Sending “profanity-laced” e-mails or calling executives at their homes to express your frustration about a loan you can’t pay back may not seem like efficient ways to refinance. But they could get you glowing coverage in The New York Times.
The August 23 issue of the Times profiled Alan Collinge, a 38-year-old anti-student-loan-industry crusader. Collinge focused his rage at the industry when he quit his job in 2001 and was unable to continue paying back his $38,000 in loans.
“Then there is Alan Collinge, who for years has described his struggle with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to anyone who will listen,” Jonathan D. Glater wrote for the Times. “He has appeared on ‘60 Minutes’ criticizing Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest student lender, and has been quoted in the pages of this and other newspapers attacking loan companies.”
Collinge called himself a “complaint box for the industry.” But the article also acknowledged how some of Collinge’s tactics raised ethical concerns – including his direct confrontation of Sallie Mae (NYSE:SLM) executives.
“Representatives of loan companies are not fond of Mr. Collinge’s tactics,” Glater wrote. “He has called loan company executives at home to criticize their corporate policies, and sent the occasional profanity-laced e-mail message to lender advocates.”
The Times article mentioned Collinge’s inappropriate tactics, yet still depicted him as a vocal champion for “thousands of borrowers” who don’t want to publicly talk about their student loan problems.
“Mr. Collinge acknowledges that at least some of the e-mail messages and phone calls he has made were inappropriate, but he maintains that the sentiments expressed were genuine,” Glater wrote. “His words may simply reflect the resentment of thousands of borrowers who are too embarrassed to talk about their debts publicly.”
The media have regularly sided with detractors of the student loan industry. ABC correspondent Dan Harris used a March 18, 2007, “World News” segment to suggest banks were colluding with universities to give students a raw deal on loans.
Harris echoed claims by New York State Attorney General that banks’ “preferred lender” status meant students were becoming the victims of “illegal, deceptive business practices.” But he didn’t include on-camera industry representatives to defend the schools and banks being criticized.