For a publication that historically has held up free markets as the real Jesus, the Orange County Register's news section has recently has treated Airbnb as if it were the housing equivalent of Mexicans, a public menace deserving of scare tactics. In a late August, staff writer Jessica Kwong highlighted the voices of SanTana neighbors unhappy with a resident's alleged conversion of her home into a short-term vacation rental. Another article a couple of days later, by staff writer Susan Christian Goulding, switched the NIMBY scene to Fountain Valley.
The two articles are laughably one-sided, focusing only on the whines of complaining neighbors and not enough on the Airbnb hosts. In many ways, the sources used in these articles and how these articles are structured contrast with not only how the Register has previously covered the topic, but also the sharing economy in general.
Look through the Register's Airbnb archives from previous years, and you'll find impartial reports based on city council meetings and city laws. For example, when they wrote about Seal Beach's attempt to regulate Airbnb rentals in 2012, they merely reiterated what happened without focusing too much on one party–you know, an objective story. Similar reports in the following years concentrated on other local cities, with many featuring pro-sharing economy statements and praising these businesses as "industry disrupters." HomeAway, a service similar to Airbnb, is great way for property owners to make money of off what they own, they wrote in 2013. In a 2014 piece titled "Not Very Accommodating," they say that Airbnb isn't an annoying hospitality industry disruptor but simply "just a marketplace." One article even calleds out ex-Huntington Beach councilman Joe Carchio for saying the city won't make any revenue off of Airbnb if it didn't regulate it.
Similar attitudes are also evident in articles published earlier this year. California assemblymember Ling Ling Chang wrote an opinion piece called "Supporting the Blossoming 'Sharing Market,'" where she calls Airbnb and Uber good examples of the free market. "Here in California," she wrote, "there is just one thing that could derail this great movement: government." In an article published this past August, the Register's editorial board wrote, "Laguna's desire to ban a resident from deriving economic benefit from their own property is a violation of rights."
Yet just a couple of weeks later another, staff writer Lilly Leung whispered of "cautionary" tales involving using AirBnB, citing an alleged sexual assault in Spain–as if no crimes ever happen in hotels!
Why the scare campaign? Historically, quality-of-life stories have been the Reg's bread-and-butter, a way to rile up their Barcalounge-lounging core Mission Viejo readership into writing letters to the editor. But don't discount an editor's personal obsession over an issue spilling into the Register's pages–witness the nearly daily Disney coverage this year, all no doubt coming from editor-in-chief Rob Curley. Wearing at least one Mickey Mouse item a day? Far bigger a threat to OC than AirBnB–THINK ABOUT IT.