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Coverage of Amazon workplace criticized by PR head

by on October 23, 2015

This past August, the New York Times published an article discussing the harsh working environment that exists within Amazon, writing about the practices Amazon uses towards its workers. This article consisted the thoughts of many different workers, present and former, who discussed what it was like working in a high-end workplace like the one Amazon had.

In this piece, titled “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace” by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, both authors talk about many of the unpleasantries that come with working for a high-end company like Amazon, including the notion that the company “offers no pretense that catering to employees is a priority.” I thought this was a well-writer article and very informative, especially since it involved a company like Amazon. There were several quotes that stood out to me, including one from a source named Bo Olson who claimed “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

Two months later, senior vice president of corporate affairs Jay Carney of Amazon has spoken out in an article on The Verge, accusing the NY Times of “sloppy and incomplete reporting.” He went on to say the anecdotes that were given by workers were not sufficiently fact-checked, specifically Olson’s, who he believed should have been a biased source since he left after admitting to attempted fraud and falsifying business records. This differed from the thoughts of NY Times executive editor Dean Baquet, who said “If there were criminal charges against him, or some formal accusation of wrongdoing, we would certainly consider that. If we had known his status was contested, we would have said so.”

After reading both pieces, it is very clear that there are two sides to this story, and Carney firmly believed his company was misrepresented. For me, the biggest thing in journalism when writing a piece is always fact-checking what sources give, and making sure all sides of the story are told. So when Carney says “[Co-author Jodi] Kantor never asked us to check or comment on any of the dozen or so negative anecdotes from named sources that form the narrative backbone of the story,” this is sloppy reporting on their parts.

Another issue I felt was interesting when comparing these two pieces, although it could just be Carney trying to minimize the damage done by the piece, is when he says that “Amazon raised the issues described in today’s post “several weeks ago,” going public with them after not getting a correction.” This intrigued me because it was mentioned that the authors based their reporting on interviews with over 100 current and former Amazon employees, so i find it hard to believe that at an esteemed outlet like the Times, authors would not make sure everything they were going to publish was accurate.

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One Comment
  1. Your post really resonated with me because coincidentally, I just returned from a 10-day trip to Seattle and I found this really interesting. From my short time there, I can very easily say that Amazon’s reputation of having a bad work environment definitely exists among people in the city, regardless of whether or not they are employees. The tech industry is very prevalent on the west coast and with happy employees at the Microsoft and Google campuses and offices in Seattle, Amazon’s contrasting environment holds true to its reputation. Just from being there for a little over a week, almost every Lyft and Uber driver asked me what I thought about the city and if I saw myself moving there. I mentioned looking at some jobs, which always warranted the large tech influence in the city, in which I’m interested. Throughout many encounters, I heard a number of negative associations with Amazon’s workplace. One driver talked about his nights having to pick up the “Amazombies” from their late-night hours. I asked my boyfriend, who worked at Microsoft about Amazon’s reputation, because I knew nothing prior of it before coming to Seattle. He told me of many of his tech friends who previously worked at Amazon, and those who still work there. He said it’s known as a meat grinder, taking people in and then leaving them destroyed.

    I add in these anecdotes because any person without any prior knowledge can get an idea of Amazon’s workplace, from as little as a week’s time surrounded by people who have heard of it. Had I just read The Times’ article and then The Verge’s, and had not just gone to Seattle, I might have agreed with you when you quoted Carney criticizing Kantor for not checking or commenting on the dozens of negative quotes and anecdotes from named sources, calling it sloppy reporting. But I think that it is obvious that Amazon has a reputation of not having a very friendly, carefree work environment and The Times just wanted to educate the public of that on a grander scale, for those who haven’t been to Seattle or heard these stories. I don’t think Amazon should be too shocked and it is only natural for Amazon’s PR head to defend its company. Of course Amazon would be offended and is taking an obvious step in calling out The Times’ fact-checking, and it is also natural for Amazon not to attest to these negative quotes and anecdotes. I think this is just a normal reaction to an expose and Amazon taking offense in wanting to protect its spot as America’s #1 retailer.

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