Consumerist Undercover At IDT Energy: The Meltdown

From the moment I met up with James, and Doreen, who was going our way, things began to fall apart. Eric told me to follow James, not Carl, who was going solo. I was to listen to James’ instructions, follow his example, and go to wherever he decided we should spend the day. Today was Mt. Vernon, NY, almost 90 minutes from the offices of Midtown Promotions.

Photo: James pitches his offerings to hair salon employees in the Bronx.

This is part 6 of our undercover investigation into IDT Energy, an energy reseller in the New York area…


Following the morning meeting, James told Doreen and I he was heading to Mt. Vernon, which is just north of the Bronx. Mt. Vernon is a small town made up, in part, by commuters to Manhattan and the rest of New York City. James thought we’d be able to find lots of apartment buildings, although I doubted this considering that I knew it to be suburbia. We took the 2 train and got off to catch the crosstown bus. I headed towards the bus stop, as a subway attendant directed, when I noticed James going in another direction. By the time I caught up with him at the bottom of the stairs on the sidewalk, he was already negotiating a ride with a driver standing outside his minivan cab.

Driver: Seven dollars.
James: Six!
Me: What are you doing? I thought we were taking a bus…
Driver: Seven!
James: Okay. Everybody get in.
Me: I am not paying for this. It’s all you.

Doreen and I climbed into the back and James took shotgun. The driver was charming a chubby middle-aged Hispanic woman on the sidewalk with his charming and thick Jamaican accent. After a moment, the driver reached in through the passenger window, over James, to grab his business card. James jerked back in his seat. “What are you doing?!” he yelped.

The driver, still leaning over James’ lap, looked at him and said slowly and distinctly, “I am only getting this woman a business card.”

It was an odd moment but the rest of the ride went well, with the driver cracking jokes about marriage and riffing on the strange fellow Jamaican in his passenger seat. I got into the act and was very self-deprecating and all started out pretty well. From the rear-view mirror, I saw the rain clouds outside reflected on the driver’s thick sunglasses. Then,

Driver: Where do you want to go?
James: Some apartment buildings. Take me to some apartment buildings.
Driver: Like those?

He pointed to the projects. Uh, no, not those, please.

It was 11:30 when the meeting ended, 12:30 when we got off the subway, and 1:00 pm when James and the driver settled on a drop point in a quiet residential neighborhood, consisting mainly of small cottage houses. It was about three minutes from where we got into the van.

I could tell James was amped and determined to make the top sellers list for the day. From deciding on the definite gamble of a work-a-day town like Mt. Vernon, which seeing as how it was far from Midtown, ensured us only a few hours of actual on-the-ground, to haggling with the cab driver about price, to haggling with the cab driver about where the greatest density of large apartment buildings were in Mt. Vernon (James said he scoped the area before), it was clear James had left the morning meeting as pumped as the trainers wanted him.

Doreen was aggressive too, in her own fashion. Her deal was to never stop smiling shyly. “My baby’s in the hospital,” she said in her Bronx accent at one point.

“Your boyfriend’s in the hospital?!” I exclaimed

“No,” Doreen corrected, “My baby’s in the hospital.”

She was twenty, Dominican, and the mother of eight-month-old girl. She’d been working for Midtown since the girl’s birth. Over a cigarette and a stroll through our first neighborhood, Doreen told me about her experiences in the field. There were some days full of sales, and some just full of trudging through puddles.

Doreen and James agreed that the rain would help our sales. “People will feel sorry for us,” said Doreen. The two of them swapped war stories, of the marathons in snowstorms, nailing signature after signature; of nearly 100% success rates in torrential rain.

We reached the first row of “promising” houses. James’ version of “promising” houses meant one-door cottages with yards between them. For the ground we would cover, we would only do half the doors I had hit each day in East Elmhurst/Jackson Heights.

At my first door, a short black woman in her forties answered. “Yes, can I help you?” she asked politely.
“Yeah, I’m with IDT Energy, we’re the suppliers for Con Edison, ” I said.
“You gonna do something about how high my bill is?” she snipped.
“Well, that’s what I’m here to d—”
“You gonna do something about my lights being turned off?” I saw past her into the kitchen, clearly illuminated by an overhead light.
“That’s not me, mam,” I started to say, “That’s Con Ed. We don’t have anything to do with them. We’re just their suppliers…”
She continued to vent, then closed the door in my face.

