Thursday, October 4, 2007

Journalistic Integrity

Every day I scour the Web looking for property news that's relevant to the real estate market in Eastern Europe and the emerging Mediterranean in order to add it to Propertastic's News Archive, and also because it's the only way I can personally keep abreast of all that is happening in each of the 16 markets that we cover.

I highly recommend that anyone who is looking seriously at investing in a particular market should skim through the last few months' worth of entries because it does give an excellent objective view as to the current status of each market.

At least it should be objective if I am doing my job properly, although sometimes it's not quite as easy as it sounds. Sometimes it's hard to differentiate between real news and PR spin. Other times it seems as if someone has an axe to grind.

Last Sunday I came across a brief article about the current state of the Moroccan property market which I found on the website of the North Africa Journal:

The bubble may not burst yet but the real estate craze that Morocco has been witnessing shows signs of stabilization, most likely on the temporary basis. There is a consensus as everyone in the real estate sector, from developers to bankers, recognizes that prices have gone through the roof, so to speak. So much so that potential buyers have decided they can no longer afford to purchase a home and prefer to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Mortgage lenders have been among the first ones to warn that the prices of new housing units have been alarmingly exceeding the real value of those units. Driven by unscrupulous developers and their speculative investors, prices reached unprecedented levels that are such a mismatch to the current wage levels in Morocco. And while prices have not decreased yet, they have stabilized to begin to worry the main players in the industry.

Although the article was short on hard data and actual quotations from real people, I thought that it would be an interesting piece to add to our News Archive. The North Africa Journal appears as a reputable site and I thought that it would be interesting to get people thinking because virtually every other article that I have added about Morocco has been very positive indeed.

Less than 24 hours later though, I got the following email in from one of the leading agents covering Morocco:

Dear Nick,

Thanks for the email. But I must admit I am extremely annoyed by the article that appears on your website. It is completely misleading, talks about “unscrupulous developers” and contains no facts or back up for any of the statements made. It is completely irresponsible and the worst example for lazy journalism, indeed it doesn’t even look like it has been properly proof read (see last sentence). Can you explain who benefits from this? Not the client – who is being given wildly speculative, incorrect and unfounded information. Not the agent who sells in Morocco – for obvious reasons or any of the many reputable hard working developers who try to give a good service.

Can you ask one of your “crack researchers” to explain?

I look forward to hearing from you,


Far from being upset at the accusations, I was quite happy to explain our policy when it came to reporting news.
My reply was as follows:


Many thanks for your message. It’s good to hear from you.

Like other organizations covering particular markets online, we scour the Web constantly looking for articles that will be useful for our visitors – in our case individuals who are considering investing in purchasing property in Eastern Europe and the emerging Mediterranean.

We do write our own material and you can read
Propertastic’s own thoughts regarding the current state of the Moroccan market in our Overview section on the market .

As you will read, our own editorial thoughts on the state of the market are very positive. But they are the thoughts of just one organization – namely ours.

We advise our visitors to do as much research as they can
into a market before choosing which is the right one for them. We make it easy for them by republishing all of the news items that we believe are relevant to a market.

The item that you refer to was taken directly from The
North African Journal on 26 September. It appears to be a respectable online publication, as you can see for yourself [at their website].

While checking for news, I come across of a lot of sites that ignore any news from a market that is less than positive. Sure, I can imagine that it keeps their advertisers happy if that’s their business model or else it helps them to sell property if they are in the business directly. However, as a visitor to their site, I soon come to realize that the value of the information on their site is quite worthless if they only present one side of a story. Propertastic! would definitely be the poorer if we adopted a ‘good news only’ policy because it would be a significantly less useful resource for visitors.

I don’t think that any intelligent investor would dismiss Morocco as a potential market from this one article alone, but that they would rather consider it in context with all of the other news articles coming from the market, plus Propertastic’s own overview. As can be seen from our
Moroccan News Archive, the vast majority of news items that we have featured have been highly positive.

This situation is not unique to Morocco either – of the 16 markets we cover, all of them contain both positive and negative news items. In some territories, such as the Baltic States, the articles are overwhelmingly negative, but this reflects our own thoughts on the market.

So, in answer to your question as to who benefits – the answer is that it is the visitor to the site who benefits from getting both sides to every story. Although developers and sales agents might not like it if they get asked difficult questions as a result of these articles, but they should be easy to counter with cold hard facts, and I am all too ready to agree with you that the North African Journal article was very short on facts and very long on one reporter’s personal take on the current state of the Moroccan market.

Reading this article certainly hasn’t changed my opinion that Morocco is a good market to invest in. I doubt very much that it would greatly sway the opinion of any of our visitors either (because if they check the other 15 markets which we cover, they will find similar instances of the occasional negative article mixed in with the positive). After all, there is no such thing as a sure bet in property investment.

It is definitely a very interesting subject that you bring up here about the benefits of providing a full range of opinions regarding each county’s property market and I plan to write something on the next installment of our blog about it.

If you have any additional questions or comments, then I would be very interested in hearing from you.

Many thanks for taking the time and trouble to contact us and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards,


The agent got back to me later that day with the following response:

Dear Nick,

Thanks for your very comprehensive and well argued reply.

I quite agree that there should be no censorship with regard to positive / negative articles. I ensure that we always tell clients that this is an emerging market sothere is an element of risk involved and that this risk is frequently enunciated by “negative” news stories.

My gripe was more that the article was so poorly referenced and sourced without even a name to back up any of the statements. If it had been properly accredited I would have no problem with it. It’s one of my biggest annoyances in the overseas property industry that there are too many lazy agents (bred in Spain during the boom years) who are all too happy to offer soundbites with no real factual basis. This undermines that whole idea of overseas property as a serious investment option.

Since this exchange, I have started to give the source of all of our news so that, if anyone disagrees with an article, they can take it up directly with the original authors of the piece. If anyone else disagrees with any of the news items that are featured on Propertastic! though, please feel free to take a few potshots at the messenger!

I am always interested in hearing your thoughts, and will also give anyone a 'right to reply' here on the blog.

Debate is always good.

No comments: