The Changing Face Of Property Journalism


While the world of print and broadcasting considers how to keep up with online journalism and social media (a subtext of this week's super-injunction breach-fest) another, more subtle change is happening in property journalism.

There was a time when - at New Year and Easter, then in September and again towards Christmas - property supplements of heavyweight newspapers would have imposing lead articles on the housing market.

Commentators like Hometrack's Richard Donnell, Savills' Yolande Barnes and Lucian Cook, and Knight Frank's Liam Bailey would be quoted in seminal market pieces in the Times and Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph and FT - sometimes other papers too - explaining where to buy or not, and what to expect of the market in coming months.

These articles still exist but you now rarely find them in property supplements - perhaps with the exception of Bricks and Mortar. Instead they are more likely to be found in the personal finance or money supplements of those same papers.

Why? There are three reasons.

Firstly, those old articles are now irrelevent. From 2000 to 2007 people wanted to know about house prices because, in most cases, they were sitting on appreciating assets. Those days have gone. Today the public are aware that house prices outside London have barely remained in positive territory. In the past 12 months, most of the UK's sales market simply has not changed - so a story about it has a struggle to be interesting.

Secondly, the age of mass amateur buy-to-let investors may be over. The rental market is doing very well right now but most people wanting to bolster their pensions just cannot afford BTL deposits and/or mortgages. So there are no more of those market articles citing savvy IT consultants who bought three Barratt flats to let out in Harlow - because most people cannot relate to that any more.

Thirdly, property supplements are far thinner than before because advertising continues to be sluggish. By late May in the 2000 to 2007 period, most supplements would be at full capacity; this year, a few look healthy (and the Independent's property section is even growing in size) but some others are far thinner even than in 2010, and have combined with gardening or other allied subjects to stay afloat.

As a result of these factors, today’s property supplements are given over more to lifestyle issues and (to use the industry jargon) property porn - aspirational stories about homes which most of the readers could not begin to afford, but love to know about.

These stories may not satisfy the property anoraks but they do attract more readers and more advertisers than would detailed market stories of interest only to today’s diminishing numbers of budding landlords or Sarah Beeny types.

That is not to say that well-written and authoritative market information is not routinely available in the press - Ian Cowie in the Telegraph and Tanya Powley in the FT are shining examples. But their work is found in the money pages of their publications, and will stay there until the housing market returns to something like its 2006 appearance.

And no one thinks that is going to happen anytime soon - if ever.

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