Back down on the sidewalk, James called after a young Hispanic woman who had walked by him. At first, I thought he was hitting on her, but through his Jamaican accent and what I could gather as the wind whipped his voice back to me, he was asking her to direct us to any large apartment buildings in the area. James followed after the woman.

He passed alongside a basketball/handball court, clearly a schoolyard. The Hispanic woman was about thirty feet ahead when James really began to give chase. He started asking, “Is that an apartment building? Is that an apartment building? Do you live around here?”

She responded, No, that’s a school, I don’t know, and No. Thirty-seconds later the now power-walking woman entered a building James had guessed housed apartments. He shook his head after her.

I was unnerved by what I saw. James, a total stranger in a group of three total strangers on a deserted and rundown block, had just chased a woman by herself down the street. James wasn’t swayed by my protests, saying that Bronx girls “know how to handle themselves. These are smart girls, very smart.”

I argued that had zero to do with what had just happened. Even if I assumed he was right, that she was of superior intelligence, there was no way she could have known we weren’t con artists, thieves, or violent criminals intent on hurting her. I’ve been chased down New York streets before and in every case, despite the pursuer’s protestations, I can say with some certainty that these people were liars and possibly dangerous.

Still, I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, so I just suggested moving to a different area. Doreen agreed. Referring to IDT, she said, “They’ve already been here.” James wasn’t certain the area was tapped out, and besides, he said, we had a perfectly good building in front of us. All we needed to do was find the superintendent.

After ringing a few bells in the building, we gained admittance and took to separate floors. Doreen was not supposed to be working with us and vice versa, but there was no real reason why we couldn’t work together. Safety in numbers was the name of the game; Doreen was young, a new mother, and tiny. And I sure as hell wanted her to stick around— her casual determination to make a buck was a nice contrast to James’ relentlessness.

A woman in the lobby told us there was an office behind her building, and that we might find the super there.

James rang the office buzzer while Doreen and I hung back. After a minute, we turned around to see two maintenance men, dressed in blue jumpers with name patches. Doreen asked them if one of them was the super, and the taller, older, bulkier one said yes. At the same time, a rotund Caucasian woman with large glasses and a loud, piercing voice opened the office door. “Can I help you?” she barked.

As soon as James identified himself as a representative of IDT Energy, she cut him off. Residents didn’t take care of their own Con Ed bills, she yelled. She went on to say we weren’t supposed to be on the property without consent.
“I know,” James replied, “That’s why we are here looking for the super.”
“The super’s right here,” Doreen called back.
But the rotund woman would hear none of it. “There’s already been people through here. And now, if you don’t leave, I’m going to have to call the police.”

Oh, Jesus. Here we go.

“But what about Keyspan?” I heard James say, but that was the last of it for me; I had already begun the quick walk back to the street and safety. I wasn’t about to get arrested for this bullshit— it wouldn’t bring me any closer to the truth and would be a gigantic pain in the ass.

“James!” I called back, trying to snap him back to reality.

On the sidewalk, Doreen told us she was going to go her own way. The incident was the last straw for this neighborhood. I immediately volunteered to accompany her. I knew hanging around James was a waste of time; he would surely have spent the whole day knocking on doors of people who already switched if we hadn’t put our feet down.

James began to follow us, and after losing us along the road, where he couldn’t resist knocking on more doors in the middle of our discussion, called Doreen to tell her to wait.

I began to plot my getaway. Incidentally, I could hardly breathe through my nose thanks to my allergies. It wouldn’t be a lie to say I was sick, and when you factor in that I had been staying up all night trying to outline the day’s work experiences, it was pretty clear I needed an early end to the day to stay sane and healthy.

A woman in a real estate office James had pitched to directed him to a street nearby that supposedly featured several large apartment buildings. On our way, we stopped in one building that had its front door and second door wide open. It was definitely questionable whether we should have been there, whether we were in fact trespassing. Nonetheless, in a building of perhaps fifteen apartments, no sales were made. While working a floor by myself, I spoke to a very excited old man who told me he’d just signed up for IDT. Shit. Another building already pillaged.

Not long after this, I tried to slip away, feigning an increased illness. James instantly whipped out his cell phone and called up Midtown’s office number, then tried to push it into my hand. “Talk to Eric,” he said.

“That’s okay,” I said hurriedly, turning away from the out-thrust phone. “Tell him I’ll call him later.”

I never did. Prying into people’s lives, trying to get them to buy something I didn’t believe in, hanging out with increasingly scary people in sketchy situations… not only was it repulsive, but I wasn’t getting a damn piece of information on the core reason for conducting this sordid investigation in the first place: to determine whether IDT Energy employees were representing themselves as being from ConEd at customer’s doors.

