Editorial Content And Direction, What Needs Improving?

There was discussion in “What Needs Improving On The Consumerist?” about editorial content and direction, so we’re opening up a separate post to discuss these issues.

How would you like The Consumerist to write in 2007? What needs tightening? What topics should we pursue? What ruts have we fallen into? What do you wish we would never post about again? Royal We: lame or totally hot?

Lay out your constructive criticism in the comments or tips@consumerist.com. We’ll take a listen and see what we can do better. — BEN POPKEN


Edit Your Comment

  1. homerjay says:

    This kinda falls into both categories, how bout a sidebar of issues that are being ‘tracked’ like the WalMart tee shirt deal. You can continue to update them for the people that want to read them. You can even have something that tells you when an update has been posted. but for those of us who stopped caring after the second post, it doesn’t clutter up our screen.

  2. homerjay says:

    oh, and I agree that the “royal we” needs to be given the royal flush.

  3. I’d like to see more original exclusive content :)

  4. squidhat says:

    More Canadian stories, Ben!

  5. weave says:

    Investigative journalism, like eating chocolate from 100 different sources to try to narrow down the source of it, followed by the inevitable expose of the effectiveness or lack thereof of various weight loss programs.

  6. Meg Marco says:

    I’ve heard the Special K Diet is Bullshit.

  7. infinitysnake says:

    Yes, more original stories would be nice…mjight bring some consistency, too, as the linked stories are all over the map.

    Also- way, way too top heavy on the phone-carrier stories.

  8. SexCpotatoes says:

    So that’s why the flakes taste so nasty!

  9. isadora says:

    Please watch the grammar. Perhaps I read too fast but it seems a lot of words are dropped/missing? Makes it hard to read! Sorry, grammar bitch, k?

    A greater emphasis on bigger consumer issues, such as predatory lending, evil creditors, etc. I appreciate the Wal-Mart updates (to a point) but there are bigger fish to fry and learning about them would serve a greater purpose than worrying about inappropriately repurposed images. Covering the credit card industry’s evils is just as riveting as Wal-Mart T-shirts! I promise!

  10. acambras says:

    The Royal We is (are?) SO HOT.

  11. scottso says:

    I’d like to see less profanity. One of the web filtering sites has Consumerist blocked due to pornography, which may have something to do with some of the language you use, Ben.

    It’s really hard to read the site away from home (i.e., library, coffee shop, work) not knowing if some vulgar stuff (e.g., the ever-so-delicate word “cocksucker,” which I’ve seen a couple too many times for a site about pretty non-vulgar stuff) is going to show in a story about Elmos or Cingular.

    You could argue that many of the bad consumer incidents are vulgar in their own right, but that’s a different kind of vulgar – not the sort of thing that’s going to get you weird stares when reading the site and someone notices it over your shoulder.

    I don’t want to feel embarassed when reading your site.

  12. acambras says:

    Yeah, scottso has a point.

    I’m personally not offended by the profanity, but it does limit who I can bring onto the Consumerist bandwagon. I’ve thought about telling my dad about this site, but I think the language might send him to cardiac ICU.

    Does this mean we can’t say “asshat” anymore?

  13. Kornkob says:

    To reiterate my previous opinion in the ‘correct’ section: I’d like to see the articles have a closer focus on actual consumer issues instead of humorous, but not really consumer concerned postings.

    When I cite the site, I’d like to be able to know that people who come here will take the information seriously, instead of finding it to be less credible because the first 3 things they see are crass (albeit funny) posts.

    I’ll echo the OP and say a sidebar for updates would be nice instead of pumping the stats by making one of the ‘daily 18’ an update to an already umpteen times ‘updated’ (it’s hard to call it an ‘update’ when it’s just a ‘I found another Waldo’ with no store reposonse) story that was only a little interesting in the first place.

    I also like Isadora’s idea: more focus on meaty consumer issues would be nice. Conversations about real issues are far more interesting than yet another amusing customer service anecdote.

  14. wirelesslanai says:

    I like the site, but I am bothered by the spelling and grammar errors… “wave” for “waive” is a recent example… or the ever-present it’s misused. Seeing unnecessary profanity makes me feel like 20-somethings are posting items and it does detract from your credibility.

    I like the Cingular stories.

