Here’s to new beginnings

By | March 31st, 2014

Christopher Elliott at the German Clock Museum. Photo by Aren Elliott.
Christopher Elliott at the German Clock Museum. Photo by Aren Elliott.
I’ve published this site since 1997, which is half an eternity on the Internet.

You’ve seen features come and go, from my first foray into travel commentary — as ABCNews.com’s Crabby Traveler — to my adventures in mainstream media columnizing at The New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today.

If you’ve followed this site, you know that the only constant is change. But today’s changes are so significant that they merit their own story.

I have several big announcements I’d like to share with you:

Hello, King Features. Eight years ago, I signed on as a syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. Together, we built the Travel Troubleshooter brand, distributing it to newspapers across the country. My contract ends on May 1, and I’m really excited to be moving to King Features Syndicate, which is owned by Hearst. The editorial and sales team at Hearst saw my advocacy for what it is – as an effort to help all consumers — and they want to help me realize my goal of assisting as many readers as possible. I’ll have details soon.

Good-bye, Mint.com. At the same time, I’m bidding a fond farewell to my friends at Mint.com. Four years ago, I approached Mint about becoming a contributor to its blog, since I was an enthusiastic user of its personal finance website. Their response: “You would write for us?” We’ve had a wonderful partnership ever since. But as many of you know, my view of “free” products has evolved in the recent past, and it recently became clear that I could no longer accept or endorse Mint’s claim that it was a “free” service.

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Hello, team Elliott. Perhaps the biggest change you’ll notice will take place on this site. I’ve written Elliott.org more or less solo since the beginning, but in the next few weeks I’ll be taking steps toward becoming a group-written consumer advocacy blog. Technically, it will become the official advice site of Travelers United, the organization I co-founded. I’ll be moving my personal site, but will continue to play a leading role in publishing Elliott.org.

Changes like this don’t happen without a reason, and when they do, I think it’s important to appreciate the lessons learned. And for you and me, there are several takeaways:

Be true to yourself. Consumer advocacy can be a lonely and thankless job. You get to write about companies’ mistakes, and even if you’re impartial and fair, feathers will inevitably get ruffled. If an editor instructs you to tone things down or be more positive, you really have to make up your mind about whose side you’re on. Such decisions have immediate financial consequences. But I would rather be honest and broke than compromised and rich.

Who’s on your team is important. In the last six months, I’ve come to rely on an outstanding group of volunteer resolutions specialists who have helped me field questions from readers. I simply can’t say enough nice things about them. They are professionals who care deeply about the plight of the consumer. But when your team is not dedicated to the same mission that you are — when it’s just a business or when they simply fail to support you — then it’s time to make a change. I love my current team. I have the best editors at National Geographic, the Washington Post, USA Today and King Features, and I truly adore my resolutions team supporting me and the consumers I’m trying to help.

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Good readers make you great. In the last year, I’ve also learned the importance of having careful and compassionate readers. You’re the support network that makes all of this possible. You click on the ads that help me pay the bills, you patronize the underwriters that support the site. Also, you leave some pretty amazing, insightful comments. I love you all. But at the same time, I’ve learned that bad readers can drag a site down. I’ve reluctantly blocked, banned and blacklisted several trolls who sent a seemingly never-ending stream of unfair and provocative comments to me via my site and social media. You know what? This site has never been better.

So here’s to new beginnings. I’m sure you’ll like these improvements – I already do.



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