In the eighth edition of Behind the Byline, our interview series helping you get to know the journalists who bring you the news, we talk to real estate reporter Mike Rosenberg about his path to journalism, his favorite stories and more.
Mike Rosenberg has been watching a lot of “Bob’s Burgers.”
For the unfamiliar, it’s an animated comedy about an eclectic family who lives above the burger restaurant they run together, perpetually on the verge of going out of business. Bob’s landlord shows up threatening higher rent or eviction more than a few times throughout the series.
Even when watching TV, Rosenberg can’t seem to get away from the world of real estate.
Unsurprisingly though, when he’s not writing it, he’s often reading the news more than he is relaxing in front of the television.
Rosenberg came to the Northwest from the Bay Area, where he spent six years at the San Jose Mercury News. Having migrated from one booming region to another, he’s now in his second year at The Seattle Times. He is driven equally by numbers and curiosity, and he sees parallels between Seattle and San Francisco’s housing markets — and the growing pains both have experienced.
You may know him best from his tweets about how impossible it is to buy a home in the Seattle area or about the challenges facing journalism, but what do you really know about Mike Rosenberg?
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Q: How did you first become interested in journalism?
My first gig was in 2005. I was at Cal State East Bay; the student newspaper was just sitting on my dorm coffee table and I was flipping through it. They had a little ad in there that said you can come be a reporter for the student newspaper and get credit and a little stipend. So I was like, “Oh whatever, I’ll give it a shot.”
At first I wasn’t really into it, but then the next quarter they had an opening for the campus editor [job] that I took. It got me doing stories on stuff going on around campus that students were interested in, gave me a lot more flexibility, and that’s sort of when I got hooked into it.
I became the editor in chief of the paper, did a big thing on the business school there and got the dean to resign. That’s sort of when I caught the journalism bug and knew that it was something that I wanted to do the rest of my life.
Q: How did you become interested in the business/real estate beat?
Housing has been a big deal for me because, coming from the Bay Area, it was just so unbelievably expensive. My wife and I were living there and sort of looked at each other and were like, “Do we really want to each work full-time and live in a studio apartment for the rest of our lives?” It was just like there was no future for us there. It was something that I thought about a lot and wrote about occasionally, but it was also a constant backdrop to everything.
I came here and I was interested in that beat because I could see a lot of the same things happening here that had already priced me and so many other people out of the Bay Area. It was almost like traveling back to the Bay Area five years ago or 10 years ago; you saw Seattle going through all the same problems. It was just interesting for me to see it from a different perspective, and I wanted to cover a beat that people cared about.
The other thing is, I like data and working with numbers, and so much of this beat is numbers-driven that it felt like a better fit for me than another beat that may be less analytical.
Q: How do you prepare for an assignment?
Probably the two biggest ways: Sometimes, there’s something scheduled that I’ll react to, so like there’s a monthly home-sale report that comes out the first week of every month. […] I know I’m going to write about it, so ahead of time I’ll think about what angle I want to take.
Like this month I went back and calculated how much each neighborhood in Seattle had grown in home prices over the past six years and found that the biggest increases were in South Seattle, so it turned into a story about South Seattle basically.
And then the other type is just enterprise stories that start with a question. I’m curious about something, I’ll go seek out the data or sources that might help answer that, and then I’ll just dive into it. And sometimes I’ll find that there’s no easy answer or the data’s just not that interesting and I’ll drop it, but other times it will prove to be something a lot bigger.
Like the story I did last year about Amazon and Seattle becoming the country’s biggest company town. I was just like “It seems like Amazon has a lot of office space here but I don’t really know how that compares to other cities.”
The core of it is just curiosity.
Q: What’s your favorite article you’ve written?
I remember this because it was early in my career. I was covering Caltrain, the train system that runs from San Francisco to Silicon Valley, and its monthly board of directors meetings.
I spent, I don’t know how long it was, going through the minutes of every meeting that they had had in the past few years. This was during a time when they were having tremendous budget deficits and were talking about slashing half the service and basically decimating the system, so there was a lot of scrutiny around this group at the time.
What I found was — I don’t remember the specifics — but an obscene amount of things that they had voted on they had unanimously approved, a lot of times without any discussion whatsoever.
That was a story that taught me that hard work pays off and you can’t just get a quick viral post from talking to one person or looking at one thing. You needed, for those stories to make a difference, to put in the work and time.
Q: Who is another journalist in the newsroom whose work you admire? Why?
Mike Baker and Justin Mayo and their work with investigations. It’s a different sport essentially that they’re playing because they’re not doing daily coverage, but I just don’t think I could do that myself.
And people like Mike Carter and Steve Miletich, who have been doing this for so long. The longevity of it is something that I admire just because it’s so easy to get burnt out on this or to lose your way. I’ve always had this philosophy that I would do this for as long as I could, and it has been probably longer than I had originally expected.
I got incredibly lucky to get that first job that lets you into that second job and so on. When I see people who have been doing this for as long as they have, it’s something I respect.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about Seattle?
There are obvious examples that everyone mentions, like the natural beauty. And I live in Ballard, so you can walk to any type of restaurant or like a dozen different breweries. All that stereotypical BS. But I think the biggest thing for me that I’ve learned since I’ve been here is that it’s a great town to be a news writer in, because people here are so educated and intelligent and into it.
I see it with housing, and I will try to make things as easy to understand as possible, but you don’t have to necessarily dumb it down for people or make it overly simplistic.
I feel like the people here get it and are invested in the idea of a free press and want to support that, which is important and something that’s disappearing.
I don’t think there are that many big cities left that you could say that about.
Q: What does the future of journalism look like to you?
What I actually think it will be is pretty bleak. It feels like, big picture wise, the number of reporters keeps going down, the salaries keep going down, so you start only being able to hire people who will take the job because it’s the only job they can get. You just have this overwhelming sense of “What is the light at the end of the tunnel?”
I still think for those who are in a position to be working right now, it’s a great time to be doing it. I know there’s a lot of crap people take but I still think it’s the best job in the world.
When you’re just working on your stories, getting out of all that big picture stuff and focusing on the day-to-day grind, there’s nothing better. But we’re narrowing the field of people who can do it, and it looks like it will be getting worse before it gets better.
NOTABLE STORIES BY MIKE ROSENBERG
We followed one West Seattle house through the entire home-selling process, taking an inside look at the real-estate market through the eyes of the sellers, buyers and agents. It ended with a twist. (October 6, 2017)
A basic beginner’s explanation for our soaring home prices in King County: There are a lot more people searching for homes, and far fewer homes available for them to buy. (April 17, 2018)
For KOMO journalists frustrated with the direction of their corporate ownership, there’s no easy escape route: Most are under contracts and are barred from jumping ship to a competing TV outlet. (April 3, 2018)
The lighthouse-shaped “home” for sale on the beach in Magnolia is hard to get to, but offers great views once there — though it may have to be demolished. (January 19, 2017)
Want to learn more about your favorite Seattle Times journalist? Send a message to news producer Mohammed Kloub.