I am a member of a group that in some quarters is viewed with the same distrust as a gang: the media. We are renowned for nosiness and invasion of privacy. We are one more example of the decline of civilized society.
This was brutally proved on the campus of Virginia Tech University after the horrific shootings by a deranged killer. All across campus, people taped up hand-scrawled signs begging the media to keep away and let them grieve. The request is honorable and reasonable. Of course, I know about the signs because the media reported them.
In that realization lies the essential irony. Our country's conversation about freedom of the press can be had only because the press is free.
I bring this up now because of the Virginia Tech events; the home builder community's reaction to negative economic news; and because of our own reporting on the Giant 400 list, Professional Builder's annual survey of the largest U.S. home builders. We have been conducting this research for 40 years, but this year it was hard. Readers were reluctant to report. Who wants bad news to be public knowledge?
Everyone at PB is cognizant of the awkward but unique role we play. In some ways, we're gossips; we gather information and report it to the community. Of course, our decision about what to report is based on what we think will benefit the community as a whole.
Not surprisingly, some members of the community have chosen to exert more control over their image. For example, a handful of builders refuse to speak to the media. One of the largest companies is so adamant about this it won't speak to us even when we want to report an award it won.
The issue is trust. How can the media re-establish the trust we need so that home builders — our audience — provide information we need to better the community? The answer is two-fold.
First, every day we need to report honestly, even-handedly and without agenda. Over time, trust will grow. But there is no shortcut; it just requires hard work and tenacity.
Secondly, our increasing use of electronic media provides a unique opportunity to improve the community without the filter of the media. You now can control the message through blogs, forums, bulletin boards, videos, podcasts and photo. All the elements of reporting we used to control, you now own.