Last July, I broke the news that Consumer Reports had gutted its editorial staff by inducing 16 of its most experienced editors to leave. (Disclosure: I’m one of those 16.)
Now I’m reporting for the first time that 22 experts have also left, bringing Consumer Reports’ total loss to 38. That’s a staggering 500 person-years’ experience at CR. None of these 38 was a business executive. All were professionals who played an important part either in shaping the contents of Consumer Reports or directing its consumer advocacy work.
The newest group of 22 I’m reporting here includes four with Ph. D.’s plus another four professional scientists. These experts had extensive experience and expertise in such areas as automotive safety, product safety, health care, survey research, consumer electronics, and consumer advocacy.
As you can see from this chart that I put together, nine of the 22 fled in 2015 alone, under the leadership of CR’s new CEO.
I use the word “fled” advisedly. Having personally known the people who left, I can tell you that all were devoted to Consumer Reports and, I’m convinced, would not have left the organization at the time they did unless they were either pressured to resign or could no longer bear working there.
The cost to Consumer Reports readers
This massive talent loss has taken a toll on the content of Consumer Reports that has not escaped the attention of CR’s readers:
“So I’m not the only one who’s noticed a precipitous decline in the quality of a magazine that once had almost biblical influence. The new style—flashy, wise-cracking, pseudo clever—is an obvious attempt to appeal to the younger “hip” crowd but instead it comes off as cheap and flashy. Sorry, CR, I want to be informed, not entertained.” —CR reader (Cerberus79) comment
“The quality of writing has dropped off in the past few years, now we know why. Reviews used to be tightly written and sometimes even funny. I knew exactly what the writers were talking about. I couldn’t decipher a review of a product I was interested in and just said the heck with it and went looking elsewhere. Not renewing.” —CR reader (GoldyRocks) comment
“Just this month I let my subscription lapse, for the first time in 27 years. I don’t know what’s really going on there, but it’s not the publication I remember.” — CR reader (goldbergs73) comment
In fact, growing concern within Consumer Reports about the quality of its new editorial staff’s work just prompted CR to take an extraordinary measure: Hiring an outside consultant to provide training “for all editorial staff to communicate quality standards and best practices for writing and reporting.”
As one former CR editor I spoke with noted:
“This is what happens when you replace veterans with people with thin, dubious resumes and hire editorial managers with zero editing and management experience. You wouldn’t believe how many people have approached me (both readers and fellow journalists), complaining about the piss-poor quality of the content. Consumer Reports is pennywise and pound foolish.”
Why they left
I asked three of the experts who had willingly left CR why they’d decided to leave:
A former Director explained that his high-ranking boss, who told him that he was “too scientific,” was “the worst leader I have ever worked for over my 40 year career at CR and other institutions. Although he criticized almost the entire content creation team, he offered no concrete guidance and never took the time to discuss with me my detailed responses and solutions to problems. Rather, he fired competent people, usually replacing them with less capable but more compliant personnel…The fact that he is one of the last remaining VPs under the new regime indicates that his leadership was and still is sanctioned from on high.”
Another expert cited “the environment in general which I found to have become increasingly toxic during my last two to three years — low morale, confusion and tumult, the wrong people being put in the wrong positions, the endless parade of consultants, the erosion of civility in many (though I emphasize not all) departments, the lust for external talent.” This person described their boss as “incompetent, inconsistent, irrational, and sometimes mean or dismissive.”
A third expert had left because of “the relentless push for style and hype over science and substance” and because, within the organization, “the values of hubris and ego trumped those of teamwork and accountability.”