  15. notlazyjustdontcare says:

    The humor-only stories may slightly injure the site’s credibility for journalists or something, but they’re valuable for readers who appreciate an even spectrum of levity. Maybe a good compromise is rounding up the day’s humorous anecdotes into one post while devoting an entire post to each serious consumer issue.

    “We” would be okay if posts were signed “the Consumerist.” But they are signed with one person’s name, so it must be “I.” It’s not really a question of style.

  16. Citron says:

    You really should tighten your proofreading, to echo another comment. One of your headlines says “Chemlawn Charges For For Services Never Performed Or Requested.”

  17. Plasmafire says:

    The only improvements I can think of are Gawker commenting system improvements. The Consumerist just seems to keep evolving and improving on its own.

  18. Chris Gibson says:

    Well, I jumped over here from the “technical” improvements thread, just so I could add a log to the fire: please give up the whole WalMart Nazi T-Shirts thing. The first one has a nice ironic flavor to go with my morning coffee, but all the other ones have just sort of seemed a little pathetic and whiny. When Consumerist speaks, it is with a Mighty Voice, and the editorial content should reflect that. Except for sometimes when something is just too damned funny or odd to pass up!

  19. Avenestra says:

    I have to jump on the grammar bandwagon as well. Please take some time to proofread.

    I do like the humor though. I don’t think it detracts; it’s one of the reasons I keep coming back every morning.

  20. kimdog says:

    One thing to remember is that just because something happens in a store or business, doesn’t mean that it is appropriate fodder for the Consumerist. I’m thinking of a story from a while back where some guy was taking pictures of girls butts in stores and then posting them online.

    And I agree with those who think you should moderate the profanity. I’m not asking for a ban, by any means, but the content and mission of the Consumerist has the potential to reach an entirely different demographic than the usual Gawker sites. I think you should try to capitalize on that, and not ostracize potential new readers.

    Oh, and it might be cool to have more posts where commenters can leave their stories. I mean we all have horror stories, and they are fun to read, but don’t always make for postings unto themselves.

  21. radiofree says:

    Keep the royal We. And keep up the good work.

  22. radiofree says:

    And let me add re: the humor: This is not Consumer Reports. It’s Consumerist. It’s a blog. It’s the first line of defense we have for consumer issues. It’s a place to trade informal information about the quality of capitalism in this country. It’s not a tirade against capitalism, it’s not a product review site, it’s not anything but what it purports to be.

    A site where we can bite back.

  23. Magister says:

    Reposting my comments from the first thread:

    Agree on dumping the Wal-Mart T-Shirts updates. Just because Wal-Mart is evil doesn’t mean we need to hear about every percieved slight.

    Unless you just aren’t getting enough user submitted content, I think we should see less of the ‘just bitch’n stuff. Blizzards will delay mail. Deal with it. Fast Food workers will just hand you cheeze in a box if you paid less than 10 bucks to feed a family.

    Help people find better flights. As state previously, we don’t need to know about every single rate hike. Unless, like stated previously, you have grand omnibus posts on the latest in the Airlines Industry. That could be cool.

    Exploding batteries, AOL CSR’s and sleeping Cable techs are the bread and butter of this site. Keep it up.

    New –

    Please watch the misleading article titles. – CompUSA sells Porn filled PC to 13 yo. NO THEY DIDN’T. And no where in that article does it say they did. It was sold to the parents. Lets be a little more even handed. I hate CompUSA as much as anyone, but the general public will see that as just trash from yet another blog.

  24. Phyllis Nefler says:

    I don’t think you should eliminate the “fluff” posts. One of the nice things about the website in my opinion are the frequent updates of the page with new material. I’m not saying you need to sacrifice quality, but those are some of the more fun things to read.

    I also think you should have “Consumer Success Stories” or something of the sort to highlight companies with good user experiences.

    For example, you posted the survey putting Netflix on top for website consumer satisfaction. It might be nice to have a post detailing positive experiences people have had with Netflix (I know I had a wonderful CSR) just to balance out all the negativity.

    I find it also comes in handy if you call a company and say “I read on a consumer website that your company was very helpful in solving x problem and I’m hoping you can do the same for me.” Positive reinforcement, people!

  25. Steve_Holt says:

    Personally, I’d like to second (or third) the idea of a sidebar with a few hot stories that would be regularly updated but wouldn’t get a front-page post.

