In his final column, he calls for the reawakening of a dormant consumer movement, with muckraking reporters on the corporate watchdog beat leading the charge alongside advocates.
Since coming to the Chronicle from Wired News in 1999, David Lazarus has been one of the most prolific, and influential, writers at the paper. His coverage of the energy crisis in 2001 earned him the Journalist of the Year award from the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter. He continues to butt heads with corporate executives and write stories that unambiguously take the side of consumers.
It's a point he made repeatedly during our conversation - that the biggest difference between now and then is that the media have lost interest in consumer advocacy as both a story and a calling.Lazarus said he never envisioned himself launching a "one-man consumer crusade against corporate malfeasance."
This, in turn, leaves the consumer movement to a great extent voiceless.
...There was a time when businesses believed the customer is always right. That's an exaggeration, of course, but there's a grain of truth in it. Businesses understood that if you treat customers right, they'll keep coming back.
...Still, I attend a lot of public events and I can say with confidence that most consumers haven't given up when it comes to defending their rights. They're frustrated - that goes without saying. They often feel that companies are dedicated solely to outmaneuvering customers.
But people aren't hopeless. They just want to be treated fairly.
...These days, the shareholder is always right. Businesses focus almost exclusively on placating investors by delivering steady growth quarter after quarter. And to maintain a consistently robust bottom line, many companies reduce overhead by repeatedly cutting back on service.
I don't think there's any mistaking that my work is fairly populist in its sentiment. The rap on what I do is that I'm anti-business -- that's what my critics like to say most often than not. I see myself more as pro-accountability. ... Corporations should be accountable. And if you're going to do something, especially if it affects thousands or millions of customers, you should be able to defend that policy...
I was excited to hear that the organization I work with (the Consumer Federation of California) recognized Lazarus with its Journalist of the Year award in 2004. This year SF Weekly named him the city's best columnist:
With the Chron's business section too often serving as a bulletin board for industry press releases, Lazarus brings a healthy dose of skepticism to the notion that corporate America knows best.The touching farewell:
Not that long ago, my young son finally got around to asking why Daddy's picture appears in the newspaper.
"Well," I replied, "that's because I try to help people and protect them from bad guys."
My son stewed on that for a moment. His eyes lit up.
"Daddy!" he exclaimed. "You're Batman!"
I'm going to miss Gotham. But Metropolis should be fun, too.
I'll be watching for him in the LAT.
Side note: Lazarus is in very good company as a Crossroads alum.