We’re charting a new course with our stories. Are you ready?

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How do you make your favorite advocacy site even better?

Like this:

  • Collect a ton of metrics about your best stories.
  • Listen to your readers.
  • Do something.

That’s what you expect from us. And that’s what you’re about to get.

Right now, many of the stories on this site are indistinguishable from any other travel blog. We have tips and advice, and if you look really hard, you can even find a destination story or two.

But that’s not who we are. We haven’t been that for some time, actually.

While we feature a lot of airline, car rental, cruise and hotel cases, this is not a travel site. It’s a consumer advocacy site.

Tightening our focus

I recently conducted a thorough audit of our existing stories, analyzing our traffic. I also reviewed the reader comments and letters to the editor. They strongly suggested that readers prefer the unique stories involving real consumers and real resolutions.

They were not as enthusiastic about the stories that offered random advice about travel (“10 ways to save money on spring break”).

That makes sense, because that’s what we do. We help people.

Then it occurred to me that we have more than enough source material. Every day, dozens of consumers contact us by filling out a form that explicitly gives us permission to write about them.

We should write about them.

So why are we still publishing stories about abstract topics not even related to what we do, when we have real problems to cover?

I have no idea.

How we’re going to fix it

Change isn’t easy.

We have a roster of incredible columnists who do great work, and I need to persuade them to buy into our consumer focus. For some, it will be easy. They already have their eye on the customer. For others, it might be difficult, perhaps even impossible.

Make no mistake, I love all of our writers and want them to stay here. If they can’t, I’ll work with them to find a new home for their craft.

Here’s what our stories will look like.

✓ If we can’t decide whether to take a case, we’ll publish it under the heading Advocate This!. This is for borderline cases where our team needs your feedback. (Of course, there’ll be a ridiculous poll.)

✓ When a company tries to help but a customer still isn’t happy, we have a category for that: Is This Enough Compensation?.

✓ If we can’t or won’t handle a case, it’ll get published as a Case Dismissed! story.

✓ Resolved cases will now get published under the Problem Solved heading.

✓ All of our 9 a.m. columnists will now run under the Commentary category, but we’re encouraging them to shift their attention to real cases, in line with our laser-like focus on consumers.

This is not going to be painless, and it’s not going to happen overnight. But it’s absolutely necessary. I believe we owe it to you to cover … well, you.

Focusing on consumer cases is:

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • sirwired

    I agree with the plan. There are a bazillion travel blogs, magazines, columns, etc. out there. This site provides a unique service that those others have chosen not to handle.

    That said, it’s “food for thought” if you want to specialize in travel-related cases, or if you want to remove the travel focus entirely, and just act as an ombudsman version of The Consumerist. You certainly handle a lot of non-travel cases and do good work there, but there’s something to be said for an advocacy team (and collection of readers) that are familiar with the quirks of the travel business and have a decent network of contacts (vs., say, cell phone service or auto repair.)

  • ctporter

    I agree with Sirwired, with the widespread use of the internet many consumers are making travel plans/renting cars, etc by the do it yourself (DYI) route and falling victim to not fully understanding what they are doing. The web is great at making it sound so easy and foolproof to DIY, but the cases discussed here clearly show that it is not. This site is good for showing people just exactly what you need to do or know when making travel arrangements. Sometimes, it is obviously a consumers mistake, other times it is debatable, and then there are times when a company is clearly not doing what they should. Name changes, non-refundable tickets, vouchers, weather vs mechanical delays, passport expiration dates, travel insurance, baggage and more airline fees, and seats assignments on airplanes all have issues that catch many people unaware. Travel is complicated, there needs to be a site like this IMHO (in my humble opinion)

  • Regina Litman

    How about the Good News Guy? He needs to stay.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    This is the smart play. Find your strength/niche and own that area. Trying to be many things for many different people just dilutes the content and confuses the reader.

    Because keep in mind, a big chunk of site traffic will always be first-time or irregular visitors. If they quickly see what you are experts at then they will remember that the next time that is what they’re looking for. But a more generic site won’t stick in anybody’s memory. I see so many sites out there that totally miss that reality in their quest to prove they can do everything, all the time.

  • Pat

    As a long time lurker and only recent comment poster, I agree with the change in direction. This site does a service for people. Even when the stories end up being about people that go not deserve help, they are still educational and an interesting read. But many of the opinion pieces would cause me to roll my eyes because what was said.

  • David___1

    I agree. I really don’t need to see things like a story on why I should be eating organic vegetables on this site, especially when that are factually inaccurate.

  • Annie M

    I agree with changing the focus. Everyone loves to see a good consumer story – they are educational for everyone.

  • AAGK

    I love it!

  • judyserienagy

    DEFINITELY!!

  • JewelEyed

    Even with the tips columns, it’ll be easy enough to cite real stories with real mistakes to illustrate why it’s so important to follow the tips.

  • JewelEyed

    Aren’t those already consumer-focused stories?

  • JewelEyed

    YES! I can deal with it being something I disagree with personally, but I expect more of this site than to be reading things that don’t pass basic fact checking scrutiny.

  • joycexyz

    Good plan. I regard the cases as cautionary tales that are educational for all consumers, not just travelers. I do take issue with the comments that are argumentative and/or insulting. That behavior is unhelpful and has no place here.

  • cjbs98

    Makes sense, we can all learn by reading the issues discussed and usually solved here. I enjoy it, rarely comment, but do try to set aside time each week to read through everything that has gone on here. Keep up the excellent work.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Hi Joyce,
    I want you to know that Will (my co- moderator) and I really do make an effort to, well, moderate the tenor of the comments you see here. I just checked, and there are currently 53 people on our list of posters whose comments have been either edited or deleted. 53!! And that’s just since our recent switch from Solid Opinion to Disqus. AND that’s not counting the folks who have been warned, discouraged (it’s a way to make posting more difficult), blacklisted, and outright banned! It’s a never ending battle. But we fight it every day. If you ever think we’re missing something, please let me know at gritchie9@gmail.com. And thanks for reading. :-)
    Grant

  • cscasi

    It sounds like a viable plan but the proof will be in the pudding. Put it out here and let’s see how it goes.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Yup,
    Andrew’s staying. we’d handed him his hat… and were eaaasing him out the door, when he made the same point JE did, “Hey, moderator-boy my articles already ARE consumer-focused. I’m staying!
    Sigh… maybe next time. :-)
    And if the smiley face isn’t enough of a hint, I’m kidding. LOVE me some Good News Guy!

  • this is exciting news…….you may be the ONLY site that even considers the problems of the travelers who are on the road every day, thank you

  • Gary K

    Completely agree, and if you could somehow display the 5 checkmarked items (“Here’s what our stories will look like”) or a shorter version on each page of the website, I think that would reinforce what the site does and help people find what they’re looking for — maybe use some of the fixed whitespace on the left side of the page above/next to the Facebook/Twitter/etc. links?