing issues; dissection and distillation of complex matters in plain terms; and valid criticisms of traditional media. This is the modern journalism mashup, and there will be a dialogue of learning and borrowing between old ways and new.

The same goes for the real estate industry. Some Web 2.0 features and functionality that had been the primary domain of upstart tech-savvy new real estate companies now populate the Web sites of larger and more established companies, too.

Both the news industry and real estate industry have wrestled with the freedom vs. confinement of information. A model of free news, with limited or no advertising revenue, doesn’t sustain the brand of quality journalism that we know and we need, and news organizations are experimenting with new models to find the right formula in quality and efficiency.

Likewise, the real estate industry has struggled with restrictions on the dissemination of property information. While some real estate companies long resisted widespread public display and sharing of listings information, that trend seems to have reversed.

But the collection of property information — as with researching and reporting the news — does carry costs and does have value.

Property listings information that is constantly updated and verified for accuracy is obviously more valuable than data that is outdated and unverified. Just as news stories that are professionally researched and reported and checked by editors command more value than those that are regurgitated second-hand or third-hand, with little value added.

Quality will survive, of course. There is always a market for quality. Quality content and services will continue to draw readers and real estate consumers alike. And reputation and trust are factored into that quality and value. This quality can be found among new media and new real estate entrants as well.

Traditional real estate companies can learn — and have learned, from newcomer innovators with higher-tech, lower-cost business models, and the same is true for traditional media and new media.

This cultural exchange shouldn’t be about compromising values — there are core values and standards in the traditional news business and real estate industry that must be preserved to ensure their ultimate survival, and will likely be adopted by the newcomers.

There is room for common ground here, and there should be some healthy and ongoing debate in how we define a "professional journalist" and a "professional real estate agent," and what do the labels of "traditional" vs. "new" mean and how should those lines be blurred.

Traditional media does not have to become new media to compete, and traditional real estate companies do not have to become new real estate companies to compete.

Think hybrid.

The so-called "competition" is your student, your teacher and your classmate. And we’re all in this classroom together.

Glenn Roberts Jr. is managing editor for Inman News.


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