    Furthermore, some of the newer posts I’ve been seeing are just links to stories on other sites about bad consumers/criminal behavior, etc. While these are usually interesting or at least funny, I don’t think they necessitate their own post. Maybe “we” could just see a single post per day (or week?) that was a “consumer news roundup” of some sort, with several links to funny consumer news stories.

    I’ve been reading consumerist for the better part of a year now, and my favorite content has always been the reader complaints whose emails get posted, then their problems get resolved after some attention from the company in question.

    I expected this type of content to increase after the influx of traffic from the 20/20 and NYT exposure, but was surprised to notice the opposite effect. Maybe people (and companies) felt more comfortable working issues out via the consumerist when it was more of a niche, or maybe I’m just being blinded by some of the fluff posts, who knows.

    Either way, I enjoy it every day and will continue to read it regardless of changes.

    Keep up the good work!

  26. Hoss says:

    The Wal-Mart Nazi T-shirt is a good example… The t-shirt “designer” cavalierly chose an image freely available without regard to origination. The Consumerist did that right thing by harping on the issue – the image is greatly insensitive if not offensive. Good job on sticking with the issue even under some criticism. The Consumerist could, however, have done a better job of crediting the originator of this story.

    I’m a fan of careful drafting — increases credibility, etc. I also agree that “we” is freakin confusing; “we order a Coke and got one-third of the can”, …how many were sharing?

    Lastly, feel free to cut off blog access to anyone and for any reason. But please keep this behind the scenes. Thanks

  27. Sheik says:

    I think a sidebar would be a great idea, easy to track the stories that you want to follow up.

    The we doesn’t bother me(us).

    I would gladly continue ignoring the grammar mistakes if it meant that the post kept coming at the pace they do. There’s always something for me to read on here. This also means that if you don’t care about a certain topic, don’t read it, move on.

    The swearing I actually enjoy. Its great to see that people are getting pissed off by companies that screw them over, instead of just being apathetic. Anyone under the age of 18 probably doesn’t care about consumer issues anyways.

  28. acambras says:

    Hossofcourse — are you referring to keeping commenter banning behind the scenes? Because it doesn’t bother me if Ben and Meghann ban someone and give the reason for doing so.

    One of the many things I like about the Consumerist is that even the snarkiest comments are at a reasonably high level of discourse. I recently went to Yahoo Answers looking for an answer to an immigration question (a preliminary answer, anyway), and half the comments were things like “Just shoot all the damn Mexicans.” Yeah, that’s really helpful. I just gave up because one has to sift through tons of stupidity in order to find any intelligent answers.

    So if Consumerist finds it appropriate to publicly cull commenters, that’s fine with me. Hopefully it helps keep the discourse from degenerating to the level of Yahoo Answers.

  29. Sheik says:

    How about the ability to edit posts?

  30. Seacub says:

    I’d agree with those who are saying less fluff. Or at least low priority on the fluff. I’d also suggest not harping on one company or issue too much (Nazi t-shirt). Didn’t Sploid (god I miss Sploid) keep hotter topics toward the top and lighter news settled in the middle or bottom of the page?

    How about a forum for people to post simple bitch-n-moans as well as recommending companies and services to other Consumerist readers?

    I do love your Morning Deals. And in general the writing style and snark level are perfect!

  31. spanky says:

    Not sure if this is a technical or a content issue, but what if there were some way to make bigger stories more persistent? Some topics are just bigger and more substantial than others, and might merit staying front paged for a bit longer than some of the other, smaller stories.

    I like the range of scope, and like that Consumerist can have a story about some bigassed telco merger and a story about a lady who got mad because you made fun of her fingernails last year. However, it might be good if the stories were weighted such that the bigger and more substantive stories were stickier and would stay on the front page longer, so more people would see them, and commenters had more time to digest and discuss them.

    I like the swearing and the royal we.

  32. snowferret says:

    Im gonig to go with original content too. Its great to get links to good stories and services but it would be really nice to see what you guys are capable of digging up on your own.

