The answer may matter to you more than you think, because the folks I call my sources become your sources. They add credibility and context to the customer service stories that you read on my consumer advocacy site.
Last week, you’ll recall, I mentioned some of the “do not mediate” cases, and let it slip that I also have a “do not quote” list comprised of characters I’d never knowingly include in my stories.
Admit it, you’ve waited a whole week for me to reveal that list.
Let’s get right to it, then. Here’s who I try to avoid quoting:
Is it just me, or does it seem as if the same dozen sources are recycled over and over in mainstream media? This lazy Rolodex syndrome, which no journalist is immune to, infects news coverage no matter where you look. (Try searching for the next quoted source you recognize and watch that person’s name pop up under everyone’s byline.) In the travel world, airline and frequent flier program expertise seems to be limited to the same five people. I refuse to participate in that game. They’re banned.
Among consumer advocates, an “apologist” is code for someone who supports a company no matter what it does, and no matter how awful the consequences are for customers. Many industry apologists run blogs or consultancy companies, rarely revealing their close ties to the businesses they supposedly cover. Apologists love to take media calls because it means they’ll be presented in a publication or on TV as an objective source, when in fact they would defend a company regardless of its actions. Some even write for media outlets on a regular basis, when in fact they should be handling the company’s PR. For your convenience, I’ve blacklisted them.
I’ll admit, I’m not very good at spotting a faker. I have a few notable corrections to prove it. It took me several years to figure out that one well-known consumer advocate was not interested in advocating for anyone. By then, it was too late — I’d already endorsed her and supported her issues, until one day, after failing to take the side of consumers in an important debate, I realized that she only had one cause: herself. The world is full of fakers, and I do my best to leave them alone. But quote them in one of my stories? No, thanks. I have a duty to protect you, my readers, from the phonies who would distort the facts and mislead you.
Sources who claim to know a lot about a subject but actually don’t are probably the most difficult to ferret out. Why? Because they can come across as authoritative and educated. Often, you don’t discover you’ve quoted an ignoramus until you watch that source get picked apart in the comments, and by then it’s too late. I’ve eliminated several know-nothing sources from my database after discovering that they could very eloquently articulate a half-truth, if not an outright falsehood.
OK, but who are these people?
Ah, you want me to name names, don’t you? Well, in my younger days I would have called out these incognito PR operatives, shills and posers, but I find that’s highly counter-productive. Sure, I slip up a time or two and call someone an apologist, but that hardly ever happens. Besides, they know who they are, and I imagine they’re breathing a sigh of relief right about now. By the way, you’re welcome.
If you’re really curious, I’d urge you to read my stories and notice who isn’t cited. For example, the next time I write about airline fees, compare my article to another mainstream media story on the same topic. See who I quote. See who they quote. Some names will match up, others will not.
Aha! Chances are, they’re on my list.
It’s a long list, and I make no apologies for it.