Financial journalism is usually a pretty clean place to be. At Real Estate Finance & Investment, we write about who is buying and selling buildings and how they’re being financed. Sure, there are a few feel-good stories, tons of genuine enthusiasm, and as many funny quotes as we can fit in but our coverage is pretty cut and dry: How much did the building sell for? Who’s doing the financing? What’s the big picture?
Every so often, however, something happens that bridges the gap between financial and mainstream journalism. Tropical Storm Harvey, which has devastated Houston, is one of those situations. We’re trying to balance the factual for our readers about what’s going on with institutional-quality commercial real estate in and around Houston with compassion for our local sources, who are living the story that’s live on TV 24 hours a day.
We don’t know a lot right now. There have been reports about massive flooding in some of Houston’s best-known properties, including the Houston Galleria. We’ve got info about the largest properties in the disaster zone that are part of commercial mortgage-backed securities deals. And we’ve talked to people who say it could be weeks before the full extent of the damage is known. Drones likely won’t even be able to take aerial pictures until next week.
Events like Harvey, Hurricane Katrina, and Superstorm Sandy take an emotional toll on journalists, even hard-boiled financial reporters. Part of the reason why many of us got into financial journalism was so that we weren’t the ones asking a family about what it’s like to be displaced. Granted, it’s also not easy to call someone to ask about losing their building – but it’s a lot less personal.
At the end of the day, we’ll keep calling around – and we’ll also keep trying to balance the genuine compassion with our need to help our readers to figure out what’s going on.