Amazon, New York Times Spar Over Work Culture Investigation - InformationWeek

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10/20/2015
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Amazon, New York Times Spar Over Work Culture Investigation

The feud between the New York Times and Amazon goes public as the two sides defend their positions following a blistering expose.

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Online retailer Amazon launched a high-profile counteroffensive against claims made in an August article written by The New York Times that drew attention to the company's allegedly brutal work culture for its white-collar employees.

The Times wasted no time in producing a rebuttal, which was swiftly followed by a last-word salvo from Amazon, a tit-for-tat exchange that drew substantial interest from the media at large.

The searing Times report highlighted the punishing white-collar work environment and prominently featured a quote by a former Amazon book-marketer named Bo Olson, who claimed he saw nearly every person he worked with crying at his or her desk at some point.

In a public rebuttal posted on Medium, a blog-publishing platform, Jay Carney, a senior vice president for global corporate affairs at Amazon, blasted the newspaper in a 1,300-word essay titled "What The New York Times Didn't Tell You."

In the Oct. 19 post, Carney, a former Obama White House press secretary, said Olson's tenure at Amazon ended after an investigation revealed he had attempted to defraud vendors and conceal the fact by falsifying business records.

After being confronted with the evidence, Carney wrote, Olson admitted to the fraud and resigned immediately.

(Image: JurgaR/iStockphoto)

(Image: JurgaR/iStockphoto)

Carney's litany of complaints extended beyond the omission of Olson's termination from the company, and touches on several sections of the article -- among the Times' most-read this year -- where he feels best journalistic practices were not applied.

"What we do know is, had the reporters checked their facts, the story they published would have been a lot less sensational, a lot more balanced, and, let's be honest, a lot more boring," Carney wrote. "It might not have merited the front page, but it would have been closer to the truth."

Dean Baquet, The Times' executive editor, defended the reporting in the article, arguing that Olson disputes Amazon's account of his departure from the company. Baquet pointed to the more than 6,000 comments left by readers, many of whom supported the claims made in the article.

The editor also defended three specific employees interviewed for the article and mentioned by Carney in his post: Elizabeth Willet, Dina Vaccari, and Chris Brucia -- all of whom had negative things to say about working at Amazon.

"I should point out that you said to me that you always assumed this was going to be a tough story, so it is hard to accept that Amazon was expecting otherwise," Baquet concluded. "As I said in the beginning, this story was based on dozens of interviews. And any reading of the responses leaves no doubt that this was an accurate portrait."

[Read more about Amazon's work culture.]

Carney shot back with a shorter response taking the Times to task for what he believed was a failure to vet sources despite working on the story for six months.

The Times also wrote its own article about the dust-up, which included an interview with Baquet, who reiterated that he believes the paper published a "very honest" investigative piece that stands up to scrutiny.

Amazon has more than 90,000 full-time employees across its more than 50 fulfillment centers and 20 sorting centers in the US. The company recently announced it is creating 100,000 seasonal positions across its US network this holiday season.

The company said in a statement that it had hired more than 25,000 full-time employees since August. It also highlighted its benefits programs and bonuses.

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin. View Full Bio

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batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2015 | 11:59:19 PM
Re: Carney learned well from his previous job...
@DDURBIN1 yes it a sad reality of todays... as News no longer News :(
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2015 | 9:28:36 AM
Re: Carney learned well from his previous job...

@batye, Today the "free speech" right is used to cloak falsehoods as fact without fear of litigation.  Just watch Faux Snews where an independent study reported 60% of provided information was incorrect or just plain false.  Apparently it's their "right" to tell lies or misinformation while masquerading as a news program.

DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2015 | 9:18:03 AM
Re: Whatever happened to fact based reporting?
@batye, we are in the age where multiple talking (editorializing) heads on a wide screen is now considered news with very short tidbits of information scroll at the bottom of the frame once an hour usually of weather temperatures or sport scores.
batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
11/2/2015 | 7:57:30 PM
Re: Carney learned well from his previous job...
@GAProgrammer yes, it fun to watch... until lawyers get involved and litigation... starts... 
batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
11/2/2015 | 7:56:06 PM
Re: Whatever happened to fact based reporting?
@DDURBIN1, interesting point... but this days everywhere on the news I see/hear... not a fact.... opinion... just opinion... and opinion do have bias... sad reality...
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
10/22/2015 | 9:12:03 AM
Carney learned well from his previous job...
Why try to dispute the facts when you can just go out and personally attack the people telling the truth? Distracting people from the truth by destroying someone's reputation is so much easier than fixing the problem, right? When you divert the argument to the fact that someone was let go because of an entire unrelated reason,  it just proves that they are trying to change the public's perception without making any actual changes. 

Fun to watch the back and forth though!
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
10/21/2015 | 2:15:52 PM
Re: Whatever happened to fact based reporting?
@DDubring dozens is being generous. I think most rely on what would be called "several."
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
10/21/2015 | 10:29:24 AM
Whatever happened to fact based reporting?
Here is all you need to know about journalism today, "based on dozens of interviews".  That's it, personal testimony is now fact.  Conviction via pollsters.  I'm not defending Amazon here but I'm also not believing factless story telling either.
NJ Mike
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NJ Mike,
User Rank: Moderator
10/21/2015 | 9:04:48 AM
Consider the source
The New York Times is no longer the exalted "paper of record" or beacon of news it once was, and still thinks it is.  Let's not forget the Jayson Blair fiasco, and there are many other instances where the times has let its agenda take priority over its accuracy.

 

Maybe Amazon isn't all fun and adventure to work at Amazon, but before I believe it is hell on earth, I want to hear it from a reputable and respectable source.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
10/21/2015 | 7:39:46 AM
Re: Hard Work
You've got a really pragmatic look at the business world there; I have to agree. While it's understandable what Amazon does to its staff, in a perfect world it wouldn't and it would be nice if companies were encouraged to do so, perhaps having some sort of tax breaks if employee satisfaction was at an above average level? 

It's also the case that people are goign to work harder if they're happy and not stressed. Surely there is a benefit to not pushing your people to the breaking point?
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