News Literacy, Like Civic Literacy, Needs to Be Taught

I’m not alone in pointing out that our electorate suffers from a lack of civics literacy. Surveys have shown, for example, that a majority of Americans can’t name the three branches of government and don’t know that they are co-equal.

I suggest, however, that we also need to promote news literacy. The lack of knowledge about professional journalism demonstrates this need. Most people don’t understand the difference between straight news articles and columns. They think a news article is biased when the reporter quotes someone who expresses an opinion they disagree with, ignoring how the same article quoted opinions they do agree with.  But an article that quotes only one side of an issue is not a news article at all. It is an opinion piece, and such pieces are clearly identified as opinion in a newspaper that adheres to journalistic principles.

Society would benefit from having the principles of journalism taught in America’s schools. The following is copied and pasted from www.EthicalJournalismNetwork.org.

Five Core Principles of Journalism

1. Truth and Accuracy

Journalists cannot always guarantee ‘truth’, but getting the facts right is the cardinal principle of journalism. We should always strive for accuracy, give all the relevant facts we have and ensure that they have been checked. When we cannot corroborate information we should say so.

2. Independence

Journalists must be independent voices; we should not act, formally or informally, on behalf of special interests whether political, corporate or cultural. We should declare to our editors – or the audience – any of our political affiliations, financial arrangements or other personal information that might constitute a conflict of interest.

3. Fairness and Impartiality

Most stories have at least two sides. While there is no obligation to present every side in every piece, stories should be balanced and add context. Objectivity is not always possible, and may not always be desirable (in the face for example of brutality or inhumanity), but impartial reporting builds trust and confidence.

4. Humanity

Journalists should do no harm. What we publish or broadcast may be hurtful, but we should be aware of the impact of our words and images on the lives of others.

5. Accountability

A sure sign of professionalism and responsible journalism is the ability to hold ourselves accountable. When we commit errors we must correct them and our expressions of regret must be sincere not cynical. We listen to the concerns of our audience. We may not change what readers write or say but we will always provide remedies when we are unfair.


Does journalism need new guidelines?

EJN supporters do not believe that we need to add new rules to regulate journalists and their work in addition to the responsibilities outlined above, but we do support the creation of a legal and social framework, that encourages journalists to respect and follow the established values of their craft.

In doing so, journalists and traditional media, will put themselves in a position to be provide leadership about what constitutes ethical freedom of expression. What is good for journalism is also good for others who use the Internet or online media for public communications.

Accountable Journalism

This collaborative project aims to be the world’s largest collection of ethical codes of conduct and press organisations.

The AccountableJournalism.org website has been developed as a resource to on global media ethics and regulation systems, and provides advice on ethical reporting and dealing with hate speech.

Visit the Accountable Journalism database of codes of media ethics

Happy Thanksgiving! What We at Golden Real Estate Are Grateful for

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I’ve long known the value of practicing gratitude, and Thanksgiving reminds each of us to reflect on our blessings, both individually and as members of our larger communities.

And since these columns are published on Thursdays, it has become a tradition for me to pause on this particular Thursday  to write about my sincere gratitude as an individual, as a husband and step-father, as a Realtor, and as an American.

So, first of all, I’m grateful for having this platform to share with fellow real estate professionals and the general public what I know (and continue to learn) about real estate. Yes, I pay for it, but I have been rewarded greatly for the effort, both in terms of financial gain from the business it generates for me and my broker associates, and by the satisfaction it gives me from indulging in my first and favorite profession, journalism.

To be political for just a moment — and it’s sad to think this is political — I’m grateful for the mainstream media which has weathered four years of assault without forsaking journalistic standards. A free press is essential to our democracy, speaking truth to power unflinchingly.

Naturally, all of us at Golden Real Estate are grateful for those buyers and sellers who have entrusted us with their real estate needs. We know that the sale or purchase of a home is often our clients’ biggest single financial transaction, and we don’t take that responsibility lightly.

Real estate is an interesting profession. For most of us, it was not our first profession. In my case, I didn’t even think of becoming a real estate agent until my 50s. When I earned my license, I discovered several interesting facts about the profession, including that the median age of licensees was my age at the time, 54.

I also learned that it takes several years to become successful in real estate and that the average real estate agent has only two or three closings a year, not enough to make a good living. The majority of new agents give up in their first or second year, having wasted money they could ill afford to lose on software, signs, advertising, licensing and association fees, errors and omissions insurance and more.

