It's now two years this month since HousingWire first began, and 4,000+ stories and millions of readers later, it's clear that this "little site" isn't so little anymore. But I'm still constantly reminded of why I started this platform back in late 2006, and the latest reminder comes courtesy of the most recent issue of Mortgage Banking Magazine.
The inside back cover advertising position in the Dec. 2008 issue was taken by Franklin American Mortgage Company, a retail, correspondent and wholesale lender that has been thriving during the industry downturn. In the very same issue is an entire feature titled "Franklin American's Formula" that uses six pages to talk about how Franklin American is "one independent mortgage banking firm" that is still "standing tall." With a big full-page picture of the firm's CEO, too.
Coincidence? If you've been around the mortgage trade for any meaningful time period, you already know the answer here. (If you haven't, the answer is "no.")
Franklin American is clearly a success story, but I'd suspect that other successful, independent mortgage banking outfits -- Lenders One and Fairway Independent Mortgage come to mind here, as do a good number of others -- must be wondering why they can't get any ink for their efforts to stay afloat during a changing market. More importantly, there are a fair number of independent mortgage bankers that pay their hard-earned money to the MBA in membership dues each year; this is their reward? To be ignored because a competitor ponied up the extra cash to take an ad spot?
Is it good journalism to focus on just one firm's success story, the very same firm that took out an ad in your magazine? Or is doing so pandering to advertisers, placing advertisers' interests ahead of the interests of readers?
That's a fine line to walk, but looking at the state of the trade press, it's one that too many publications have become all too comfortable walking. And it's a line I was always uncomfortable with when I was editing another publication in this space a few years back.
It's why I started HW -- after all, I think far more about the mortgage trade is broken than just outdated origination models, and archaic servicing practices in need of change. And we've proven without a doubt over the course of the past two years that a market for hard reporting and independent editorial exists in the multi-trillion dollar mortgage banking space -- editorial that exists of its own accord, for readers interest, rather than to nurture the misguided expectations of an advertiser.
While I'm a new media guy, some of the oldest rules in the news business still apply in this emerging world: specifically, focus on your readers, and advertisers will follow. I think too many in the trade press have assumed readers are a given, and none more than a trade organization that forces its membership to automatically subscribe to its own magazine. Did you know that the MBA requires members to take at least one subscription to its magazine? No wonder they're able to post amazing audited subscription totals; but it doesn't mean people make time to sit down and read each issue cover to cover.
That may seem like a disadvantage to other publications without such built-in subscriber bases, but it's not: many of HW's readers, for example, have developed a cult-like affinity for what we do, because we're forced to put a product out that industry executives can't ignore. A product that, dare I say it, they really look forward to receiving. It's how independent media platforms gain subscribers and presence, relative to a trade association that can simply generate subscribers via organizational inertia.
HW is a member of the MBA, because we strongly support moving the industry forward. But if the current crisis has shown us anything, it's this: that the old way of doing things must change. Fundamental to that is the business of how information is exchanged among industry participants. And as we head into HW's third year, I'm as committed as ever to seeing us lead the charge in redefining this critical process in the mortgage and financial markets.
Thanks for helping us reshape the future of the industry, whether you've read us for a few weeks, a few months, or since this whole thing started. I'm really looking forward to 2009!