A few months after I joined HousingWire in 2013, Ben Lane signed on as a mortgage reporter. The big news during that period was compliance with Dodd-Frank, including the Qualified Mortgage rule. A lot has changed in the industry and at HousingWire in the last six years, and on Friday, Ben is taking the next step in his career – going to work for New American Funding to help shape their content.
Ben has been a prolific contributor to HousingWire, reporting on some of the most important events in our industry. He’s ferreted out the news wherever it has led him over this time, breaking stories about companies, individuals and government actors and winning awards in the process.
We’ll miss Ben’s reporting and his incredibly witty repartee over Slack, and we know many of you will miss him too. Before we send him off with all our good wishes, we sat down with him to talk about some of the highlights during his time here.
Sarah Wheeler: What was your very first story for HousingWire?
Ben Lane: I have vivid memories of my first day at HousingWire and my first story. I got to the office around 9 a.m., and literally within 15 minutes of getting there, I had my first assignment. I didn’t even have a HousingWire email address yet. The former editor in chief, Jacob Gaffney, asked me for my personal email address and said, “I’m sending you a story I want you to do today.” I didn’t even have an email address yet and they wanted me to do a story already!
Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. But after some training from both Jacob and Brena Nath (then Swanson), I was able to nervously turn in my first story, a people mover about a hiring at Realogy, by noon. I’ll always remember that. In the end, I’m grateful for the way they treated me. It helped me find my footing very quickly.
SW: Do you remember your first breaking news?
BL: I don’t remember my first one, but I definitely remember my first really big one. It was Halloween 2014, and we were set for our traditional chili cook-off in the office. That morning, I got a tip from a source that PGA golfer Dustin Johnson had sued his attorney, Nat Hardwick, for allegedly stealing $3 million from him. Hardwick was the former managing partner of real estate firm Morris Hardwick Schneider and CEO of its affiliated company, LandCastle Title.
A few weeks earlier, Hardwick had resigned his positions after “substantial escrow account misappropriations” were discovered with the accounts of MHS and LandCastle. And I got a tip that Johnson was suing him. I obtained a copy of the lawsuit and went to work on the story, but the office was all abuzz over the chili cook-off and costume contest. I’ll always remember breaking that story and seeing it blow up nationally while the aroma of chili filled our office.
SW: Who surprised you when you met them in person?
BL: Ted Tozer, the former president of Ginnie Mae. I was shocked by how tall he was.
SW: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry over the past six years?
BL: The biggest change is that now it really seems that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are going to exit conservatorship. When I started, and for several years after that, it really seemed like they were going to be in conservatorship forever. There wasn’t any momentum or push to upset the status quo and it seemed like it was going to remain that way into perpetuity. But things are much different now. It’s such a massive 180 from where things were prior to 2017.
SW: When you and I started working for HousingWire, a good day was anything over 5,000 readers. Now our normal is around 80K and it’s not unusual to have more than 120K unique daily visitors. Does that ever freak you out?
BL: Sometimes, when you really think about how many people are reading the articles we write. But more than anything, I’m incredibly proud of how much HousingWire has been able to grow over the last few years. And I’m proud to have played a small part in helping the company grow. None of this would have happened without the hard work and dedication of all of the people at HW now and everyone who came before us.
I was able to help things along in my time, but none of this happens without the work of the editorial team, the audience development team, the sales team, the marketing team, the client success team, the sponsored content team, and the executives. I’m proud to have been their teammate over the last six years.
SW: What are some of the stories you enjoyed working on most?
BL: The stories I liked the most are the ones where I was able to do deeper dives into a particular topic, and ones where you’re able to track the development over time. The Nat Hardwick story, for example. I ended up writing more than 20 articles about that unfortunate situation in my time at HW, and as most journalists in situations like that will tell you, I know much more about this story than I was able to write. But being able to see that story all the way through was something I take pride in.
Another is the series about Nationstar rebranding to Mr. Cooper. Beyond those, any time I was able “take a walk” on something, like when I called out CNBC for how it talked about millennials or when I dissected what I consider to be one of the worst money advice columns I ever read, those were fun to write.
SW: Does New American Funding have any idea how funny you are on Slack?
BL: Well, now I’m blushing. I don’t know about funny. Mildly amusing, at best, I’d say.
SW: What will you miss most about HousingWire?
BL: HousingWire was really the place where I found myself as a professional and a journalist. The team there allowed me (and the rest of the writers) space to find ourselves, discover what we liked writing about, what interested us, and gave us all the help we needed along the way. I learned something new every day I was here, whether it was about the housing business or journalism. And I’ll always be grateful for that. What more can you ask for than a company that helps you grow and learn and progress? And what more can you ask as a journalist than a company that trusts you and supports you?
Beyond all of that, I’ll miss the people of HW. It’s a special place filled with special people. It’s been one of the great honors of my life to call HousingWire my home and I’ll never forget my time here.