Truth as quantified externality
October 20, 2015 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Amazon has posted (on Medium, natch) an aggressive response to the “everyone at Amazon is miserable but also paid well but also crying all the time” story in the New York Times [Previously]. This story and its aftermath represent a bit of a trap, particularly in discussions on Twitter: If you think the original story contained both valuable information and flaws, your default position is to go to bat for the Times; if you read this story as a portrait of a tough workplace written to cast it in the worst possible light, but acknowledge that it contained some worrying anecdotes, then your tendency will be to defend Amazon.

But these too reveal themselves as proxy positions. It’s not story versus story, or publication versus tech company. It’s media versus tech.

via Rusty
posted by Potomac Avenue (103 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
One of the most useful lessons I learned from working at Facebook had nothing to do with technology: Doubt the media. Always doubt the media. Many journalists are superb, but certain reporters would publish plainly inaccurate information about our products on a regular basis. And if they got our tech wrong, what were they getting wrong in that science story? That war piece?

I have worked for government, and for a fairly prominent community organization and I have to say that, yes, the media gets it wrong pretty regularly. Facts, key details, the spelling of names.

This doesn't make the media wrong, but it does mean that readers have to rely on a variety of sources in order to find out more about an issue. The media is not objective or omniscient.
posted by Nevin at 2:54 PM on October 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


"Media versus tech"? This seems like a nebulous dichotomy. Does the writer mean "the media industry" versus "the tech industry"? Because those industries have a large degree of intermingling these days.
posted by demiurge at 2:55 PM on October 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


the worst person I know personally (an allegedly left urbanist who opposes any measures that might slow down market rate development, and who keeps founding and then getting kicked out of advocacy organizations) is literally the only person I know who believes Amazon's attempts to smear their employees. I am taking so much joy from watching him on Facebook trying and failing to find anyone who agrees with him.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:56 PM on October 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


Dean Baquet Responds To Jay Carney’s Medium Post (on Medium!)

Erik Wemple, Washington Post: Amazon’s weak attack on the New York Times
via Omnivore.


When there are two sides of a story, a reader deserves to know them both.

ARGH.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:57 PM on October 20, 2015 [20 favorites]


ftrain had the absolute best comment about this on twitter:
It's fun to watch two powerful organizations—Amazon & NYT—that are utterly full of themselves go at it on Medium. It's like blimp jousting.
posted by schmod at 3:00 PM on October 20, 2015 [62 favorites]


I can't imagine what the heck Amazon is thinking by bringing this up again two months later. Everybody calmed down and was moving on, and now it's national news again. It's like if Jay Carney walked into the White House briefing room and was all "hey guys, remember Fast and Furious? I just thought I'd mention that randomly." The only explanation I can come up with is wounded pride on Amazon's part, and that's a really stupid reason to hurt your business.
posted by zachlipton at 3:00 PM on October 20, 2015 [43 favorites]


So wow, Amazon really has a BIG GUN on board as "Senior Vice President for Global Corporate Affairs at Amazon. Previously, he served as White House Press Secretary and spent 20 years as a reporter for TIME." That guy must earn so much money.
posted by janey47 at 3:00 PM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm sympathetic to a company trying to downplay a story that makes them look bad. But does anyone really believe a rebuttal coming from that company's PR? If other journalists take a look at the story and dispute things, fine. But a PR person is going to say whatever makes their employer look good. Their word is worthless.
posted by downtohisturtles at 3:01 PM on October 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


I know several people who have worked, and do work at Amazon. And the article seemed to be very accurate to me.

The media gets things wrong all the time. The consequences can be serious. But the consequences of tech firms getting things wrong can be much more serious, and can also be buried and not exposed the way bad reporting can be.
posted by cell divide at 3:01 PM on October 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


Amazon is a stupid organization. All of their public relations, as far as I can tell, are done using a process that involves almost every single level of management, up to and including Bezos himself.

Given that, I'm guessing the reason why they're doing this now is because their glacial process finally passed this along to Bezos, who incoherently growled and snarled about personally hating the employees quoted for having betrayed him through speaking ill of the company in the press, and then demanded that the company manufacture something to smear them with.

We have this assumption that our current generation of corporate tycoons are whip-smart, or at least of above average intelligence. In reality, they're emotionally immature sociopathic morons.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:06 PM on October 20, 2015 [66 favorites]


I wish that everyone who claims to have a moral objection to shopping at Wal-Mart but continues to purchase from Amazon would admit that they just don't want to have to spend time with poor people.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:06 PM on October 20, 2015 [46 favorites]


I can't imagine what the heck Amazon is thinking by bringing this up again two months later. Everybody calmed down and was moving on, and now it's national news again.