I was done working for Midtown, but I wasn’t done with them. I went home to transcribe my tape recordings, and post Craigslist ads looking for people with information about Midtown Promotions and IDT-Energy.

I got one response.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Day One
2. The Job Interview
3. The Day Of O
4. Let’s Get Juiced
5. The Meeting
6. The Meltdown
7. The Confession

Note: No definitive ties have been established between Midtown Promotions and DS-MAX/Innovage.

Comments

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  1. acambras says:

    Finally posted! Thanks, I can go home now. ;-)

  2. jwarner132 says:

    That wasn’t as quite climactic as I’d hoped for. I wonder what tomorrow’s installment will be like.

    I wonder if Brian jumped ship too quickly. Not that I’m blaming him, that’s some pretty sketchy stuff he ran into. I still wonder though if he had kept with it, eventually one of the salesmen he got paired with might have given him what he wanted (misrepresented themselves as a ConEd employee).

  3. Kung Fu Cantona says:

    Again, I hate to say it, but this was anti-climatic. Just seems like a really shitty job for people that can’t get hired doing a salaried sales job. I agree that James seems to be preying on the old, poor, and immigrant population, but it just doesn’t seem all that nefarious to me.

  4. frowelishnu says:

    I know that this was hard for you and I respect that you put yourself out to get us the scoop and a compelling story to boot,

    But this was the low point in the series.

    Why not take the call to Eric, would have been great stuff for the article.

    It seems like you made up your mind that you were done and wanted to get out as quickly as possible – not get the story as completely as possible.

    Again, I didn’t put myself through the trouble so feel free to disregard my thoughts. I’m just saying, if you were going to do it, do it all the way.

  5. jurgis says:

    It sounds like it just got too uncomfortable to deal with… which is part of the problem with investigative journalism: at which point are you a part of the scheme, contributing to the problem? For instance, joining the KKK to expose them would require you to do things you find morally appalling. It sounds like poor Brian just didn’t have the stomach for it.

    That’s fine, but it makes the investigation much less thorough than it could have been. Investigative journalism on this level requires a certain amount of real acting: creating a persona, etc.

    I would have gone the whole nine yards and kept track of everyone I conned (switching them back after I explain it). I also would have used a fake name and fake identification to obtain the job. Maybe when The Consumerist has more money, they can pursue this kind of reporting.

  6. tcp100 says:

    Hmm, maybe you set us up a bit by calling this “the meltdown”. This whole thing is reminding me a bit of the news teases the network channels do to advertise the evening news.. “What you’re eating might KILL YOU! Tune in at 11..”

    Not to be an ass, but there’s nothing here resembling a meltdown, and really, nothing at all yet with this outfit that isn’t exactly like any other door-to-door sales or even telemarketing operation.

    In fact, this seems no different at all than when I was a paperboy, and we’d be dropped off in a neighborhood to get new subscribers, which happened every few months.

    So.. if the resolution of this whole drawn-out series is “Well, we didn’t find any evidence IDT was doing anything like they accused”, then why turn it into this drawn out day-by-day serial that we all wait for? I mean, all this stuff is in the past, is it not (in other words, it’s already happened.) So come on, is IDT doing what they’ve been accused of on here, or not? I’m having a sneaking suspicion the answer at the end of all this will be “Hmm, we don’t know.”

  7. PaperBoy says:

    Pathetic.

    You call this reporting? Or even useful?

    Next time, get a real journalist to do journalism.

    Bloggers. Meh.

  8. formergr says:

    Um, why is every single person in this story’s race or ethnicity identified? Not sure how that’s relevant, and it’s not necessary to the story.

    Also, yeah, no meltdown that I could find.

  9. DAK says:

    From the original post on 5/29:

    “So, we sent a writer to work for Midtown Promotions, one of the door-to-door companies that gets subscribers for IDT Energy.”

    If I’m Brian, I’m beginning to think someone asked me to do something just a wee bit dangerous, and I’m beginning to get just a wee bit angry. If the IDT Guys are as shady as everyone seems to think they are (and may very well be), I’d be worried too. Assuming any of the personal info on his employment app. was halfway legit, along with the picture and info on this site, I’m guessing it wouldn’t be at all hard to find Brian if one was so inclined.

    That’s an awful lot to deal with for a Fisher-Price “My First Investigative Report” kit.

