The arcane details of leasing and incentives are the sort of thing that get property journalists all excited, but generally leave the wider publishing community a little, well, bored. But the rapid growth of hyper-local blogs, sites which target regions with far more precision than even regional newspapers ever did, has started to change that. In particular, the relationship between big business and small enterprise is proving a fertile ground for stories, and conflict, online.
For example, a minor blogstorm has brewed up in Cardiff, with a local blogger sparking a reaction with a post that alluded to Land Securities and Capital Shopping Centres' St David's Centre.
It all started with a comment by a shop owner to journalist and Cardiff Arcades Project blogger Amy Davies:
For instance, Harriet told me, the huge John Lewis store, frequently hailed as Cardiff's saviour during the recession and permanently packed out with customers, is enjoying a 20-year rent free grace period. 20 YEARS. And what's more, she claims, they have absolutely no commitment to stay after those two decades have lapsed. That's a HUGE, HUGE amount of space with one of its biggest overheads eliminated - is it any wonder it can boast massive profits?
Not surprisingly, this attracted some notice:
Monday afternoon: I receive an email from a representative of St David's saying that comments in the article are inaccurate and asking me to amend the piece. Initially I worry that I'm going to face a lot of hassle, or legal action, so announce on Twitter that I'm going to take the post down. After receiving messages of support I decide to keep the post up but to include parts of the email in the post explaining the position of St David's.
But by this point, the story had spread to The Guardian's local Cardiff blog:
The department store in St David's came under fire yesterday from traders in the Victorian arcades, who felt it was unfair the chain could sit in the city for a number of years for free while local shop keepers were struggling to pay high rates against low footfalls due to chain competition and roadworks.
And with that, things seem to have quietened down a little. However, I think it's interesting to note that Amy saw a real difference in approach between the PRs representing St David's and John Lewis:
I receive an email from John Lewis PR telling me that the publicity that the article has generated can only be a good thing for the arcades project, and they'd love to disclose more information but due to legal binding between them and St David's, they are unable to reveal any of the lease details. This approach I find to be much more friendly, and explanatory, and leaves me feeling satisfied that John Lewis, at least, is happy with the position in the blogpost.
Community engagement is now deeply embedded in the development process. But I wonder how many property companies - and their representatives - have started to come to terms with the new age of hyper-local media? This case suggests that they may have a way to go.
Adam Tinworth is a former Focus journalist, and current editorial developement manager for estatesgazette.com's publishers, Reed Business Information. He blogs at One Man & His Blog.