Monday, 14 January 2013

Protection



When a newspaper croaks, a loyal and important servant to its community is lost. Or that's what the obituaries say. The truth is, a dead newspaper scarcely bears any resemblance to the mythical beast that will be lionised when the printing presses shut down and the plastic bag full of paper and ink stops landing on lawns each morning. 



The Advocate, its death assured as a marsupial on a Tasmanian road at dusk, will be one of those lionised newspapers. It shouldn't be. The Advocate's turf is one of Australia's most economically disadvantaged electorates, something that goes hand in hand with low education levels. It's almost assured when The Advocate recycles a press release or culls stats to craft a story, the readership won't find themselves digging any deeper. Forget them trawling ABS spreadsheets for reality. 

Sean Ford, senior journalist amongst a bunch of 12 year olds, knows this. He's The Advocate's "resident numbers man" (yep, that's what they call him) a title afforded to the sole person on staff who's bookmarked the ABS website. Sean Ford goes on holiday - no ABS stories. He's the man who'd write stories off the back of Deanne Lamprey's claims of "investors circling" and "housing shortages", all while sales crumbled to 20 year lows and listings went kaboom.

As the new talent in falling house price stories for The Examiner, Deanne still speaks real estate speak, just now in more measured tones. That kind of story wouldn't fly at The Advocate, with its current determination to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and not disappoint Mr Real Estate. Why else would Sean, despite evidence everywhere that Tasmanian real estate is still going nowhere fast, be desperately spruiking with both hands.

Yesterday Mr Ford wowed the local readership with the news:
TASMANIA'S real estate market is continuing to strengthen and first homebuyers are returning to the scene.

There were 801 lending finance commitments to buy housing for owner  occupation  in the state in November in original terms, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
This is fine and dandy - if you regularly use original terms as your gauge. Yet someone can't quite decide the appropriate way to measure housing finance. So how about just using the one that gives consecutive increases...
TASMANIA'S real estate sector is continuing to strengthen.
Loans for owner occupied housing grew for a seventh successive month in trend terms in October, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
And in September...
Finance commitments for owner occupation climbed by 18 to 793 in September in trend terms, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
It was a sixth successive increase, from a 21-year low of 697 in March.
See trend terms are great until they no longer suit the narrative you're going with. In November they actually fell by four, putting on ice the "eighth successive increase" story Sean was ready to go with. So how else to keep the story positive? Switch to original and include a disclaimer further down the page, The Advocate usually uses trend figures, but is using original numbers here because more original data is available for housing finance. Why not report the way you usually do? Not that original hasn't been used in the past...
August housing finance commitments to buy established dwellings for owner occupation were up by 42  to 689 in original terms, according to new Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.
They just haven't been used correctly. Original terms for August 2012 were actually 773 with an increase of 43. Go figure. Who knows where that stat came from.

What gets lost in this spruiktacular story of first home buyer returns and positive leads written with rarely used stats is the data still sucks. In original terms, here's "Tasmania's strengthening real estate market" against the rest of the century.


Another weightbearing, yet termite infested plank of this argument, is the return of the first home buyer.
TASMANIA'S real estate market is continuing to strengthen and first homebuyers are returning to the scene.
First homebuyers are trending upwards and were at 125 in November.
That was down five on October and level with September, but all those months were significantly stronger than the 83 recorded in March and 76 in April.
It might be my unrelenting bias, but I don't see a period so poor since the ABS started measuring housing finance for first home buyers in Tasmania. Bumping off all time lows to get back to barely above decade lows is not worth crowing about. It's not even worth chirping about. It's not even a story. 


Now what's the end result of all this data polishing? Could it be eliciting positive sentiment from those who aren't going to read past the headline and run straight out to organise their finance?



Anyone who needs to read this won't and anyone who reads this doesn't need to. That's the reality. A Fairfax regional owing its existence to being jumpstarted each week by the Domain lift out. Could anyone really expect better?

Nope.

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