New York Times editor on Amazon story: Not 'quite enough' evidence

Amazon spokesman: NYT story 'way off base'
Amazon spokesman: NYT story 'way off base'

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."

Related: NYT's editor calls Clinton email coverage 'a mess'

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