I am a former ink-stained wretch, having spent time working at newspapers — remember them? — before I left that behind for the glitz and glamor of the Internet (I still have a container in my garage with many of my old clippings, if you ever want to stop by and read them). So I hold a special place in my heart for newspapers. And I fully understand that columns and opinions have their place in newspapers. I want to spotlight a column that was published in the Los Angeles Times because it illustrates how far the industry still has to go to improve its image.
While the column does see fit to include comments from an industry representative — Mark Neeb, the Chief Executive of ACA International — it also includes comments from a consumer advocate who “couldn’t help but laugh” at Neeb’s comments and some snarky comments from the author of the column who questioned the industry’s commitment to empathy and compassion.
Taking potshots at the collection industry is a pretty easy way to fill column inches in a newspaper. There are more than enough stories of individuals who have done some pretty unspeakable things to consumers over the years. Nobody in the industry will argue with that. Even I know that if I write about an action taken by a regulator against a bad apple, a lot of people are going to read it and traffic on my site will spike. But to paint the entire industry with the same brush does a dis-service to the people, like Neeb, who have given their lives to this industry in a quest to help people.
The author of the column translates Neeb’s comments about the complexities of determining the statute of limitations on a debt, saying that “Which is to say, debt collectors would rather not have to do more homework. They’d prefer spending their time interrupting people’s dinner and scaring them about looming legal jeopardy and financial catastrophe.” Like it’s the collector’s fault that the person whose dinner was interrupted repeatedly ignored the letters and phone calls about their unpaid financial obligation (see, I can make generalizations, too). But the author fails to mention that the laws governing the statute of limitations are not always written in plain English and can be incredibly confusing. Is that the fault of the industry, too?
Mark Twain once famously said that people should never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton. That is not my intention here. My objective was to use this column as a reminder of the increased scrutiny that the entire industry is under these days and that much work is needed to be done to show that the industry can not, and should not, allow itself to be reduced to a stereotype.