Hackgate: The Property Version

No journalist - or at least none with any credibility - can feel anything other than shame at the tarnish that News International has bought to the profession.

The revelations, arriving faster than Chris Huhne drives a car, are bad enough. Almost as nauseous is the self-serving nonsense from some journalists who write only salacious gossip and claim it to be a high-principled example of the importance of press freedom.

But there are plenty of blogs about News International’s hacking. You want to know about property journalism’s indiscretions, don’t you? Sadly, they are pretty tame, but after 11 years in the business I can reveal:

- one freelance property journalist (not me, for your information) sent in the same article to the same newspaper, after a gap of two years, merely changing the dates. It was used. This was an example of a new property editor not checking on previous stories;

- another freelance more than once used her partner as a case study in stories, not always declaring the fact to editors or readers. She justified it by saying that he and she were joint owners of the properties about which she was writing .... but then, of course, she did not declare that she had a vested financial interest in the pieces she was penning;

- a Cotswold estate agent, then employed by one of the very best known top end agencies, offered me money to write a favourable story about one of her firm’s estates. I declined but she helpfully told me the name of one of my peers who had, a few weeks earlier, accepted (allegedly);

- one developer coyly asked if I was “in need of a woman” whilst visiting his gleaming new homes. As they used to say on the News of the World, I made my excuses and left. (True in my case, although now who knows about how truthful the NotW journos were when they said that?);

- the head of a small PR firm offered me a bung (a few hundred pounds, monthly, for six months) to mention one of his particularly obscure clients. Again, I declined;

- I and a small number of property journalists have claimed to be prospective buyers of new homes (although giving our real names) in order to find out the reduced prices being offered by developers whose PRs denied any reductions were available;

- of lesser importance, two property hacks once competed to get one particular band’s song titles into the intros of their stories. It was some years ago and was just a two month-long wager. And, dear reader, I have to admit I was one of those two journalists; and I was the more successful of the pair, too. Silly? Of course - but those were innocent times.

There. I told you it would be feeble, at least compared to what we are hearing from News International, and which may now stretch to the Sunday Times as well as the tabloids. But a serious message is clear in all this; there is a lot of money in the property building and sales business, especially compared to the low returns on property journalism. When you then feed in the ‘easy route’ offered by PRs to those wanting to write favourable stories, it is easy to see how corruption starts.

So like a good journalist, you should always be sceptical about what you read, hear and see. And that goes for what journalists print, say and broadcast, too.

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