  10. aragorn79 says:

    While wearing ConEd uniforms is illegal. I think that to pitch “we’re from ConEd” is a dubious, but not illegal statement. Particularly since the electric seems to be all one system anyway. Its reasonable for a sales person to say “We’re here to talk about your Con Ed bill.” While the IDT scam sounds terrible, unless they get sued or fined by the govt, IDT and Midtown will be able to sell their product.

  11. Brilluminati says:

    Wow. I’m not sure if this “investigative” journalist gets paid anything by Consumerist to do this work, but if so, I need to apply for the job.

    You dont pull out of a story like this right when you’re getting the meat of it all.

    Also, I too wonder what the races and accents of the people have to do with the story.

    I expected better.

  12. OBoogie says:

    This was a hugely disappointing conclusion. Nothing has been uncovered, nothing revealed. You shouldn’t have bothered to publish the story at all.

  13. star_ says:

    The real story is that you were onto something and then blew it by being a pussy.

    I also don’t see the need to mention race of the people in this story. Please stop writing and find another career.

  14. lesbiansayswhat says:

    I don’t understand how allergies and James’s desire to not get eaten up by the IDT system and make a living is a reason to bail. I’m guessing (and hoping) that The Confession brings about a new plot twist that gets Brian back into the game to come out with something important. Otherwise it’s akin to a Dan Brown novel where readers are left in an infinite suspended state with only weird descriptions of non-white characters.

  15. Kornkob says:

    I’d have to echo the 2 main sentiments here:

    a) race: unless the race of a subject is somehow relevant there’s no reason to delve into it as far as you did.

    b) ‘the meltdown’? WTF– you had one crappy day– not even a really bad one and you wigged out and didn’t seem to even try to use that as leverage to get to the real meat. Too bad you already sloughed it off—- you could have talked to Eric on the side to see if you could lose James and get a real mentor— someone who might help you find the real dirt.

  16. cryrevolution says:

    You know, the race thing is a bit unsettling, but come on guys! Just yesterday you were praising his journalistic abilities and every other installment has been great! So he had one bad write up. So what? It’s not the “conclusion” folks (see: NEXT: THE CONFESSION). Although him bailing really didn’t equal a meltdown by any means, crap, I’ve done that many times. ESPECIALLY over jobs like this. Door to door, with allergies, in a seedy neighborhood. Come on! Before you knock his journalistic abilities or why he left, lets take a look at WHO exactly was out there, in the trenches, doing this all for the people who have a right to know. AND doing this for us, the readers. So, give him a break. He did this for us.

  17. brianfairbanks says:

    Okay, usually I don’t comment on the comments, but these are ridiculous.

    Why are people talking like this is the last piece? Did you even read it?! At the end, it clearly states that tomorrow’s entry is called the confession. As I stated earlier, this is NOT the last piece. There were two more to go.

    Maybe you should wait to see what tomorrow’s post is about to complain that I didn’t find anything. Then we’ll see. Kinda premature.

    I’ll listen to your complaints and theories then.

  18. brianfairbanks says:

    Also, I don’t agree with the term “Meltdown” either so I’m immune for criticism for it.

    If any of you know anything about journalism, you know that the journalists never come up with their titles or, if they do, they get changed eventually.

  19. formergr says:

    Immune? Seriously?

  20. markymags says:

    I think what most of us, myself included, were hoping that you would uncover something first hand (possibly with photos). Instead you presumably uncover something via a confession from ads you posted on Craigslist. Why not just make a “Confessions of a former IDT employee” post?

  21. enm4r says:

    I guess the assumption to be made at the conclusion of this piece is that going undercover made no difference at all in your investigation, as what you found was available the entire time, and had nothing to do with whether or not you worked there.

    Obviously that might not be the case, but that assumption makes sense the way this led up.

    I would also say I expected more out of “investigative journalism” than this. The undercover part of this story seems so far to have been a wash, which is fine and does happen during investigations, but they’re usually nonstories, or shorts…not week long pieces.

    Those are my only criticisms, it’s not that the piece was bad, but so far it hasn’t really been worthwhile other than “these are shady dudes” and while well written, didn’t really have the substance for 5+ installments. That said, I would still look forward to future work.

  22. lihtox says:

    Every scientist knows that disproving a hypothesis can be just as valuable as proving one, even if it’s less satisfying. The hypothesis here was that IDT was using dishonest business practices; the results of the investigation suggest that these practices are not universal and possibly not even widespread (though the experience of a single observer is not conclusive in that regard).

    It’s also easy to imagine that individual salespeople might be taking the initiative and lying about their affiliation, maybe even to the point of securing fake uniforms, without their bosses knowing about it.

