“Recently, your column has become a bitch session”

Unhappy customers are everywhere. Sometimes, they can even be found on your own doorstep.

So when I heard from longtime reader William Edelstein, demanding that I remove his address from my newsletter distribution list, I wondered what I’d done to upset him.

In answering the question, I’ve discovered a truth about you, my valued readers. When you’re unhappy about something I’ve written on this site, you want to make sure I know about it. (Whether I want to or not.)

“I’ve been a reader of your newsletter forever, and I even had the pleasure of talking to you on the phone at one time,” Edelstein noted. “I am a very frequent traveler and have always found the information you supplied interesting and helpful.”

I could see where this was going. A few years ago, I broadened my focus to advocate non-travel cases. I no longer consider myself a travel blogger or a travel advocate. I simply refer to myself as a consumer advocate. That didn’t sit well with some readers.

“Recently, your column has become a bitch session for not only travel matters but anything else that the consumer is unhappy about,” he continued. “I am not interested in wading through all of the non-travel issues.”

Edelstein adds that, should I ever decide to start a blog dedicated “exclusively” to travel, he would sign up again.

In other words, change your advocacy — or I’m outta here.

I pondered his request. Was Edelstein really having difficulty finding the “unsubscribe” feature, prominently listed at the bottom of every newsletter?

I’ve seen emails like that before, and here’s what they usually look like. This is one from a reader named “Queenie” — no real name given — who wanted to get off my list:

Please remove me from ALL email/subscription lists related to your news letter.
I could not find a place to OPT OUT any where and I am getting to many emails.

Of course, I’m happy to help unsubscribe readers like Queenie. Based on the content of their emails, I think it’s possible that they actually can’t find the unsubscribe link. I don’t want to make what is probably an already difficult situation any harder.

But emails like Edelstein’s are different. Normally, by the time I check to see if they’re subscribed, I see that they’ve already figured out how to click on the link that removes their name from the newsletter subscription list.

So why are they writing me?

The unsubscribe requests by angry but otherwise intelligent readers create a dilemma for me. If I send an email back to someone like Edelstein, acknowledging his request and deleting his email address, then am I not giving him exactly what he wants: a personal acknowledgment that I know I’m engaged in advocacy he doesn’t approve of and journalism he finds distasteful?

And by saying, “No problem, Bill, I’ll take you off the list,” doesn’t that invite him to reply, and start an argument about the direction of my advocacy?

On the other hand, if I do nothing, I’m also sending a message: that I don’t care what he thinks. And he knows that’s not true. Obviously, I wouldn’t be in this line of work if I didn’t care about people.

You see my problem? Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

We get a fair amount of these bogus unsubscribe requests that try to lure me into an argument for which I don’t have the time:

“Remove me now!”
Whenever we mention politics or side too strongly with a consumer on the site, we get the laissez-faire free marketers and the industry apologists sending me the “remove me now!” messages. It’s clear that they know how to get off the list. They’re usually looking for some kind of confession from me, like “Yes, I hate free enterprise” or “Yes, I drive a Prius.” I can’t help them.

“I’m done reading this site!”
I just love those emails. They aren’t unsubscribes, per se, because they normally pop up on social media — specifically on Facebook. A few months ago, I received a message from a long-time reader, saying she was “done” with the site. The reason? I had helped a consumer whom she felt was not worthy. I wanted to be extra helpful, so I made sure she could keep her word. I disabled her ability to post future comments, an act also known as banning.

“I would support you, but only if …”
A slightly less toxic strain of the “unsubscribe” request is the friendly message from a reader that promises to support my advocacy, if only I would be fairer to the “other side” — in other words, if I’d recognize that elite frequent fliers have a right to those lie-flat seats and pricey hors d’oeuvres, and that the tourists sitting in the bleacher seats deserve to be there because you get what you pay for. I politely decline, because you don’t have to be a consumer advocate to know that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, no matter how much you pay for your flight.

In the end, I decided not to do anything with Edelstein’s unsubscribe request, except write this post.

Bill, people bitch because they’re mad that they’re being mistreated, which is something you might not notice from your first-class seat. Although I’m here for everyone, I’m not going to turn a deaf ear to the good people in the back of the plane in order to make the ones in the front feel better about themselves. And I’m not going to ignore the help requests from non-travelers.

So Bill, thanks for reading. Directions to unsubscribe are at the end of your newsletter.

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