  33. Tom says:

    With all due respect to my fellow commenters, some of these suggestions come across as a bit, shall we say, schoolmarmish. Yes, it’s nice and good to take just a second or two to do a bit of proofreading before sending these missives out into the ether, but I don’t see the need to keep the motherfucking profanity out of the cocksucking posts. I work at an institution run by nuns, and the potty-language doesn’t bounce off the screen door that stands between us and the Filthy Web, so if it chokes up the intartubes for anyone, they either need better filtering software, or a better employer.

    Also, the More Serious, Grown-Up Tone that some are advocating puts me in mind of a deadly-earnest college student at a street fair, wearing a button-down chambray shirt (that’s buttoned up to hide their tattoos) and neatly-pressed khakis, sitting with excellent posture behind a card table that holds crisply-folded pamphlets in impeccable piles that are squared-up so that their edges are parallel with the edges of the table, and sneaking sips of bottled water when he thinks no one’s looking. I imagine that college student’s helpful smile wilting as the day grinds on, and him trying not to look too obviously envious of the scruffy-looking bastard in the booth next to him that’s got an old Judas Priest T-shirt on and is telling a semicircle of horrified-yet-fascinated people, “That’s right–there was blood in the taco! And she didn’t notice until her and her one-year-old had already eaten–hey, lady! Yeah, you with the Carmex! Do you have any idea what’s in that shit, or do you not care as long as you can feed your jones?” As long as we don’t get as bad as the Register, I think we’re OK.

    Oh, and one more thing: maybe I missed most of the posts about the Wal-Mart N@z! T-shirts that everyone else seems to have grown so tired of, but I, for one, am still flabbergasted that the Ravenous Blob from Bentonville doesn’t have at least one person in the inbred mess of Ozarks hillbillies that substitutes for their management that has switched on the History Channel once in a while and can recognize that the Totenkopf isn’t just another type of the pirate shit that the kids dig so much these days. We are still amused.

    The Royal We? Eh, whatever.

  34. Tom says:

    I think that the tone of Consumerist fits in well with the rest of the Gawker Media blogs. I don’t see the need to create the type of blog that Consumer Reports would create. And, while I was typing that, I realized that I don’t even know if Consumer Reports even has a blog, even though I respect the work that they do, which really reinforces my point.

    That having been said, I do think that some subjects reach their sell-by date. Probably, we don’t need to hear about the Wal-Mart Totenkopf T-shirts again, unless someone sends in a report of a bunch of hillbillies from the Ozarks goosestepping down the aisles wearing them. Wouldn’t surprise me none.

    Oh, and with regards to the motherfucking profanity: I work at an institution run by nuns, and the cocksucking pottymouth words go right through the web filter. It would probably be a good idea to keep them out of the rather large headlines, though.

  35. Tom says:

    Dang! Just commented twice. Feel free to nuke the first, overly verbose one, if it do please you.

  36. adamondi says:

    The royal we is so hot.

    When it is used seriously, it is completely appropriate. After all, both Ben and Meghann are posting on behalf of “The Consumerist” as a whole, which is made up of more than one person. So the royal we is completely acceptable.

    However, when it is used purposely instead of the grammatically correct “I” when a poster is speaking exclusively of himself or herself, it becomes funny.

    I say: Keep the royal we!!

  37. MattyMatt says:

    I think trust in the site might be enhanced through the development of clearly stated and adhered-to journalistic standards. (As a blogger-journalist, I’ve found that building trust = better tips and more access.) Casual readers won’t really notice, but fans like me will, and so will the individuals on whom you rely for information.

    To that end, I think Consumerist might benefit from a reconsideration of Ben’s previously stated method of “throw it out there and see what sticks.”

  38. William Mize says:

    Cut back on the snark and just plain mean spiritedness of some of the posts.
    You can entertain, be an advocate and educate all at the same time without being mean and showing just how smart you are.
    Contribute to the common good, don’t add to the common hate.

  39. TPIRman says:

    I second Tom’s manifesto. Sarcasm and levity are important parts of the Consumerist, and the blog remains entertaining to read—my favorite of the Gawker sites—because it knows how to mix the large-scale stories with the small. I’m sorry, but if the Consumerist decided to dedicate itself to a straight-laced accounting of the credit industry’s predatory lending practices, I think my attention would drift.

    The site is all about educating consumers and adressing issues by showing their impact on the personal level. That’s why comments like Kornkob’s…

    I also like Isadora’s idea: more focus on meaty consumer issues would be nice. Conversations about real issues are far more interesting than yet another amusing customer service anecdote.