    People are disappointed that nothing juicy turned up yet, but consider: the Consumerist found this fellow to go undercover, announced their desire to go undercover, he writes a report: what are they going to do? Say “Oh sorry, nothing bad turned up” and throw the report away? Why not post it? At the least, it would be a good article to send to friends or family members who might consider applying for one of these positions.

    And that’s ignoring the fact that there is one more article to go.

  23. Marsupial says:

    Yes, lihtox, that would probably have been a better move than posting a serialized five-day account of… of, what? A job? A job where, really, nothing much happened other than someone discovered that he really doesn’t like going door to door? Christ, I should start serializing all of my shitty-job stories; we could go on for months.

    Seriously though, this was a lot of reading for no payoff. Even if something groundbreaking is in tomorrow’s post, another employee’s confession is going to seem disconnected from Brian’s account. I understand that this was a promised story, etc., but maybe it should have been read or edited before it was promised. Stories get killed all the time — that’s what editors do.

  24. alk509 says:

    Man, that sucked… When I saw yesterday that an abrupt ending was coming, I suspected it wouldn’t be good.

    I had such high hopes for this story. :-(

  25. alk509 says:

    @Marsupial: Perhaps in the last episode Brian’s Craigslist source will turn out to be Eric himself, who’s been climbing up the DS-Max/Innovage ladder for years to avenge the death of his father, who was killed a Con-Ed-shirt-wearing IDT peddler. They will then infiltrate DS-Max headquarters, where they will find that the employees wearing the fake shirts are actually genetically engineered, next-generation super salesmen! Chase scene, explosion, Eric and Brian make out, THE END!

    Won’t our faces be red!

  26. crankymediaguy says:

    I think in tomorrow’s episode, we’ll find out that Eric’s father is Darth Vader and Doreen is his sister.

  27. Khazun says:

    I have to agree with everybody here, while I am sure you will turn something up on Innovage, why do you think they are so hard to nail with anything? They often will not tell you many dodgy practices until you are a ‘lock in’, hell, once I was a ‘lock in’ my comissions were reduced by about half! That’s when I found out about all the juicy stuff -maybe I should release my time with them haha!

    Still have hope for the next two releases though, and look forward to them. Journalist or not, not everybody is cut out to door to door it!

  28. Hawk07 says:

    @Kornkob:

    Why are you and others flipping out on here about race? It gives the story realism since it describes the people associated.

  29. skittlbrau says:

    @Hawk07:

    I can’t speak for other commenters, but I would personally rather not be identified as “a white girl with a chicago accent”. Do you want to be reduced to your color when you are more than just that?

  30. mattbrown says:

    These are really great. Thanks.

  31. Hschwarzkopf says:

    Kind of anticlimactic, but I can’t say that I blame Brian at all; the job in and of itself totally sucks, and the thought of winding up in jail for a night or worse, being shot for chasing somebody in a bad part of town, would be enough to send me home too.

  32. bsheairs says:

    I am standing up and applauding, Brian. If this is your first time doing investigative journalism, you did a stellar job.

    I understand the “meltdown” being a meltdown of your ability to put up with this bullsh*t way of doing business. You had enough, and I can totally appreciate it.

    I had a similar “job” for a day as a kid just out of college. I was teamed up with a sleazy guy who took me through the streets of Philadelphia, trying to sell knock-off garbage door-to-door to store owners. What a creepy profession.

    Here’s hoping that you give it another go, sometime in the future. We need more people willing to put themselves “out there” to expose the truth.

  33. acambras says:

    I’m a little disturbed at all the harsh criticism being piled on here. While some of the criticism may be legit, it’s still pretty harsh.

    Remember the woman with the skull candleholder from Restoration Hardware? Ben made an observation that went something like, “We are very quick to eat our own.” Even though the OP in the candleholder story had admittedly made mistakes, the criticism from commenters was very harsh, judgemental, and often meanspirited. It went from a consumer post to being a commenter referendum about the woman’s intelligence and parenting skills — I imagine the poor woman regrets ever posting to Consumerist.

    I’m not trying to censor anyone, but can’t we focus our vitriol on the people who deserve it (RIAA, cell phone companies, airlines) and be a little bit nicer to our fellow Consumeristas?

  34. alpha says:

    @lihtox (and others)

    It’s not so much that we are upset that he didn’t find anything…That’s completely fine. The issue is bigger than that.

