One emailer cited it as the best job ad ever. Seeking a reporter to bolster its investigative team, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune sought a reporter with solid experience in rooting out corruption and exposing polluters. Then, it got interesting: “our ideal candidate has also cursed out an editor, had spokespeople hang up on them in anger and threatened to resign at least once because some fool wanted to screw around with their perfect (story lead).”
News organizations generally aren’t hiring investigative journalists anymore with budget cuts or investing heavily in the enterprise. But, reporters are a hungry bunch. And even with poor support are eager to “take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead” – another quality the Sarasota paper wants.
The paper was, of course, not referring to the dangers of mad men overseas, but pursuing domestic fraud. Ambitious muckrakers still work at NBC News.
Inside large media companies, news organizations (hopefully) operate separately from the corporate and public affairs arms. Still, it’s always been a bit quizzical when the business side chastises the media for doing what their reporting colleagues should be doing.
In that vein -- maintaining some consistent corporate values -- it was alarming to discover this week that Comcast has engaged in chicanery to avoid again being tabbed the “Worst Company in America.” It encouraged its employees to rig a Consumerist.com vote – to take some power away from a public still frustrated with the cable operator’s customer service.
Consumerist annually holds a “Worst Company in America” online-voting contest “won” by Comcast last year as it defeated banks, credit card companies, insurers … Consumerist can be mocking and acerbic, but there has to be some quality control since it is a sister publication of Consumer Reports.
Comcast has only recently taken over NBC, so maybe it is still trying to find the right balance between protecting its corporate image and understanding that is now the operator of a prestigious news organization. That might help it avoid tactics rightfully arousing a media looking to inform consumers about troubling legerdemain.
To be sure, this is not Watergate. It should be viewed within its proper narrow confines. But rigging a vote in a largely unknown and tongue-in-cheek contest – results won’t be on the cover of Forbes -- is hopefully not a symptom of other deceitful tactics.
Credit Multichannel News for some Sarasota-style work in publicizing the matter, which was uncovered by Consumerist as it saw the votes come in.
On March 14, the annual March Madness-style brackets for the 32-company “worst company” field were unveiled. This year, there are seven companies that provide TV service as candidates, including Time Warner Cable, AT&T and DirecTV.
Comcast had a first-round match-up vs. fellow cable operator Charter and mounted a get-out-the-vote effort via an internal memo to employees.
As published by Consumerist, the memo took pains to mention participation was voluntary and a vote for Charter was the only way to back Comcast, though nonetheless urged voting for Charter as a worse organization. Comcast, after all, “does not deserve” the notoriety and is a “terrific company.”
The employee encouragement was maybe not the noblest of actions. But a case for expressing company pride can be made. The trouble came when the memo detailed how to turn on the trickery and invoke Chicago-style politics and vote early and often.
Comcast explained that there could be only one vote per IP address. So, it said “we hope that you will consider voting today/tonight and at home from your cell phone, iPad, personal computer or other web-enabled devices with a unique IP address. You can use company devices as well as your personal devices.”
Consumerist said it uncovered the home-style vote cooking as traffic poured in from TeamComcast.com.
Comcast provided a statement to Multichannel News confirming it urged the employee anti-Charter voting. Yet, it indicated Consumerist had encouraged it to “rally your troops.” It took that to mean its employees.
Fair, perhaps. Yet, curious is how it took that to mean voting multiple times.
For its part, Consumerist said it would have hoped “troops” would be interpreted to mean customers.
Polls close Friday. Returns so far show Comcast should continue on the road to repeating as “worst company.”
But even if it avoids the stigma, its ballot-rigging actions mean a loss.