    …really miss the point. Look at what happened this year: one guy’s story of trying to cancel AOL brought a huge amount of media attention to the problem of shifty service cancellation. There is a great deal of power in the anecdote because it makes a large-scale problem more personal, and thus more accessible. The Consumerist has tapped into that power better than anybody else.

    Ben and Meghann are obviously aware of this, as posts in recent months have increasingly put the anecdotes in the context of larger trends. This is a smart formula and I like the way it has evolved over the past year or so of the Consumerist’s existence.

    Clearly I’m pretty happy with the site, so as for editorial recommendations, I don’t have anything drastic to suggest. I’d like to see more of the “kits” and more original reporting like Ben’s recorded phone calls to customer service reps. I also think Homerjay’s sidebar idea is just super, even though I usually read the site on the RSS feed (clicking through for comments on the more interesting posts).

  40. Demingite says:

    The mark of a good service provider is to ask for feedback/suggestions like this, and take them seriously.

    Consumerist.com is one of my favorite websites — out of, what, oh, a few billion choices? i.e., it’s awesome!! Well done, entertaining, provocative, and, most importantly, making the world a better place.

    I, too, would like the ability to post-hoc edit, or even remove, my own comments.

    I hope you will track (ha ha) compromises to privacy, which become an ever greater threat to consumers (and, frankly, the freedom and privacy that Americans take for granted) as cheap info tech explodes. Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre’s book Spychips is worth reading and promoting (http://www.spychips.com). I think invasive RFID is another “AOL retention queue” phenomenon waiting to happen: It just needs to be exposed to a critical mass (netroots, mainstream media, attorneys general) for deserved outrage to put a stop to it before it creeps into our lives, becoming tolerated in the way that lulled and unaware sheeple presently tolerate grocery store club cards.

    Oh, and about grocery store club cards. They are a freakin’ anti-consumer scam that have drawn some, but not yet sufficient, attention from lawmakers. Except for CASPIAN (http://www.nocards.org), I’ve not yet seen major attention paid to this phenomenon by consumer advocates, even though club cards are nothing but bad news for consumers. I hope they go the way of telemarketers (with which they have a lot in common — huge invasiveness, unnecessary inconvenience, and rampant manipulation).

  41. potch says:

    I love the no-nonsense approach the website takes, and the respect toward the consumer. However, a little more professionalism would go a long way. Too much smugness and taunting of the big company discredits the creditability of the site. Keep up the good work!

  42. MeOhMy says:

    I love the site, but occasionally feel that some stories are dubious or half-baked. Running a “blog” instead of a “newspaper” gives you a bit of journalistic leeway and you can get the scoop out faster. However, there is still a degree of responsibility to not post a half-baked story just because you can later say “It’s OK – this is a blog, not a newspaper.”

    Since Consumerist often inspires people to rally in support of a consumer who has been wronged, there is an additional level of care required to make sure that the GM at the Pizza Pizza in Aurora, IL really did refuse a refund after giving Joe Consumer a pizza that was upside down in the box.

    Not that you should throw in the towel and become a lame newsrag, just that I often see stories that appear to have little corroborating evidence or present only one side of the encounter and wonder what REALLY happened…if it happened at all.

    Keep up the good work! It’s a great site. I don’t mind the royal “we.” And I love the snarky tone.

  43. Echodork says:

    Please… drop the Nazi shirt story. Yes, it was shocking. Yes, Wal-Mart did a bad thing. But there are thousands of Wal-Marts in this fine country, and reporting on every single outlet that’s slow to pull the shirt in question is not an exciting read.

    One final gripe, that I emailed you once about and got no response. Seriously, keep an eye on who you advertise for. It’s ridiculous to post a story ripping Verizon for poor service if you’re going to plaster the page with Verizon ads. I understand that the bills must be paid, but I have no idea what your priorities are if your content says NO while your advertising says YES.

  44. Fatlimey says:

    Get a lawyer on site, and actual IAAL who can give expert advice on navigating the field without all the complicated “UPDATE: seems we’re idiots again” appendages to posts. Hey, He/She could even be a separate sidebar viewpoint on posts, e.g. “A Laywer Speaks…”