Sunday, June 17, 2007

You should see their LIBRARY!

Just tonight, I was imagining a world where people valued books like they do property...

Ya see, I'm increasingly frustrated by the value given to property, and by the way it's treated by the media. I ain't dumb, I know that property is more valuable because there is less of it. Basic economics and that. But that does not justify the way newspapers cover this subject in their Real Estate sections.

Witness the Boston Globe, a paper that was once thought of quite highly. Some of us locals really enjoy the regular jabs at the Globe provided by its snarky nephew in this city, The Weekly Dig. Their "Media Farm" column does a fine job skewering Boston's only broadsheet paper. But my point is that the Globe has officially, probably starting years ago, rolled over and played dead at the feet of area realtors. I read yet another mind-sucking, feckless article just today, in the big fat Sunday Real Estate section, that only confirmed this suspicion.

In the article, writer Gail Ravgiala alerts readers to a new development in South Boston that promises to bring some "edge" to this "area in transition." What really strikes me about this, how shall we say... giant pile of guano, is the superlatives, the endless celebration happening in these 6 or so columns. Some examples:

- "The three condo complexes that Utile Inc., a Boston architectural and planning firm where LeBlanc is a principal, helped design along the industrial seam between old South Boston and the new Seaport District are at once strikingly contemporary and comfortably in sync with historic buildings around them."

- "His firm, Turnstone Properties Inc. of Cohasset, teamed up with Robert Linn of Moskow Architects in Boston to create a building that walks the aesthetic fine line of fitting in and making a statement."

- "With their simple shapes and three- and four-story heights, the two modernist, dark gray buildings on the East Second Street end create a low-key link between the residential and industrial zones. The buildings also embrace green design and have state-of-the-art amenities."

- "The buildings are flush with the sidewalk, making them more in keeping with the existing structures than if they had been set back. The facades are dramatic but refined."

And when the fearless reporter starts to question all this wonderful goodness, this li'l development of heaven, she realizes, there's no need!

And how do the neighbors feel about the design?

"The most negative thing I've heard so far," said Neilson, "is, 'It doesn't look like my house.' We didn't want to mimic the past. We are just trying to create honest buildings. We made them neutral, not flashy, but they become significant nonetheless.

Done and done. No fastball by this gal! Consider this story... scooped.

Then you flip to the Ideas section in the paper, which covers books and thoughts and intellectuals and writers and events, etc etc... There is no such love. But then again, can you imagine if people wrote about books in this kind of way, for a major urban paper? No, in fact, as we all know, book review sections are getting cut instead. I don't know that Real Estate sections have such fear of demise. I imagine not.

Again, I know Real Estate provides more opportunity for profit. I can't imagine what the Globe makes whenever it posts its Home of the Week (this week, a nice former church selling to some lucky family for a mere $639k!). At the same time, publishers can't be bothered to buy ads in review sections to keep them alive. I know I've heard the discussion. Does it lead to any sales at all?

And these special sections are different from the front section that has general news. These sections have to earn their keep, appealing to a strong niche with a powerful industry driving it. Will books ever be a powerful industry again? Publishers hope to get "off the page" media mentions, in general interest articles or articles on fashion or education or even real estate, in those busier, more visited pages. It seems everyone wants off the book review pages.

I was with some writers this last week who shall remain nameless - and trust me, that's for the best - and one of them admitted to not reading the New York Review of Books' articles because they're too long. They ARE too long! Anyway, a fairly long conversation ensued about reading reviews, reading the New York Times and their Sunday reviews, and one wonders if things on books - newspaper sections, magazines, even blogs - can survive. Are books alone enough of a subject to keep the general public - not editors, not authors - interested?

Real estate is forever of interest. We're told it's security, it's what you do, it's how you get ahead, and at best, it's a risk that can pay off big. Books hold no such promise, and even worse, some people read books or read about books because they think they should.

In an age of media saturation and wireless networks galore, can something labeled BOOKS - hell, even a store - remain feasible?

And is everyone as freaked out by this thought as I am?

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