Can you change the world? You bet. Here’s how

This morning we featured a story about Spirit Airlines, a company that’s generated more than its fair share of complaints in the past. Way more than its fair share, actually.

Some of you might wonder: “Why even bother?”

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You’re not going to like the answer — especially if you work for one of the bottom-dwelling airlines, cable TV companies or wireless providers featured on this advocacy site. We write about it and talk about it because it makes a difference.

I’m not going to take credit for the executive changes at Spirit or Wells Fargo. I can’t claim that our advocacy journalism did that. But we played a part.

You can, too.

Public pressure is irresistible. When enough people complain about your product or service, you can’t blame the “free market” for your failings. You can’t throw around fast-food metaphors (Mr. Baldanza, how do you like your burger?) and expect to stay in business.

And we — you and I — are in the public pressure business. The good kind.

Here’s the thing you might not realize, but I will share with you now. Companies care, and they take every post, every comment, every case personally. Not to mention any names, but I’ve heard from managers, VPs and CEOs when our stories publish. And then the comments start appearing. That’s when their bewilderment turns to hurt and anger.

I know that some of the commenters here work for the companies we often criticize. While they might not be here in any official capacity as operatives hoping to counteract the negative publicity generated by these cases, they nonetheless say more about the companies than any individual story could. When I see what our moderation team lovingly calls an “apologist” comment, it means the company cares enough to send someone our way to try to neutralize the bad press they’re getting.

Only, it doesn’t work.

The cases speak for themselves. The real people who experience bad service at the hands of Can’t-Care-Less Corporate America, usually conveyed in these customers’ own words, eloquently say more than any advocate or writer or blog. Their pain and suffering and the way in which cold-hearted company policies exacerbates the suffering, is devastating.

So today, as we ponder this Spirit case, I wanted to give you this message of hope.

Don’t lose hope.

Keep participating in this bold experiment in advocacy journalism. Other sites use their platforms to create personal brands or to wield more influence. I believe the term that gets thrown around is “thought leadership.”

But we just want to make the world better, one small case at a time. And we’ll use whatever means at our disposal to ensure the consumer landscape is just and fair for everyone — not just the one percenters, the card-carrying platinum elites or the shills.

Everyone.

Should journalists be advocates?

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12 thoughts on “Can you change the world? You bet. Here’s how

  1. What a question: should journalists be advocates. Heaven help us if that’s what they become. I don’t mind what columnists write, which is what Chris and his colleagues are. But this is a loaded question. Do we really want our daily newspaper and tv reporters to be advocates? I certainly hope not.

  2. Historically, journalists were definitely advocates. The term “muckraker” was used to identify journalists like Upton Sinclair who identified abuses in politics like Boss Tweed, meat safety, and other things. Teddy Roosevelt reportedly said “There are, in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. . . . I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform, or in book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful.”

    I see Chris (and his team) as our benefactors.

  3. I don’t really mind if a journalist is either a view-neutral or either a pro-/con-view person.. so long as this is clearly and prominently disclosed in advance. I don’t mind bias, I don’t mind opinion — but I think it’s fair for a someone in the journalism area to better define what their function is– thus enabling the reader to better understand their viewpoints.

    I think there’s value in both — one hand being a facts-only type of channel allows the reader to make up their own mind, as independent as possible, free from authors or others bias or implications.. I think there’s also value in being an advocate as sometimes external pressure from a larger “voice” gets action.

    So, I think both are useful and in different cases.. but I think knowing exactly what role the journalist is taking is a fair thing to expect disclosed in advance.

  4. I was quite surprised when I looked up “journalism” on dictionary.com.
    I said no, they should be neutral, although I honestly can’t believe any journalist is truly neutral.
    Should an advocate be a Journalist?

    1. You raise interesting, thoughtful questions. As a journalist for nearly fifty years, I do know that, in the secrecy of our minds, we are not neutral in many cases. But what we write for public consumption must be. For all of those years, I rarely expressed public opinions on most subjects of the day, except perhaps to my wife or my editor. I still have a problem, now that I am retired, expressing opinions on public forums, although that is slowly changing. I was never an editorial writer, so I don’t know how to do that well.

      And regard to whether an advocate should be a journalist, I would only say that some forms of writing employed by an advocate are journalistic in nature: interviewing subjects, getting both sides of the story (which often does not happen in some writing by advocates), writing in a readable way to appeal to most readers, etc. But for an advocate to be a “true” journalist of the objective, daily newspaper type is nearly impossible. Columnists, which most advocates are, can express their opinions freely, even if they don’t back them up. Happens all the time on this page.

  5. Again, a question that can’t be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.” There are different types of journalists. Those reporting the news must be neutral. Other journalists write op/ed pieces–reflecting the journalist’s point of view. Still others, such as yourself, take on the role of consumer advocate by reporting wrongs and trying to right them. One size does not fit all.

  6. As one with a BA in journalism, I can say the ideal is to present both sides in a balanced way. It is impossible for anyone to be completely unbiased unless they are devoid of life experiences. What we are taught is to set our opinions aside and let the story do the talking. That said, there is still a degree of bias in the process based on questions asked, or those that are not asked because you don’t want to hear the answer, and in the quotes one chooses to use or leave out. In the end, I think the goal for most reporters is to be fair. The recent Presidential campaign made me very frustrated with the main stream media for letting one candidate get away with saying just about anything without being challenged (editors said it wasn’t their job to assess the truth of the statements, that it was up to the reader) and to constantly focus on the emails of the other. There are many issues surfacing since the election regarding the President Elect, including tax violations from his foundation, possible payment of campaign workers by a PAC, among others, that had they been challenged prior to the election might have elicited different results. A few reporters did the old fashioned type of work that a free press intended to serve as an unofficial form of checks and balances for those in government are supposed to do. Unfortunately, too many get their news from social media sites like Facebook and twitter.

  7. I’ve faked being a journalist before, both to get favors and special treatment and also to impress woman. I’ve written comments on Yelp which makes me a culinary journalist and I’ve posted on Trip Advisor which makes me a travel journalist.

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