Property Journalism - Two Into One Just Won't Go

There’s a contradiction in property journalism right now.

There are fewer papers and magazines so fewer property articles, yet many agents and developers are spending more trying to get a share of that reducing coverage.

A recent blog here highlighted the fall in property pages in national newspapers. The signs continue to appear at every twist and turn.

The London Evening Standard is talking with advertisers and property PRs about reshaping its Homes & Property supplement, possibly linking advertising and editorial more closely, which may reduce the number of genuine articles. One national newspaper is considering scrapping its current property section completely. Even Estates Gazette has ended its weekly Residential News page.

As a result some property journalists have quit the business. A Times property writer has gone and two freelances have switched to PR; two others are moving to other subject areas. So there are fewer writers because there are fewer property stories.

Yet more estate agents and developers appear willing to spend on PR.

Most PR agencies I speak with have more business now than a year ago and some are recruiting extra staff. Hamptons and Carter Jonas have beefed up in-house PR and most mainstream house builders are at least maintaining current PR spend.

This is good news as it indicates an industry slowly regaining confidence. But as a key activity of this relatively-strong PR sector is to get its clients into the relatively-weak property journalism sector, the problem becomes clear – public relations executives have to get more and more of ‘their people’ into fewer and fewer outlets.
Most PRs are scrupulously professional (as they should be – don’t forget that some charge clients £3,000 a month) and the increased competition for attention from their rivals will mean they will have to be even more rigorous.

Occasionally some may try too hard. The PR head of one top-end estate agent, in a bid to keep up with the well-publicised research teams at Savills and Knight Frank, simply made up – yes, made up – ‘research data’ to be quoted by her firm.

That uber-cynicism is rare and of course some journalists try too hard as well.

But the low volume of advertising and volatile housing market mean it remains a difficult time for property journalism. With the economy about to undergo spending cuts and tax rises, that difficult time looks set to last quite a while yet…

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