I’m grateful when I have the opportunity to educate prospective agents about the difficulty of breaking into this profession and can save them the heartbreak of a lost year or two. But I’m also grateful when I am able to help our own broker associates succeed through the leads this column, our website, and our social media attract for us. As broker/owner, I also serve as a mentor and advisor to them, which I find quite satisfying.

I’m grateful for our MLS (Multiple Listing Service), REcolorado, which has made terrific strides toward being one of the best MLSs in the nation. I’m privileged to represent the Denver Metro Association of Realtors (DMAR) on the Rules & Regulations Committee, providing me with insights I’m then able to share in this space.

DMAR, too, has made great strides under its long-time executive director, Ann Turner. I’m grateful to her and the many Realtors who volunteer on DMAR committees, contributing to the high ethics and professionalism of our industry.

Not all real estate agents are members of the Realtor association, but they all benefit from the work that these associations do. We can all be grateful for the work of the National Association of Realtors, to which all the local Realtor associations belong. From its Washington, DC, office, it lobbies Congress to protect property rights and to fend off legislation that is harmful to our profession and in turn to all property owners.

Newspaper Headline Gave a Distorted Picture of Real Estate Market Under Covid-19

“Hundreds of sellers pull their homes off market,” read the lead headline on the Business page of last Friday’s Denver Post, but the first sentence of the article noted that “thousands [of sellers] went the other way, rushing to list their homes before a major downturn made a sale tougher to achieve.”

The reporter was referring to March statistics quoted by the chair of the market trends committee of the Denver Metro Association of Realtors.

Let’s look at the actual numbers. Yes, 184 listings that were entered during the month of March were “expired” on the MLS by month’s end. Another 443 listings were “withdrawn,” which means the listing agreement is still in effect, but it is not displayed on the MLS until it is made “active” again.

However, 3,525 listings entered last month are already under contract as I write this on April 5th, and another 467 listings have already closed.  Of the ones that closed, 179 were sold before being entered on the MLS, and of the 308 that were exposed to MLS users as active and had already closed by this past weekend, only 13 took longer than a week to go under contract.

 As I write this on April 5th, there are still 4,289 listings that were entered on the MLS during March and are still active.

So, yes, 184 sellers decided not to sell during March, but 8,122 sellers made their homes active on REcolorado during March and did not withdraw or expire them. Another 443 sellers kept their listing agreement active but without exposure on the MLS.  Presumably their listing agents can still sell those listings privately, perhaps keeping their entire commission instead of having to share it with a buyer’s agent.

So the headline was sort of accurate.

By the way, unless the practice has changed since I was a reporter at the Washington Post and then a headline writer at the New York Post, reporters have no say in the headlines that appear above their articles. Instead, a headline writer on the “copy desk” reads the article briefly and writes a headline that fits the assigned character count. As a result, sometimes the headline doesn’t truly reflect the gist of the article, and that may be the case with last Friday’s article.

From the New York Post, I went on to publish several community newspapers in New York City and instructed my reporters to write their own headlines, not knowing what the character count had to be, so the editor had the reporter’s headline as a guide as he rewrote it to fit. 

Getting back to real estate — sorry, I had to vent! — here are the numbers from March 2019:

A total of 7,968 listings were entered as “active” during March 2019, which is fewer than this year, even if you include the 70 listings that were withdrawn by month’s end.  So, not only was the headline misleading, but this March showed increased activity over March 2019.

The fact that 70 listings were expired prematurely in a “normal” month suggests that not all 184 expired listings this year should be attributed to Covid-19.

The market was “hotter” last year, in that over 400 of that month’s listings went under contract in less than 7 days compared to just under 300 this March.

I invite any and all reporters writing about real estate statistics to let me fact check their conclusions prior to publication. And suggest your own headlines!

Can you tell that I enjoy statistical analysis?

In Defense of Journalists — They’re Working for You!

I’ve written about the rules of journalism before. (See my Feb. 2, 2017, column at JimSmithColumns.com.) Being a journalist myself, educated in the importance of keeping personal opinion out of news articles, as distinct from columns or editorials, it continues to bother me that the general public doesn’t recognize these distinctions.  Because of that, it’s too easy to dismiss factual news articles as “fake” based on a publication’s editorial position.

Yes, the Washington Post and New York Times express liberal positions in their editorials and many op-ed columns, but the news writers are solid professionals who report just the facts, uncolored by their own or their editorial board’s positions on a given topic. 

While tradition may dictate that each newspaper have opinion pages vs. news pages, it doesn’t have to be that way. I think that newspapers might do themselves, their readers and society a favor by deleting editorial and op-ed pages and publishing only signed letters to the editor.