The press is one of the foundations of this country. The power the press has to generate and then sway public opinion is generally unrivaled. Their role as a watchdog has shown much needed sunshine in some very dark places. They can demand and get action. They can educate and inform. They can support a good cause and fight the good fight.
But not everything the press does is well and good. They can slant opinion and spin stories. They can obfuscate the truth. And worst of all, they can spread rumors and lies. I have had multiple experiences dealing with the press, from local to national sources in my roles as a government official and as a landlord. Most of those experiences have been positive, but some have not.
As landlords and real estate investors, we have to be careful when dealing with the press. Sure, it can be exciting talking to the press. You are going to get your name out there, or you are going to set the story straight. But, as discussed previously, many times the press has already formed their opinion of us. We are scam artists, and we are slumlords. And nothing you say will change that opinion. So I am often amazed when I read stories about landlords or real estate investors. Yes, I am amazed that we all generally get such a bad rap. But I am more amazed that landlords and investors even talk to the press, and I wonder what good they thought would ever come out of doing so.
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Should You EVER Talk to the Press?
This all begs the question: Should you as a landlord or real estate investor ever talk to the press? You may not think that such a question is a reasonable one real estate investors should be asking themselves, but if you stay in this business long enough, you will cross paths with the press. So the answer is that it depends. It depends on who you are talking to and what you are talking about.
There are, for lack of a better way to say it, good and bad sources of press. A good source for us to speak with might be a trade journal or a local business paper that is looking to do a story on the rental market, growth in the real estate industry, or perhaps a feature spotlight on the phenomenal growth of Biggerpockets.com or your business. These sources will generally write favorable stories and give you the chance to tell your side of things.
Press such as this can be very favorable to you. It can get your name out there and generate business for you. It will give you and your business some credibility. Hopefully, it will also give you the opportunity to shine a positive light on our industry.
On the flip side, though, even this so-called “good” press can have potential negative side effects. For one, everything you say is now out there and searchable forever. Second, it can put a target on you or your business. Government officials, activists, competitors, and others will be reading — and frankly, you just really do not know where and how that may end up someday.
Then there are the so-called “bad” sources. These are the folks going after the eviction story, the black mold story, or some other sensationalist story. In these circumstances, a reporter has been contacted by your deadbeat tenant or a neighbor who does not like your rehab project. Or they may have just decided to focus on you for who knows what reason. Should you talk to these reporters?
My answer is generally no. I say that even though I know you have likely done nothing wrong and that you desperately want to tell your side of the story. But I also know that whatever you say can and will be used against you. Don’t believe me; think about the bad rap so many of us have, and think about stories you may have seen or read where a landlord or real estate investor is quoted poorly. You just know from experience that there is more to the story, but it seems to have been omitted. Guess who omitted it or spun it to make them look bad? Trust me, it is much better to read “no comment” than some misspoken or misrepresented quote.
5 Tips for Speaking With Reporters
Ultimately, you will have to decide if it is worth it to speak to the press when the time comes. As I said, it might be beneficial, but I also know of people and organizations who refuse to speak to any press at all because they have been burned in the past.
Whatever you decide to do, here are some things you need to keep in mind.
- Be careful what you say. Do not trust “off the record” unless you know the credibility of the reporter. Do not say anything that you would not want the world to know. It will always be out there and searchable. It can and will be used against you.
- Always take the high road. Be nice about everything and everyone.
- Enforcers will be watching. More than once, I have read a story where someone points out a zoning or code violation, and then guess what happens? Code enforcement arrives in the next few days and drags them into a government red tape quagmire. They may not have even known they were in violation and thought everything was legal. It will not matter.
- Reporters spin things. Hard to believe, I know, but it is true. Remember that many are chasing a narrative, not the truth. They already know the truth, which is that you are a rich, greedy landlord and anything you say will simply be spun to back that narrative up. Not all reporters are this way, but how will you know? Best to be careful.
- Reporters always, always, always have the last word. No matter what you say, no matter what your side is, the reporter has the final say as to what gets printed and what does not.
I know many of you are thinking that the press will never be interested in you, but you are only one lawsuit, eviction, or angry tenant away from a call asking for your comment. If you choose to comment, remember the tips in this article. They may save you some embarrassment, keep money in your pocket, or help you avoid losing the case.
Ever had any dealings with the press? How did it go?
Please share with your comments.