It wounded the company's reputation considerably. There are probably many talented, good people who declined offers there in the wake of it, and many others who decided to never apply. If you innocently google search "working at amazon", in the first few hits you're greeted with articles like "Working for Amazon Sounds Utterly Soul Crushing" (Gizmodo), "I Do Not Know One Person Who Is Happy at Amazon" (Gawker), a one star rating on Indeed, and at best weak defenses like "Working at Amazon Is Hell. So What?" (Inc.com)

The company absolutely needs to counter this. It won't go away for them. I just don't think they've done a good job of it, and especially not with this Medium piece.
posted by naju at 3:07 PM on October 20, 2015 [23 favorites]


Also, I don't know how this fits into the narrative of tech versus media, but with notably few exceptions, the media are famously uncritical of anything that goes on in tech.

The tech press fawns over Apple with the same fervor (and quality of journalism) as the celebrity rags fawn over Brangelina.

Elon and Tesla are heroes, even though the company seems to be having considerable difficulty actually building cars (to say nothing of cars that normal people can afford). This is almost never mentioned.

Nobody knows how to talk about security, and will uncritically parrot any industry statement that they can get their hands on. As a corollary, the press coverage of autonomous cars has always been shockingly thin, and never seems to consider the security implications (even in spite of a very scary real-world exploit that surfaced earlier this year).

During the healthcare.gov debacle, many media outlets asked why the project wasn't managed like a Silicon Valley startup. Instead of answering that question, they showered praises on the handful of executives that supposedly turned the project around.

I don't even know what the tech vs journalism narrative even is, because journalism sure seems to be interested in neither understanding tech nor being critical of it.
posted by schmod at 3:09 PM on October 20, 2015 [39 favorites]


I love how the implicit message to current and former employees in the Medium piece is "talk trash about us, and we will bury you. Count on it." Which ironically ends up reinforcing everything Amazon is trying to counter.
posted by naju at 3:23 PM on October 20, 2015 [43 favorites]


I'm really disappointed Carney didn't illustrate his point using a classic Amazon chart with no numbers showing that Worker Satisfaction at the company is sky high.
posted by Ian A.T. at 3:23 PM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Amazon's rebuttal is nonsensically poor. It's so bad it seems...halfhearted? Why are they even bothering?

I love how the implicit message to current and former employees in the Medium piece is "talk trash about us, and we will bury you. Count on it."

Oh. Right.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:25 PM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


maybe i'm mistaken, but as far as i remember, amazon has had a bad rep (dev jobs) for a looong time. way before that article.
posted by andrewcooke at 3:31 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


"talk trash about us, and we will bury you. Count on it." If anyone left Amazon and didn't fully believe this already, I'd be amazed. The amount of things required to sign away on leaving imply that pretty heavily already.

I mean, openly stating that they're willing to dig up/air employee evaluations did surprise me, but they've already shown they're willing to put teeth behind non-competes. And how do you avoid competing with a company that does (nearly) everything?
posted by CrystalDave at 3:31 PM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Amazon is a tech company like Sears is a tech company. Remember when Sears bought Compuserve? They also had H&R Block. It also had same day delivery in selected markets a century before Amazon. Amazon owns a lot of things that are meant to remind you that you could get free delivery on most items if you pay an annual fee, and they throw in lots of stuff to watch while you're waiting for your bike pants or your new lamp or celery salt.

Amazon is Sears with warehouses only. That is why it is so controversial. It relies on a lot of heavy labour to make a profit. It is working on increasingly thin margins on many categories and many of its properties such as Kindle Unlimited - a great sign of trying to stretch their dollar - are backfiring. Mechanical Turk is still very much a pipe dream for technocrats to foist up once or twice a year. Amazon is probably having a hard time recruiting and somehow felt the need to say something in public in the hopes of burnishing its usefulness because the employees in the tech and operations divisions have stock and options tied to the success of the company. Amazon cannot raise wages anymore in its current market conditions without driving its stock down. I also think Bezos I probably too conservative to consider outsourcing any of Amazon's operations because management of this process will be too expensive for him to implement without additional hiring.
posted by parmanparman at 3:32 PM on October 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Thanks for opening up somebody's HR file for us, Jay, you vindictive freak.
posted by boo_radley at 3:33 PM on October 20, 2015 [22 favorites]


we've entrusted vital parts of our social metabolism to the pettiest, meanest, most short-sighted people in the world. it's pretty scary. you can safely assume that the things they're ready and willing to do to their employees when they become inconvenient are also things that they're willing to do to their customers. Have you bought anything embarrassing from Amazon? Get ready to see all those things posted publicly should you start to meaningfully annoy Bezos.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:33 PM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Throw a brick in this town and you hit someone with an "Amazon is awful" story, so Amazon lacks a certain degree of credibility on this. Hell, even the people I know who like their jobs their admit it's a crazy intense environment that is not for everyone. And their burn through on new hires is just insane.
posted by Artw at 3:36 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Have you bought anything embarrassing from Amazon? Get ready to see all those things posted publicly should you start to meaningfully annoy Bezos.

