I read consumer media articles about the hotel business and think, “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works!”
It’s pretty common in today’s politically charged environment to blame the media for a whole host of things.
When our current president took office and started calling out “The failing New York Times” every chance he got, I fired back every time to whomever was in earshot—my colleagues, my family, my friends. Newspapers are vital to the truth, I’d say. Investigative reporting is some of the only fact-based info-gathering left out there, I’d say.
I truly do believe those statements. It’s why everyone in the Hotel News Now newsroom became a journalist, and in our line of work, facts are facts, whether you’re writing about hotel deals or crime sprees. We deal in facts.
But this week I saw a couple examples that made me say, “Hey now, journalists. Is this what we’re doing now?”
The first thing that pings my radar is the now-accepted use of unnamed sources in all major news outlets.
Citing anonymous sources has its place in legitimate journalism—it’s rooted particularly in government-related reporting that relies on sources with security clearances that prevent them from sharing their name and credentials. (Check out a good explanation of that type of use here, from NPR).
The trickiness with this practice is that it’s impossible for anyone other than the source-cultivator to fact-check the story at hand, and so if you’re going to use anonymous sources, you better have a great reputation as a clear, unbiased reporter. That’s just how it works.
But those practices have filtered down to include just about every self-identified “top-level insider who wishes to remain nameless and therefore un-fact-checked,” every leaker, every bozo who wants to talk, facts or not, without the repercussion of being named or checked. Add in a 24-hour news cycle that needs to stay fresh, and it’s a recipe for factual disaster.
And it’s everywhere now, even in nice, normal, boring hotel industry stories! We didn’t report this week on the rumor that Blackstone was the unnamed private equity bidder chasing RLJ Lodging Trust for a simple reason—we couldn’t confirm it from the source. The Wall Street Journal reporter cited “people familiar with the matter” as the source, and we don’t go for that sort of attribution. Passing that on as fact is like that “Operator” game you played as a kid: If you don’t know whether the original source is fact, then how do you know that you won’t garble it even more in the retelling?
Is it OK to do that because as Americans, we’re used to that sort of lazy reporting now? Or do our bosses and managers demand we do it that way, because it’s what the public wants?
Maybe so. I bring this up not to call out The Wall Street Journal, which employs great people who are fantastic reporters on real estate and hotel development topics, but rather to share the example that this is journalism in many cases now. As readers, we have to be aware of the sources and their credibility at all times, whether it’s a political story or a hotel story. Maybe The Wall Street Journal does this now, and if they do, that’s their business. Maybe there’s a policy around it, or good reasons. But it’s not what Hotel News Now does.
I’m afraid it’s a slippery slope though between changing, more relaxed news attribution policies and just plain bad reporting.
This week I profiled Chawla Hotels, whose principals, Suresh and Dinesh Chawla, are developing the first of Trump Hotel Group’s American Idea hotels and the company’s first Scion hotel. In my research for that interview I read a ton of consumer media articles about—in some iteration or another—this deal, President Donald Trump, how hotels are developed and branded, how management and franchise agreements work and/or how hotel brands and developers agree on sites for new hotels. (Check out this one in particular from Forbes, which should be filed under, “say what now?”)
Many—no, most—were from what I’d consider legitimate news sources. And many—no, most—got it wrong. As I read, I’d think about the lady in that Esurance commercial from a few years back, who said, “That’s not how this works. That’s not how ANY of this works!”
When I got on the phone with Suresh Chawla, he shared how disappointed he was to see facts and interviews about his company and even his family mangled by news sources in the months since it was announced his company would develop the first outposts of these two new brands.
I’m not surprised by it, though, and that’s sad. In my opinion, it’s a combination of faster deadlines in a 24-hour news cycle, some inherent bias and maybe a dash of righteousness.
However, at any rate, incorrect or incomplete reporting in national and global consumer media about how the hotel industry works isn’t something you should just accept. I reach out to reporters when I see they’ve gotten something wrong, and I hope you consider doing it, too.
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