Four years and nearly $1.6 million savedJanuary 13, 2020
Four years ago this week, I anxiously paced between two rows of desks in the IndyStar newsroom.
It was — in my mind, at least — a potential make-or-break moment in my nearly two-decade tenure at the newspaper.
I was just starting a new assignment as The Star’s consumer advocate. As part of that job, I’d convinced my editors that we needed to start a statewide consumer helpline. That was no small fete at a time when newsrooms across the country, including ours, were cutting staff and tightening purse strings as revenue fell across our rapidly changing industry.
The hotline — dubbed IndyStar Call for Action — was a serious commitment.
My project required the company to shell out thousands of dollars to partner with the Call for Action network and equip the newsroom to accommodate the 30 volunteers who would be the backbone of the operation, taking calls and mediating disputes five days a week.
But there was no tangible return on that investment. Just the potential feel-good reward of helping people with nowhere else to turn.
All of our planning came to a head the morning of Jan. 11, 2016.
To say I was nervous is an understatement. Would it be the success I had hoped for — the rosy outcome I had pitched to my editors? Or would it be a flop, hastening my way out the door?
As I paced, I remained cautiously optimistic. We’d done everything we could. The volunteers had been trained by Call for Action, which operates about 20 similar helplines across the U.S. And I had written several stories about the hotline going live at 11 a.m. that day.
Still, I was dogged that morning by a singular question. It had nagged at me since I first raised the hotline proposal a few months earlier — and it was something I had no control over.
Would anyone really call?
As the clock ticked toward 11 a.m., I helped the six volunteers working that day turn on the phones at their desks. The hotline number was activated. In just a few more minutes, I figured, I would finally get my answer.
I didn’t have to wait that long.
As soon as the hotline number went live — before the published 11 a.m. opening time — the phones started ringing. And ringing. And they’re still ringing today as we dive into our fifth year of helping Hoosiers sort out consumer issues ranging from insurance coverage and home improvement work to vehicle repairs and landlord-tenant disputes.
Despite my naive optimism, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. But four years later, I know this. The successes — small and large — have far exceeded even my wildest dreams.
The easiest way to quantify the impact is the dollars-and-cents tally of what volunteers save or recover for callers. It’s pretty darned impressive: Nearly $1.6 million in individual settlements ranging from $8 to more than $250,000. In all, 1,215 of the 2,673 cases our volunteers have opened…