During the past eight years I have spent at Inman News, I have witnessed the froth and fervor of housing hysteria and seen real estate elevated to the savior of the economy, only later to be damned and demonized in the downfall.
To chronicle these wild ups and downs in a saga still unfolding has been an exhilarating ride, with no shortage of news to share. Such economic cycles are not the proverbial tree falling in the forest — they are like raging forest fires, leaving few unscarred.
It is times like these when the noble mission of journalism shines — when people seek out and find critical information that they need to help them navigate uncertain times; when they are empowered by timely reporting that helps them to better understand the crises that shape consumer decisions and form the foundation of their fears and dreams.
As a rookie reporter for a college newspaper, I chanced upon the scene of the devastating Oakland Hills fire on Oct. 20, 1991.
The firestorm killed dozens and leveled more than 3,300 homes. I carry the unforgettable memory of a homeowner whom I approached as the wildfire still raged in the hills above. She was crouching on a curb, head in hands, as a row of firefighters behind her blasted hoses toward a stand of trees in defense of a historic hotel.
The woman was too distressed for words, and her frightful, watery gaze conveyed a deep loss, a void.
While the effects have been less intense and immediate, this prolonged economic and housing downturn has been devastating on a greater scale, its man-made "burn" long-lasting and far-reaching. Few have been untouched. There are many during this Great Recession who have lost their fortunes and faith in housing.
The housing bubble and blowup is a tragedy played out on a grand global stage, with the backdrop of villains and deceit, blind optimism and greed, and the frailty of human nature, all of which have underscored so many tales of woe throughout our history.
The familiar lessons emerge again: The housing downfall is really, at its core, about our seemingly inherent and collective inability to exercise cautious restraint in the face of a euphoric surge, particularly as so many were profiting (consumers and real estate agents among them) as they rode the real estate wave to its crest.
As my journalism professors and editors so often and eloquently urged: Follow the money. It usually always tells the complete story, in all of its painful details. This latest economic example is no exception.
The housing firestorm that had gripped this nation and whipped up such a frenzy seemed to supply its own fuel. News stories that cautioned about bubble dangers were in some cases characterized by real estate industry participants as a media bent on pulling down the real estate market.
Even as the market was clearly turning downward, there were those adamant about poking holes in bubble theories, and insistent that the downturn was only a temporary setback, that the nation was headed for a "soft landing" and a temporary and minor "correction."
Again, blame was cast on the media for working to drag down an otherwise healthy real estate market by focusing on the negative and speaking too broadly about the state of the nation’s housing market. (We all are constantly reminded: housing is always and only a local story.)
Even today, we hear similar refrains about how those hyperinflated real estate markets around the world, which are experiencing unprecedented real estate booms, will be buoyed and sustained by "solid economic fundamentals."
Let’s not forget the lessons learned and let’s not forget the people harmed in this latest economic catastrophe. There is a human cost that demands a human response. Real estate professionals and media professionals have a similar role in this difficult time in providing timely and accurate information to help their audiences make well-informed decisions.
I had a conversation with an industry participant a couple of years ago about reporting on "good news" vs. "bad news." Journalists don’t view news through such a lens. News is simply news.
It is vitally important for news media to stay abreast of the information that is deemed as most critical to their audience, of course, though how readers use and react to that news is an individual decision.
Inman News continues to be a leading independent voice in bringing new technologies, innovations and market trends to the attention of the real estate industry, and to finding new ways to address long-standing problems.
An industry that stops questioning its own methods and motives is an industry that will quickly become irrelevant.
It has been a highlight of my time at Inman to see a broad group of real estate industry professionals transform from technophobes and traditionalists to technophiles and first adopters.
The media must play a role in educating people about new ways of doing business, new tools and new market realities, and in providing a range of perspectives, insight and opinion to help paint a clearer picture about how those directly impact their daily lives and work.
As real estate professionals well know from the cyclical nature of their industry, there is opportunity in any market.
The media is the messenger. Not just the messenger, of course — it is no small role to get the facts right and to deliver those facts to those who rely on them. Daily journalism is at the front lines of the history books.
And to those who question the need for a professional media, I am constantly reminded by our own readers — they let us know if we miss the mark or if we get a fact wrong.
They want us and need us to get the story right. Without sound news-gathering and reporting, we fail to exercise the rights our forefathers had the foresight to protect.
I am proud to have found a calling and a career in journalism and to work at a news organization that honors these principles, instilled by the company’s founder and publisher.
On Friday, I will be leaving Inman News for a new challenge, and I am proud to have served as both a reporter and editor at Inman during one of the most turbulent times the real estate industry has known. I leave knowing there is a great editorial team and tradition in place at Inman.
It has been an honor to serve you, the reader.
Glenn Roberts Jr. is managing editor for Inman News.
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