NY Times Public Editor Rips Paper’s Amazon Takedown: ‘It Should Have Provided More Balance’

Ombudsman says article relied too heavily on anecdotal evidence

Last Updated: August 18, 2015 @ 3:46 PM

The New York Times’ ombudsman has criticized the paper’s widely circulated article on workplace conditions at Amazon.

In a post published on the Times’ website Tuesday, public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote that the Amazon piece — which provided anecdotal evidence of cruel working conditions among the growing retailer’s white-collar employees — “should have provided more balance and context.”

Sullivan added, “In addition, the evidence against Amazon, while powerful, is largely anecdotal, not data-driven. And anecdotes can be used and interpreted in any number of ways.”

The piece in question, more than 6,000 words, ran on the front page of the Times’ Sunday print edition and has drawn more than 5,000 comments online. In the article, current and former Amazon employees named and unnamed describe a workplace in which employees felt pressure to constantly work, even through illness and personal crises. One source described going on a business trip the day after having surgery for a miscarriage. Another described being given a negative performance review after returning from treatment for thyroid cancer.

The story also claimed that Amazon employees use a system for semi-anonymous peer feedback to sabotage one another in efforts to save themselves from the company’s regular culling of under-performing employees.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos refuted the article’s depiction of the company in a letter sent Monday to employees. “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day,” Bezos wrote.

Sullivan, who operates independent from the Times’ editorial structure, wrote that the piece “gave Amazon its due in some ways,” but concluded that, “For such a damning result, presented with so much drama, that doesn’t seem like quite enough.”

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