– Manufacturing a Story

Read this article in The Grand Rapids Press “Got a spare hour? will pay you to move something across town“.

For those of you too lazy to click, here is the excerpt from the article:

The day before the launch of an international conference, organizers have better things to do than schlep 15 boxes of brochures and other materials from Grand Valley State University’s downtown campus to the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

So Ryan Vaughn, an outreach consultant for the Center for Entrepreneurship, went to, a new online venture in which people who need things delivered can connect with people who will make the delivery. And the senders name their price.

He posted the job for $50, giving a window of time in which it had to be done. David Tilley, a registered courier with Zipments, signed up. He picked up the boxes, and the job was done. is local courier service in West Michigan, where customers can post local “shipping” jobs, and couriers can bid on these posted shipping jobs. The customer picks the winning courier out of all the bids received for that job.

As a recently launched business has been doing its share of public relations, but after reading this latest Grand Rapids Press story something just didn’t feel right to me. So let me lay out some facts that might make you look at the article a little differently.

Innocent Shipment, or a Not Very Well Concealed Public Relations Ploy?

In reading the above facts, can you see the many possible conflicts of interest? It doesn’t seem right in my opinion. I don’t have a problem with any of the above people doing business with each other, but to use the example of Ryan Vaughn of Center for Entrepreneurship, using to move boxes, and Dave Tilley was chosen as the courier, seems so…… manufactured, especially as the lead in the story.

In fact the article now brings up many more questions. Like was Grand Rapids Press Reporter Cami Reister aware of these relationships outlined above? If she did why was the story run as is? If she wasn’t aware, how come more fact checking wasn’t done? In regards to, did they suggest this as a story? Why? As mentioned in the article they had about two other couriers which they could have easily led the story with.

For me knowing the above facts, does change the story, it’s like the shipment never happened and gives me the impression that is a crony run business (rightly or wrongly). As noted here, I am just a blogger and not a journalist or a public relations guy, so maybe this isn’t odd at all. But something this story just isn’t right. What do you think?


7 responses to “ – Manufacturing a Story

  1. Sounds pretty misleading and very easy to check… cronyism is no big deal if youre up front about it!

  2. Hi Mark & Joe,

    It certainly wasn’t my intention to be misleading, so here’s the scoop:

    In my role in the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation I have used Zipments three times so far, mostly because it’s useful, but also to support friends starting a business. The first “Zip” I posted, I hired David Tilley out of three couriers who all posted bids, because I knew him and knew he would do a good job. I didn’t know the Press would be doing a story, and certainly had no thought that it would be considered “shady” to hire a known quantity.

    The second and third “Zips”, I’ve hired a guy named Craig Russel, who I didn’t know at the time, but who still did a great job. To be honest, had David bid on jobs #2 & 3, I may have hired him then as well, and for the same reason. However he didn’t, which was actually cool because it gave the Zipments service the opportunity to pleasantly surprise me with a seamless transaction with Craig. And if Craig bids on a future job I post, I will hire again.

    I have had a great experience Zipping stuff here and there, from boxes to MacBook adapters, using couriers I know and couriers I don’t know. You should definitely give it a shot! It’s easy, convenient, and it supports a local startup.

    And you never know: David, Craig or I might bid to Zip your stuff around town too. 🙂

    If you have any more questions, or would like some info for a followup, email me at



    • Thanks for the reply Ryan. Like I said in the post, I have no problem with you using Zipments or choosing couriers that you know personally or professionally, but I just don’t understand why the specific example of you using the service was the lead in the GR Press story. There are too many connections between all the parties involved, that makes the example seem manufactured. “Hey could you do me a solid, and use zipments for your company, so we can get a story and a photo-op out of it.” Why wasn’t the story focused on a story like the tulip deliveries or on the other couriers and their shipments, or even the Dr. Pepper example that the Zipments staff did.

      It’s like a city government awarding a building contract to the mayor’s brother, the bidding process could be totally legit, and the mayor’s brother deserved the contract. If the brother then decides to promote the contract he was awarded by the city, and gets a newspaper article written about it, with no disclosure about the relationship with the mayor, it is going to leave a lot of people asking questions.

      Zipments would have been better served to use a different example for a newspaper article.

      Let me know if you want me to remove your email address.

  3. Charlie Cheney

    This reminds me of one of my favorite Onion “Man on the street” stories from some years back. They asked “How do you feel about news organizations using corporate press releases in news articles?” and one of the respondents replied “I don’t see any problem with it, as long as they cite it word-for-word.”

    I love the Onion!

  4. This is a fascinating subject and article.

    Personally, I’m not convinced by Ryan’s “Aw, shucks. It didn’t even occur to us to mention that the three people in the story all know one another outside zipments.”
    Not that I think this was a nefarious conspiracy. As Mark rightly points out, however, not disclosing the prior relationships adds an unnecessary stink to the article and, unfortunately, to zipments. The article presents a success story for the sole reason of reassuring office worker X that he can trust a zipments courier with his treasured report. Now that the only zipment I’ve heard about (via the articles) is one that was presented as transaction between strangers, but was between a group of friends. No credibility has been attached to the company or method, only taken away.
    Does this mean zipments is a flawed idea? Of course not. But the last thing you want is people rolling their eyes when they see your name. Because of this flub, you look like a mickey-mouse outfit.

    Even more interesting to me, however, is how the GR Press looks, and what it has to say about changes in media.
    How did this story end up on the reporter’s desk? What questions did she ask? Seems to me that a basic start would be to ask each player “Do you know this other person mentioned in the story?” Was this just a goof by an inexperienced, underpaid reporter, or is the Editorial Vision of the GR Press something like “We want POSITIVE stories, people! Find me something to make the reader SMILE. To feel GOOD about being from Michigan! (stubs cigar out in crystal ashtray)”
    I certainly don’t expect the Press to be doing much in the way of investigative reporting, but this wasn’t even a good puff piece, as it, in the end, makes the company look like a bunch of amateurs.
    Finally, I love the Ledger, but what is the end point of all this? I personally believe we need quality, professional, independent media to help us make responsible decisions as citizens and consumers. The Ledger is fun and interesting, and provides a valuable check and perspective, but it (and other blogs) can’t take the place of a professional reporting corps. Unfortunately, as we all come to think of information and content as free, we’re all forcing the cuts that lead to substandard coverage.

  5. Great business idea! How does is stack up with other Michigan startups? August 10th deadline approaching. With more than $1 million in cash winnings, plus in-kind awards, the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is the world’s largest business competition. Entrepreneurs world-wide are eligible to participate. The competition targets mid-to-late-stage business start-ups. Grand prize is $500,000 plus in-kind amenities. Applications for business and student competitors are available now, via

  6. Mark, you’re a muckraking journalist disguised as a marketing professional, that’s what you are. Must be a conflict of interest here somewhere!

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