New York Times editor on Amazon story: Not 'quite enough' evidence
Posted: Aug 17, 2015 6:41 PM CST | Updated: Aug 18, 2015 7:11 PM CST
(CNN) The New York Times' searing expose on workplace conditions at Amazon has been hailed by some as a piece of exemplary journalism.
The Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan, however, had a more lukewarm reaction to the piece on Tuesday
The Amazon story, Sullivan said, \"was driven less by irrefutable proof than by generalization and anecdote.\"
\"For such a damning result, presented with so much drama, that doesn't seem like quite enough,\" Sullivan wrote.
Related: Amazon's culture is 'purposeful Darwinism,' investigation finds
The 5,700-word story, which was published online Saturday and was co-authored by Times reporters Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, detailed the grueling hours and unforgiving pace that epitomize work at Amazon's Seattle headquarters. Kantor and Streitfeld interviewed more than 100 current and former Amazon employees for the story, including several who said Amazon's work climate left people in tears.
The story generated so much interest that the Times said Tuesday that it has been the subject of 5,200 comments, making it \"officially the most commented-on story in NYT history.\"
Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet commented Tuesday on Sullivan's column, strongly defending the reporting.
\"I love this story. I'm extremely proud of it,\" Sullivan quoted him as saying in an addendum to her criticism.
Amazon, which recently surpassed Wal Mart as the world's biggest retailer, pushed back strongly against the Times' reporting. The company's CEO Jeff Bezos said he didn't recognize the Amazon that was described in the Times' article. Jay Carney, the former White House spokesman who now serves as senior vice president for corporate global affairs at Amazon, said the company is \"an incredibly compelling place to work.\"
Sullivan's critique noted, \"The evidence against Amazon, while powerful, is largely anecdotal, not data-driven. And anecdotes can be used and interpreted in any number of ways.\"
In criticizing the article's heavy use of anecdotes, Sullivan wondered if the piece really \"nail[ed] down the reality of life as an Amazon employee.\"
Baquet defended the use of anecdotes to make the case against Amazon.
\"I reject the notion that you can report a story like this in any way other than with anecdotes. You talk to as many people as possible and you draw conclusions. That's the only way to approach it,\" he wrote.
Baquet also rejected Sullivan's suggestion that the story may not have deserved the length and prominence given it. He said the quality of the reporting and writing \"warranted that — if not bigger.\"
Amazon wasn't immediately available for comment.
Sullivan has been an aggressive public editor at the Times, wading into controversies over other investigative pieces by the newspaper. She recently examined reporting on the treatment of nail salon workers and rejected criticism of the reporting. She also scolded the paper for its coverage of reports that Hillary Clinton was being criminally investigated for her State Department emails. The story had to be corrected several times and Sullivan called the reporting process \"a mess.\"
From a mid-level engineer to the CEO, Amazon employees are fighting back hard against accusations that the company treats its workers deplorably.
CEO Jeff Bezos, in a widely distributed staff memo, rebutted a New York Times Amazon exposé that portrayed the company as a \"brutal\" place to work. He rebutted the claim that Amazon is a place where managers routinely weed out employees and backstabbing is encouraged.
\"The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day,\" Bezos wrote on Sunday. \"I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.\"
Bezos acknowledged that the New York Times story went beyond a few \"isolated anecdotes,\" since the story interviewed 100 former and current employees.
But Bezos noted that the technology sector is booming, and tech companies are trying to attract and retain top talent by fostering a positive corporate culture.
\"I don't think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today's highly competitive tech hiring market,\" Bezos said. \"The people we hire here are the best of the best. You are recruited every day by other world-class companies, and you can work anywhere you want.\"
Bezos encouraged employees to report inappropriate management behavior or incidents directly to him. He said the company won't accept callous treatment of its employees.
\"If you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org,\" he said. \"Even if it's rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.\"
Though Bezos was the most prominent Amazon (AMZN, Tech30) employee to respond to the New York Times story, Nick Ciubotariu, head of infrastructure development for Amazon's search product, received the most attention. His LinkedIn post went viral Saturday.
Ciubotariu said that as a \"proud Amazonian,\" he felt \"compelled to respond,\" due to what he called \"so many deliberate inaccuracies\" by the New York Times.
\"If Amazon was the type of place described in this article, I would publicly denounce Amazon, and leave,\" he said.
Ciubotariu strongly knocked back many of the New York Times' accusations, including the culture of \"diplomatically throwing people out of the bus\" and the use of the term \"Amabot\" to describe employees. He said Amazon is always hiring outside talent in an effort to come up with better ways of doing things.
Yet the New York Times' story did capture a general sentiment expressed by Amazon employees in one at least one online employee survey.
On job rating website GlassDoor, 82% of employees have a favorable opinion of Bezos, but only 62% would recommend that a friend work at Amazon.
By comparison, 82% of Apple employees would recommend the company to a friend, and 95% approve of Tim Cook. At Google, 92% would recommend the company to a friend and 96% like parent company Alphabet CEO Larry Page. And across Lake Washington from Amazon, 81% of Microsoft employees would want a friend to work there, while 88% approve of CEO Satya Nadella.
Mirroring the New York Times story, Amazon employees raved about the brilliance of the people who work there but criticized the company for a lack of a work-life balance.