    1) Why drag the story out so long if he himself didn’t find anything? Specifically, I think people are objecting to the sensational title “THE MELTDOWN” that seems to have been used as nothing more than that…a sensational headline to draw people in.

    2) He appears to have quit because some shady stuff was going on. OF COURSE shady stuff was going on! Everyone knew that going into this! Quitting after 5 days because some shady stuff was going on and he hadn’t seen ConEd shirts yet is laughable. Why? Because unless he had reports that new sales people were given these from day one, one should EXPECT that it takes time to get into the shadiest of things. There’s a reason cops and federal agents have to go undercover for months or years. The shady things aren’t revealed to new members of anything (IDT, gangs, drug lords) at first!

    Do we expect him to work there for months? Of course not. But giving up after 5 days just seems pathetic. In his place I would not have expected to have learned much after only a week.

    Now, will we all regret our words after the final part in the series? Perhaps…only time will tell.

  35. Papercutninja says:

    Why all the haterism? What’s the problem?

    Describing race is a problem now you sissies? I am an Asian guy with goofy hair. Was i offended that he described one of the employees as such? No! Am i more than an “Asian guy with goofy hair”? Yep. I sure am, but on the surface, THAT IS WHAT PEOPLE SEE. Brian was SIMPLY DESCRIBING WHAT HE SAW. It’s like saying “we got in a red car”. Don’t nit-pick they way he describes things.

    Morons!

  36. Hawk07 says:

    @baa:

    I just get the impression this is a typical situation where if he said “white guys” nobody would think twice about the story.

    The same goes for the cow powered laptop comment everybody got mad over. If it had been about Christianity, nobody would have said anything.

    I just get frustrated that some vocal people in this country get livid when some european newspapers print “comical depictions” of Allah, but see nothing wrong with a Christian cross in a jar as urine as “artistic expression”.

    Too many double standards. Not saying you fall into this category though.

  37. jeffj-nj says:

    FWIW, I think the piece, as well as all of the other pieces, are fantastically well written. From a purely investigative point of view, okay, you’re not winning any awards any time soon, but you’re certainly doing a helluva lot better job than I – or anyone I know – could’ve done. Regarding race, and any other decision you’ve made in regards to writing, I see no problem with any of it. This series has been the most readable thing I’ve seen on the internet in a long time. In fact, outside of a book, it’s the most interesting and well-written thing I’ve seen anywhere in awhile.

    I don’t know wtf is wrong with star_. I truly don’t.

  38. kromelizard says:

    It’s hilarious that “Dangerous Investigative Journalism” really means “hanging out in the colored people parts of town.” It’s like reading the Village Voice.

  39. enm4r says:

    @baa: Considering there isn’t the time nor care to investigate the complete background of each individual, I’d say the identification isn’t horrible. It gives a more visual story, and they weren’t used in derogatory ways, I don’t see the problem.

    I don’t understand why everyone pretends we have to be colorblind. There’s a huge difference in using race as a descriptor and being discriminatory/racist.

  40. rockergal says:

    For all those complaining about the description of the races, I found that it gave a good visual for the story. Quit trying to be so politically correct. Many people are proud of their heritage and I don’t see why it should not be mentioned. it wasn’t used in a discriminating way it just added some color (pardon the pun) to the story.

  41. gondaba says:

    I didn’t notice anything off color about race myself. I thought the story (as with the rest) were very well written and thoughtful and just generally grand!

    So, maybe I’m just racist, but I didn’t have a problem at all.

  42. ExecutorElassus says:

    Jeez, man, kind of not a story. You got sketched out and bailed because James was doing hard-sell tactics in bad ‘hoods? Not quite on the level of PETA workers infiltrating slaughterhouses to get their scoops, is it?

    C’mon, man: I want to see you whoring yourself out completely, actually scamming people to get your story. Ruin some lives, wreck some marriages, steal some little girl’s puppy. Show some ambition!

  43. mikyrok says:

    So you cracked under the pressure? And they paid you to do this?

  44. ducksauce says:

    This was really more of a Bad Job Story than any kind of Investigative Journalism, but I did enjoy it for what it was. Too bad they had to sell it via bait and switch.

  45. Black Bellamy says:

    @mantari: jesus fucking christ DON’T EMBED SOUND IN YOUR POSTS

  46. Brilluminati says:

    You guys make me laugh.

    If describing the accents and presumed ethnic backgrounds of the parties you come in contact with is good journalism, then this guy deserves a friggin Pulitzer.

    Seriously, I’m not hypersensitive to racism, but it seems like he focused on random things other than the IDT/ConEd issue to mask the fact that there’s not really a story here.

