The press, the mortgage industry, and our mission at Housing Wire

This is going to be a very personal BuzzPost. HedgeWorld ran a great story yesterday on what it means to work as a member of the press that focused on hedge funds — as publisher of HW, I wanted to call attention to it here, because I think it makes an important point. From the HedgeWorld story:

I know a journalist who once heard some very big news indeed about a giant American hedge fund. He was able to stand up his story by talking to third parties, but, being a conscientious reporter, called the fund for confirmation and comment. After some initial humming and hawing they said they would get back to him. Eventually my friend’s phone rang. It was the U.S. fund. “We have no comment,” they said. “And you can’t quote us on that.” Can’t quote a “no comment?” This is taking discretion to the point of paranoia, and epitomizes what’s wrong with the hedge fund industry’s attitude to the press. Too many in the sector view journalists as the enemy and think the media are somehow out to get them. Ideally, from their point of view, the press would simply go away and they could continue to operate under the radar, away from the glare of media coverage. Fat chance. Hedge funds now control more than $3 trillion globally …

I bring this up because it gets to the core mission of why we’re working so hard here at Housing Wire, and what this news agency exists to do. HW started because I felt that much of the industry “trade press” wasn’t focusing on reporting on the real issues — and I knew it first hand, since I’ve worked in the industry. So much of the water-cooler conversations I heard were around stories and issues that you wouldn’t read in the trade press. When I went to work as associate publisher for one of the trade’s publications, I learned first-hand why this is the case: because many don’t want to tick off a potential or existing advertiser. The result is a bevy of trade publications that run bland press releases verbatim, feature contributed stories that are read like an advertisement, and the like. It’s as if many of the industry’s trade publications sacrificed their press credentials for a spirit of “partnership” and the promise of a steady stream of advertising revenue; while that may work well for the bottom line, it’s not true journalism. It’s also why some of the best reporting on our industry comes from outside of it. I want to change that, and I think we’ve made strong progress in getting there in a very short time. Much of the major financial press now looks to Housing Wire as a primary source of balanced, knowledgeable information about an industry that’s absolutely critical to the nation’s economic health. HW was borne of the sort of a spirit that I believe drives true journalism: a natural cynicism, an open mind, and a willingness to honestly and fairly tackle the issues that matter. I believe the industry is ready for that sort of scrutiny, because it’s coming whether we like it or not. Which brings us back to the “no comment” issue that started this BuzzPost. To paraphrase from the HedgeWorld story, what the public knows about mortgage finance at present is filtered through the biases and misperceptions of the media. This isn’t entirely the fault of journalists: if the industry continually pursues a model of “no comment” as the paragon of modern media relations, what chance is there for the industry’s viewpoint to actually be reported? Housing Wire exists to give the industry a true news platform, a news agency that can be respected both within and outside the trade. Nothing is more important right now than that, and I believe the industry is ready to support such an ethic.

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