Turning 10: Learning to live without friends

By Amir Korangy | April 01, 2013 07:00AM

Amir Korangy

“Newspapers should have no friends,” publisher Joseph Pulitzer once said. That’s what I’ve learned in my 10 years since founding The Real Deal.

Sure, I’ve formed a lot of great relationships and met a lot of great people, who I want to thank for helping feed The Real Deal’s success. But being a magazine publisher can be a lonely job.

We’ve covered the market’s booms and busts, the players who’ve climbed to the top of the industry and those who have fallen fast after billion-dollar losses. We’ve written about record-breaking deals and covered the bitter lawsuits that inevitably spring up when the market sours.

When people do like a story, you usually don’t hear from them. When people don’t, it’s not unusual for me to get 15 voicemails from one person in the span of an hour if I’ve left my desk for a meeting. And, of course, there are no off-limit times for angry publicists or CEOs when it comes to stories they would rather not see in print.

CEOs of major companies have said to me they would “destroy me.” One executive who was unhappy with a story even threateningly told me, “New York is a dangerous place. Accidents happen.”

Then there was the time when a company head, who was featured on the cover, threatened to fly to The Real Deal’s printing press in New Jersey and pay to destroy all copies of the issue.

But that is clearly the price of editorial independence, which has been the cornerstone of our success.

I launched the magazine in my Brooklyn apartment a decade ago, after starting as a real estate investor, because I realized there was no sophisticated coverage for real estate insiders. Too much of what was being written was recycled news and self-serving press releases. Too little of it was “speaking truth to power” in the form of insightful, balanced coverage of both the positives and negatives in the market.

I know The Real Deal has changed the way the industry is covered in New York. The proof is in our loyal readership, on display when we sell out Avery Fisher Hall’s 2,900 seats for a forum; in the million-plus visitors we get on the web each month; and in the awards we’ve won. That’s not to mention our loyal sources and advertisers (those who get that we have to write the news as it happens — warts and all).

Bringing greater transparency to the market — and making it a level playing field for everyone — is the goal.

Transparency has improved in the decade since we’ve launched — thanks to increasingly rigorous coverage by us and by others who have followed us onto the scene. There are, of course, more public records now readily available thanks to the Internet. But there is still plenty to be done.

For example, if the press had done a better job of covering subprime loans during the boom, we could have avoided (or at least reduced) the economic meltdown. But look at how little reform has taken place since the crash and how we are setting ourselves up for another crisis. I assure you, The Real Deal will be there to uncover the warning signs and sound the clarion call next time.

There are plenty of old-school players who have stood in the way of progress. The fact that New York’s residential sector still doesn’t have a Multiple Listing Service is egregious. Transparency has come instead from firms like StreetEasy and OLR, which have sidestepped those recalcitrant mega-players to build the closest thing the market has to an MLS.

Of course, we haven’t been perfect here at the magazine. We’ve made our share of reporting errors and our previous policy of allowing anonymous comments on our website drew industry ire. But we pride ourselves on correcting our inaccuracies as quickly as we can. And we even make structural overhauls where we see fit. Case in point is the web comments: While discussions in that area of the website were hugely active, they often devolved into unnecessarily mean and snarky territory. So we began requiring users to register before posting comments.

The point is, we are learning, too.

The Real Deal’s first decade dovetails with the tenure of Mayor Bloomberg.

The industry has done right by the mayor (whose father incidentally was a real estate broker). I hope the mayor’s commonsense approach to improving the city (even if the ban on sugary sodas was an overreach) will be carried forward by the next mayor. It’s not a given, though — and it’s scary to think that a career politician could again take the helm at City Hall, whether it be Christine Quinn or someone else. It makes me think back to the dark days of David Dinkins.

The magazine’s first decade has also coincided with the rebuilding of ground zero following the Sept. 11 attacks, the gentrification of much of Brooklyn, the reclaiming of the Manhattan waterfront and the development of Hudson Yards.

In many ways, The Real Deal’s growth has mirrored the city’s growth. Our first office was located in a second-floor retail space once occupied by a psychic on 23rd Street; we later upgraded to our current space, which is five times the size. We’ve also grown from one employee to 34 employees (and dozens of freelancers), and I’ve gone from answering the main phone line, distributing copies of the magazine to newsstands myself and designing the pages, to hiring talented people to do that for the magazine. Nonetheless, I am still on-call when someone forgets their keys and needs to lock up the office at night. And I am still the worrier-in-chief.

Whatever the long-term outlook for the city, the immediate future looks bright for real estate. If our magazine page count is any indication of what’s happening in the market, you can sleep easy — this issue is our largest in five years.

Another telling statistic: In the last decade, the number of housing units grew by only 5.3 percent in the city, while the population grew by 9.7 percent. That’s a big supply-demand imbalance, and it’s part of the reason we’re seeing an inventory squeeze now. That’s great news for real estate prices as well as for developers who want to construct more residential buildings.

While the market is heating up again, progress at The Real Deal has been proceeding apace. In the past year, we’ve started a new magazine, Luxury Listings NYC, which targets a general Manhattan audience and reaches more than 100,000 doorsteps; launched an iPad app; had a TRD-created documentary air on PBS; won major awards in two journalism competitions; and surpassed 5 million page views a month on the web.

Real estate is a long-term game, and we plan on being around for the long haul.

Thank you very much for reading. And here’s to another 10 years. Even if it’s hard to keep friends when you’re a publisher, it’s well worth the effort.