Current CR employees echo these reports of widespread dysfunctional leadership in these evaluations of CR that they posted on the job site, Glassdoor:
“Soul killing…They sold me on the notion that this was a place where talent and hard work were not only appreciated, but rewarded. I was lied to…credit is taken by less than competent senior managers…mistakes and failures are pinned on scapegoats…this place needs a complete overhaul.” —Current employee in Yonkers, NY (posted 1/19/16)
“Upper management treats their employees with no respect, no civility, and no trust. They don’t stand for what they claim to be…There are unexplained layoffs going on every other month. Tenured employees who are protected under the union contract are being laid off. Who wants to work for a company that doesn’t even comply with their own contracts??” —Current employee in Yonkers, NY (posted 12/28/15)
“Over the last year we’ve had a new boss from the Ford Foundation and she’s quickly brought in all her old cronies from NYC. And has also keep [sic] the CR tradition of firing people without merit…” —IT project manager in Yonkers, NY (posted 12/15/15)
And just recently, the local chair of the New York NewsGuild, the labor union that represents many CR staffers, informed everyone throughout Consumer Reports that management has been “maintaining, in its employ and seemingly unscathed, a senior manager who repeatedly flouts the organization’s stated values of Trust, Civility & Respect.”
When I was Technology Editor at CR, I personally witnessed the repellent behavior of that senior manager and was familiar with the two other bosses that my former colleagues described above. All deserve to be fired. Yet all three are still working for Consumer Reports. Why?
Not all the experts who left CR were afforded the luxury my three former colleagues had of choosing to leave. As I’ve reported before, quite a few veteran staffers were forced to resign under the threat of being fired. Below, a former CR staffer explains how managers built a bulletproof case for firing perfectly competent staffers by making them look “suddenly stupid”—in precisely the way executives in big business do it:
“Avoid this place like the plague…Managers are writing poor reviews for workers that got nothing but sterling reviews for years just to get rid of them. Morale is beyond poor and anyone who says otherwise is lying to you…This is a group of managers doomed to make mistake after mistake, yet they feel no responsibility for the havoc they create. It seems to me that they care less about this organization than they do building their own resumes.” —Former product analyst in Yonkers, NY (posted 1/4/16)
Upon reading one such poor performance review that was written not by some middle manager, but by a Senior Director at CR, a former Consumer Reports Managing Editor called it a “dismissive and disrespectful…hatchet job.” I have heard firsthand about similarly insulting reviews from others who were forced to leave.
What kind of leaders tolerate, or even approve of, such behavior?
The buck stops at the top
It’s not as if Consumer Reports’ leaders, including its President and Board of Directors, have no idea that the organization’s much-touted integrity has sunk this low. They have been informed of this over a period of many months by staffers and former staffers alike, both directly and via numerous reviews on Glassdoor, as well as by me.
For example, I’ve publicly reported over the past few months that:
- Consumer Reports managers have been disparaging the work of middle-aged staffers
- CR’s top leaders, including the Board, have ignored allegations of misconduct on the part of senior managers
- CR’s leaders have betrayed the public’s trust
The conclusion is inescapable: Consumer Reports’ leaders accept this behavior.
If you doubt this, consider the following, which I’m making public here for the first time:
Nearly a year ago, well before I considered it necessary to make this issue public, I sent a certified letter to Consumer Reports’ President and individually to all 18 members of its Board of Directors, reporting misconduct within the organization and requesting a confidential meeting to present the evidence.
As you can see from this photo of my 19 U.S. Postal Service receipts, all of my letters were delivered. But over the past year I have not received a response from even one of those “leaders.” I find this silence appalling, considering that the Board includes some very well-known and widely respected individuals.
The allegations I sent were credible and merited a hearing. As a whistleblower who had previously served Consumer Reports honorably for 24 years as an investigative reporter and editor, including testifying twice under oath in the organization’s defense, I certainly deserved the courtesy of a reply. So much for the organization’s “stated values of Trust, Civility & Respect.”
One current Consumer Reports employee hit the nail on the head with this recent online post:
“My advice is to the subscribers of the magazine and web site: Come out to [the] Board meeting in October and demand that [the] current Board and Management all be fired. They are ruining a great organization and hiding behind the fact that it must change.”
I couldn’t agree more. No matter how much Consumer Reports helps consumers through its mission, it doesn’t deserve the public’s respect if its leaders won’t uphold the organization’s own standards of integrity. For the good of Consumer Reports and all consumers, the current President and Board of Directors should be replaced with people who are willing to uphold that integrity, especially when it means standing up to unfit executives.
If you think that Consumer Reports should return to being run as an ethical organization, I suggest you e-mail your opinion directly to Consumer Reports’ President by clicking here. And please let other consumers know about this problem by sharing this report widely on social networks.