    I think there’s something more, its just that this writer wasnt the right person to send in.

    @ Mantari -that frog is awesome!

  47. Jupiter Jones says:

    @mantari: Your flash animation with autoplaying music is really obnoxious.

  48. SaveMeJeebus says:

    @mantari: Lovin’ the frog!

  49. jeffj-nj says:

    I can’t believe imbedding animations and/or sound are even allowed here! That’s ridiculous. Thankfully, I imagine it’ll come to an abrupt end.

    Mantari, you’re a jack ass.

  50. Chicago7 says:

    @Seymour Scagnetti:

    I agree with you. This is pretty much standard sales techniques that are used all over the place. Telemarketers are worse than this.

  51. John Stracke says:

    My problem with this story is that it’s very badly written and edited. Some examples:

    We were on the 2 train and got off to get what I thought would be a bus, based on the instructions Eric gave us.

    First of all: what is “the 2 train”, and why does it matter? If it matters which train you were on, then say so in a way that will make sense to the readers—most of us are not trapped in New York. If it doesn’t matter, then just say “the subway”.

    Secondly: “based on the instructions Eric gave us” is clumsy. Spread it out into multiple sentences. For example, “We took the subway to X Station. I thought Eric had said we’d be taking the bus the rest of the way, so I headed for the bus stop.”

    I sensed today would be an aggressive today for James.

    Is that supposed to be “an aggressive day“?

    The incident was the last straw for this neighborhood. I immediately volunteered to accompany her. The incident was the last straw for me hanging around James.

    The first and last sentence here are redundant; they were probably copied. Any editor should have caught it.

    Editing doesn’t matter so much in short blog posts, but it becomes a big deal in longer articles like this, where it becomes more work to follow what’s going on.

  52. Jay Levitt says:

    Guys, remember – this is not investigative journalism. This is a Gawker blog. It’s the consumer-rights equivalent of those vanity hardware blogs where someone spends too too many words describing (and taking pictures of) how they unpacked their new gadget. (“I thought that the new 3-mil foam really kept the screen in mint condition, and felt far more upscale than the plastic bags used previously”).

    In ten years, perhaps Gawker will evolve into a journalistic empire. For now, they’re bloggers.

    My two cents: I think that there probably are some marketing co’s for IDT that pull illegal tactics like the ConEd scam, but that Brian signed up with a typical shady MLM no different than the “Program For Higher Goals” that took me door-to-door selling four-dollar candy bars at age 16.

    As investigative journalism, it’s overly melodramatic and ultimately pointless – even if today’s post comes up with some evidence for scamming, it clearly didn’t come from his job experience, so all that could have been summed up in a few paragraphs.

    As a blog post, well, it’s something fun to read.

  53. ckilgore says:

    I’ve had a baby in the hospital and I gotta say I feel for Doreen having to try to do that all day while worrying about a sick child. That blows.

  54. brianfairbanks says:

    I love how everyone is saying I was whining and didn’t feel like continuing, basically that I was lazy. Make sure to read these stories before you comment on them.

    “I wasn’t getting a damn piece of information on the core reason for conducting this sordid investigation in the first place…” THAT’S the reason we pulled the plug. It was pointless to continue because I knew, as you see, that I wouldn’t learn anything this way!

  55. satoru says:

    @mantari:
    Dear god what the hell is that awful music! Don’t embed flash especially annoying music flash into your posts

  56. valkin says:

    I can’t even read the comments because of that stupid music flash that I can’t turn off.

    Grrr, can’t someone get that off this page?

  57. dvddesign says:

    @Mantari

    Great job ruining a story, douchebag.

    Ben or whoever, TAKE HIS COMMENT DOWN!
    I have to mute my sound at work so it doesn’t sound like I’m playing a freakin’ video game when I’m multitasking Firefox and illustrator over 2 monitors.

    Seriously guys, if this story hits digg or slashdot, you’re going to get reamed by people complaining about this jerkoff’s flash cartoon.

  58. Michael Bauser says:

    Putting aside the whole race debate: One desperate month a few years ago, I tried working for a home security company selling ADT systems door-to-door. A lot of my experience there (crazy gung-ho “team leaders”, working played-out neighborhoods, people callng the cops on us) parallels what Brian experienced with IDT.

    So, if anything, the problem with this story is that Brian didn’t get deep enough into IDT to see what distinguishes “sleezy” door-to-door sales (like ADT) from “scamming” door-to-door sales like IDT. I bet half the people as ID salesmen are to dim to realize they’re working for scammers. Management is where the real revelations would be.

