Property Grunt

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Getting her Storey Straight

It maybe a dying medium but there is nothing like seeing your name in the paper. Even if it is an alias.

When I was I contacted by Samantha Storey for her article on real estate blogs I was given ten questions and submitted to her 5 pages of answers which resulted in the following:

Two paragraphs near the end of the article.

For 5 pages of answers I should be annoyed right? This is no way to treat the Grunt right? Actually I am not and the following quote from William Strunk will tell you why.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

William Strunk Jr., Elements of Style

The two constraints that a reporter of Samantha’s caliber must be aware of are time and space. As a New York Times reporter, I suspect she had to deal with multiple deadlines since this was probably not the only article she was writing. Therefore it was in her best interest to use her time wisely to determine what to write and how to write it.

Space in a newspaper is a very limited commodity and from my count Samantha wrote about 2155 words in this article. I suspect she had probably had to some major league editing since she was writing about other blogs besides my own. Newspaper reporting is not like blogging due to these and many other conditions. Therefore Samantha needs to make due with what she has. As far as I am concerned that quote from William Strunk directly applies to how Samantha wrote about the Propertygrunt because it reduced aspects of that interview into a tiny yet tasty morsel. Would I have like to have been quoted? Sure. But I am not going to hold it against her because what she wrote did represent my answers to her questions and I am very well aware of the requirements of her occupation.

However I would like to explain my answers in this interview., named in part for Grunt, a soldier in the G.I. Joe comic book series, is run anonymously by someone in the real estate industry. In an exchange of e-mail messages, he said he had no plans to change the tune or the tone of his four-year-old blog, which gives his perspective of the real estate market as a whole.

Below is the question and answers that refers to my tone of my blog.

3. How has what you write about and how you write about it evolved over the course of running the site? (one blogger I talked to said he started off with a self-righteous tone and then realized it was alienating his readers, for example)

I have been very consistent with misspellings, punctuation and grammatical errors in a lot of my entries. I would not be surprised if some people think I am a reject from an ESL class.

My tone can be quite sharp and it has raised some objections from some of my readers. When I first blogged about the credit crisis, I got one reader who implied a rumble would be the first order of business if we ever met. I also received some objections when I wrote about the bad karma served on a noisy neighbor who became an ex-employee of Lehman Brothers, which was surprising since I made an effort to show compassion. And recently some readers felt I was being too harsh about my criticism of Warren Buffet’s granddaughter.

At one point I blogged about some aspects of my personality and I used a scene from Pulp Fiction and an episode of Dr. Who to illustrate why I write in a certain way. It was important to me that my readers understand that I am not a malicious person but I am human. And just like everyone else, I have my idiosyncrasies. So by now a lot of readers know what to expect from me.

I am definitely aware that my words can draw the ire of others. However, I try not to censor myself in what I write. One of my favorite bloggers was Steve Gilliard who was taken away from us way too early. His resting place is a closely guarded secret for fear that his grave will be desecrated because just as he was loved by many he was also hated by mobs of readers. It is because he pulled no punches with what he wrote and could bring even the strongest man to tears. But from this honesty came great compassion, brilliance and love. That only comes from opening up your heart, which he did.

From NYT

A recent entry, he said, “was about how brokers kept using the word ‘confidence’ after the dismal fourth-quarter market reports.” He lampooned brokers’ use of the word, and wrote seven sizzling paragraphs in boldface capital letters to get his point across.

Once again it is a reference to my entry Broker CONfidence.

The primary focus of her article is that how all these real estate blogs will adapt to this new environment in the post-boom period. Below is Samantha’s exact question and my answer.

7. What is the relevance of the NY real estate blog in a post-boom era? In other words, we all know there is bad news, so how do you plan on going beyond that?

What you are asking not only applies to blogs but also to other forms of media that are getting battered by this economy including newspapers and TV. And I think the answers lies with the King of all media.

Now if you mean by relevance as in why would people read a NY real estate blog when everyone knows that everything has gone FUBAR? It is the same reason why people listen to Howard Stern. Everyone knows that he is going say something offensive, however people still listen to him, even his harshest critics tune in. Why? Because they want to know what he is going to say next.

We all know the reign of pain will be with us for quite awhile yet everyone wants to know how it will manifest itself. What is the real estate landscape going to look like after this correction has ended? What real estate developers will be left standing? Is the end for art and cultural for New York City or is this a new beginning? Is there a way to benefit from the downturn?

There has been a series of falls from grace in the world of the haves and the have nots are being very well entertained. Already 6 years of gains have been wiped out in one year and there have been three suicides of formerly wealthy men because of the economy. One of those who killed himself was Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet who was not only a victim but also an unknowing participant in the Madoff ponzi scheme. Sonja Kohn, another associate of Madoff, could be joining Villehuchet if the Russian Oligarchs have their way after she lost a couple of billion dollars of their money with Madoff.

This is one of the few moments in history where the people who wielded obscene amounts of wealth are now getting their godsmack. It looks like there is still plenty to go around. In end what will happen to these masters of the universe? Will there be any left? Who will replace them?

There is a guy I knew from college who is now getting his MBA and he is completely freaking out because he has no idea where he is going to get a job after he graduates and he has only finished his first semester. It seems that the city has always bounced back stronger than ever after each economic crisis but this particular downturn is completely different since the foundations of the Island of FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate) have been torn asunder. Financial institutions like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brother and Merrill Lynch were once icons of Wall Street are now just remembered in wikipedia stubs and facebook groups. In 3 years, where will he and many others who ran to business and law school go? A better question is where are all the people who are graduating now with their MBAs and JDs going to do?

As for why I thought I would not make the cut, it was due to a question we kept going back and forward on which was regarding my anonymity and why I wanted to keep my identity secret and what the risks were. Below was my final response.

As I have stated before, I’ve run a clean blog and a clean life. As far as I know there is nobody out there with an axe to grind. That does not mean they do not exist. It is not as if Shredder and the Foot Clan are out to get me but how people would react to me if they knew who I was is an unknown. That is what I mean by unnecessary risk. I have been very lucky to interact with other real estate bloggers who are quite informative, open and very supportive. Unfortunately if (you) ever read any of the comments on Curbed, there are a lot of irate readers out there.

Would I lose my job? It is a possibility. Will I confirm it? No. Because the worst-case scenario is that I lose my job.

To be honest with you, it all comes down to this: I just like my privacy.

I was quite unsure if this answer would satisfy her editorial requirements and I would not have been surprised if I was cut from the article. Even if I was, I still would not have held it against her. Like, reporters, particular ones for the New York Times have certain obligations to fulfill in order to publish an article.

And for those of you wondering where I got the name Grunt, below are two links that should explain it.

Grunt File card

Grunt Bio

As I stated before, this is sort of a special moment for me because this is the first time I have ever been interviewed for a New York Times article. It is quite significant for me because I was basically raised on this paper.

It does present a question that has been nagging me for quite awhile. What now? What do I do with this blog? Where do I go from here?

That is an answer for another day.