It's A Living

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July 14, 2003 // UPDATED 10:58 am - April 30, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

The power of the media

The original concept for this column was to discuss what really goes on in corporate America. The focus was supposed to be on the story -- not who's telling it, or what company the story is about. I thought I'd leave that to investigative reporters.

I wanted this to be real stories, about real people, who work real jobs, for real organizations. But I've always believed in protecting their identity because I've felt that if stories were attributable and on the record, heads would surely roll, departments would re-org, and H.R. would be working overtime.

For the most part, that's what I've done. The one exception - when I'm writing about my own personal experiences with companies such as Microsoft, Lexmark, Qwest, Wells Fargo - to name a few. Then, I tell all.

During the past week, I have been having a moral conversation with myself. "Is it fair to use a column to share personal experiences with businesses, particularly when the experience is of the negative nature? Or, is it an abuse of power?"

This inter-personal conversation began because of a radio show I listened to.

Driving back to my office from the Montana Coffee shop on 3rd Avenue North, I heard radio talk-show host Ian Punnett share a customer-service nightmare that he had with American Airlines.

The net-net of the tale: even though Punnett was a long-term customer with the frequent flyer miles to prove it, American Airlines would not allow him to change, even for a fee, a ticketing mistake made through the online Web site Orbitz. The mistake: Ian's wife's name appeared on the ticket instead of his. Punnett was willing to pay a change fee, a penalty, whatever. American Airlines said no to all suggestions.

Ultimately, Punnett had to purchase a new ticket for hundreds of dollars more than the original $200 Orbitz ticket. Oh, and his wife is the proud owner of a ticket she'll probably never use.

So I e-mailed Punnett saying I had heard his story "blasting" American Airlines and added that I wanted to talk to him about whether it was fair to use his radio show to "get even" with American airlines for their shoddy treatment.

Ian responded back that he took issue with my description of the story.

"If you run a business, be careful not to win the battle and lose the customer," he said. "I went all the way that a customer could go to complain. AA was completely unashamed of its policy. If AA is unashamed -- they told me repeatedly their policy is printed publicly on every ticket -- then why should I be ashamed of mentioning them by name?"

Our e-mail exchange was followed by a couple of phone conversations. As Ian explained it, if he had used his media position to threaten American Airlines hoping they would let him keep the original ticket, that may have been an abuse of power. "I didn't do that. I simply shared the story of what it was like to discuss their policy with them. What it comes down to is motivation," he said.

Ah, there's the rub. I realized that in my case, my motivation is not always pure. I really like the power of knowing that if a company crosses me, I don't have to lose the battle in the privacy of my office. I can make it a public battle royale. The truth is, if I had been Ian I probably would have played the columnist card. Regardless of the outcome, I would have written the story; nonetheless I would have played the card.

Humbling though it is, I've decided to change my ways. I still intend to blast companies when I think their service, product or behavior is suspect, it's just that from now on, I will give the company a heads-up and an opportunity to respond to my point of view.

In fact, I am beginning that new policy this morning. For those of you who keep track, Lexmark just sent me my fifth printer/scanner/copier/fax in the past 18 months.

I'll tell you the story, but first, I think I'll call Lexmark for their side of the story.

If you have a good workplace dilemma or just a good story to tell, please contact Elana Centor at

You can remain confidential, as can your company. But she'll contact you if you've sold her a junky product.