    I think Brian’s given a very good portrait of what live is like for the poor bastards who have to resort to door-to-door sales to make a living. That’s a job where you either drink the Kool-Ade (becoming one of those crazy guys who says thinks like “Juice by you!”), or you come to our senses, realize that everyone is crazy, and quit in huff (like Brian and I did).

  59. enm4r says:

    @brianfairbanks: “I wasn’t getting a damn piece of information on the core reason for conducting this sordid investigation in the first place…” THAT’S the reason we pulled the plug. It was pointless to continue because I knew, as you see, that I wouldn’t learn anything this way!

    After a week? Isn’t that like joining a gang and expecting to know all the drug distributors in a week? This is a legit question, obviously I’m not in the situation, but honestly after a week you could see far enough down the road to determine sticking it out for any longer wouldn’t turn up anything? Going into this how long did you think it’d take?

  60. Will Clarke says:

    I’ll be fair to Brian – maybe the reason this is so boring is because it have been edited so poorly. Maybe Ben and whoever said “just give us your notes and we’ll edit them” and then they didn’t. But these reports are incredibly mundane. I would be shocked if an energy marketer DIDN’T run their company like this. If anything, the sense that I get from these articles is that Midtown is run well, and Brian is a little whiny.

    Color me not impressed. Even if the next article reveals some evil misdeeds by Midtown, it will be revealed by some random craigslist respondent, meaning we could have skipped this whole boring series and just read that.

  61. Jay Levitt says:

    @brianfairbanks: “I wasn’t getting a damn piece of information…” No, actually, you were. It just wasn’t information leading you in the direction that you wanted the story to lead. You poked everywhere you could, and found no evidence of the ConEd scamming. That lack of evidence is information – not proof, mind you, but information.

    But it’s not a lot of information. So it probably doesn’t merit filling 6 out of 8 parts of this story. It could have been summed up in a few paragraphs before you got to the “good” information that we’re presumably going to get today or tomorrow.

    PS: Why is this post now only accessible by searching? It’s gone from its normal place in the feed.

  62. Jay Levitt says:

    Erm, ignore my PS. The article’s order got switched for some reason so it is now actually below the “status update” which came before it. I got all confused.

  63. mrbenning says:

    I’ve enjoyed this series and at least the “meltdown” appears to be an honest depiction of what happened.

    Plus, I can’t even think of the last time I’ve been itching for a follow-up article on the Consumerist. There need to be more investigation pieces like this one.

  64. seanSF says:

    That’s it? What kind of investigative reporting is this? It gets a little nasty and the reporter ditches the story? I’ve done this kind of work (door-to-door sales, not investigative reporting) before and it sucks. I hated every second of it. But you’ve barely scratched the surface of this story.

    If you’re going to take the time to set up an investigative piece like this, pick someone who has the stomach for what it takes. When set him alongside the actual street-based employees of Midtown, the reporter comes off as pretty soft. That was a meltdown?? Bad day, yes, but hardly anything to give up the story on.

    And while Doreen, and the rest, may be naive, misguided or just ill-informed, at least they can stick out the hard ass work for more than a week.

  65. ancientsociety says:

    What’s the problem with mentioning someone’s race/skin color as a descriptive term? Just because I say someone is a “black male”, doesn’t mean I’m racist nor does it imply that I’ve made a judgement call about that person.

  66. alk509 says:

    @brianfairbanks: To be clear, I’m not pissed off that you quit, but that you published a six-part non-story. We were all glued to this story under the promise of a big, explosive climax, but instead it just barely went *poof* at the end, see?

    build up… BUILD UP… BUILD UP!!!!……

    …..

    *poof*

    If I were watching this at the movies, I’d want my ten bucks back.

    In all fairness, I thought the writting was terrific. At least good enough to keep me checking the site a hundred times a day.

    Peace,
    Al.

  67. Hawk07 says:

    People whine for no reason. If they really want to go after DS-Max, Midtown Promotions, etc, tell them they’re more than welcome to do it on their own time. If they think they can write a better story and do a better investigation, they’re more than welcome to. It’s the pulse of capitalism.

    Sure undercover work is fun, but how many of you have employers that will foot the bill for this sort of thing? Brian has bills to pay for. I don’t know if he was getting paid to do this, but one thing’s for sure, he wasn’t making squat from Midtown for all his work.

  68. Ben Popken says:

    Mantari, never ever do that again. Thank you.