"Those Phil Collins albums were for a friend, your honour."
posted by garius at 3:36 PM on October 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


I have serious doubts about whether that admission of fraud story is even true. Whose word are we taking for it?
posted by naju at 3:36 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Amazon is a tech company like Sears is a tech company.

Amazon's AWS division sells pure technology products that they develop themselves. More than 40 different products, many of which are the best available. We don't know the breakdown in revenue between AWS and Amazon's retail business, but AWS is certainly in the billions.

So yes, they are a tech company AND a retail company. The tech side seems to be dominant within the company, and they are mostly hiring people from other tech companies, so I think it is safe to call them a tech company.
posted by miyabo at 3:36 PM on October 20, 2015 [20 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this article isn't going to persuade anybody that Amazon is a better place to work than they thought it was before they read it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:36 PM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think the purpose of the article was to make it easier for Amazon brass to have conversation at dinner parties and gala events.
posted by Nevin at 3:37 PM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Purpose is to make any reporter think twice before criticizing Amazon. And it will probably work.
posted by miyabo at 3:38 PM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


With all the craziness I'd probably still sooner work there than Zappos.
posted by Artw at 3:42 PM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Amazon owns Zappos. Or was that the joke?
posted by gwint at 3:44 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


"The author has chosen not to show responses on this post."
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 3:44 PM on October 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


The company absolutely needs to counter this. It won't go away for them

The question is *what* won't go away for them.

It was true well before the NYT piece that Amazon had a reputation as a meatgrinder that could be good on a resume but would likely also take a toll.

What happened is that the NYT piece took that from stories swapped between former and prospective workers into a general public conversation.

The latter might go away, it might become a punchline like Howard Dean's scream. Hard to say.

The former... probably not going anywhere, short of radical positive personality changes cascading into management changes.
posted by weston at 3:46 PM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wonder what Bezos does to union organizers. I bet he's got some Ramsay Bolton shit going on in a basement somewhere...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:46 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Zappos is its own special crazy.
posted by Artw at 3:47 PM on October 20, 2015


I do wonder if HR worked any 100 hour weeks Coming up with that response.
posted by Artw at 3:48 PM on October 20, 2015


Only because they you know, wanted to.
posted by Mitheral at 3:50 PM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


The gross thing about this story is Amazon selectively publishing bits of employee review files. It's a really inappropriate thing for an employer to do, and baffling as a response to "Amazon is mean to its employees". As a friend of mine noted, Carney apparently picked up some lessons in ratfucking.
posted by Nelson at 3:50 PM on October 20, 2015 [27 favorites]


I think Amazon putting a response up on Medium is fairly weak, or perhaps even cowardly. If the response is so valid, why isn't it on Amazon.com? Why chose 'long form twitter' where anyone can write anything?
posted by Catblack at 3:50 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Framing this as media vs tech is nonsense. I work in tech, and yes, everyone I know in the tech industry regards media coverage of tech companies with some suspicion, because every single one of us has had the experience of reading something totally incorrect about something we know very very well reported totally straight-faced (and the Times is actually a pretty huge offender for this). That being said, everyone I know in tech also believes the Times story here 100% (sorry, make that 'is going to bat for the Times'), mostly because it gels with what former Amazon employees have been saying about that place for years. There wasn't a single thing in that piece that was a surprise to anyone who has worked in tech for any significant period of time.

Literally the only person I've seen argue that the article was inaccurate was a then-Amazon employee - who has, since the article came out, quit Amazon, and now with the benefit of distance is able to admit that yeah, working there was pretty fucking terrible.
posted by Itaxpica at 3:51 PM on October 20, 2015 [18 favorites]


Purpose is to make any reporter think twice before criticizing Amazon. And it will probably work.

Doubtful. How does this hurt the NYT? The reporters were easily able to counter Amazon's milktoast attacks. Now Amazon looks like a bunch of whiny crybaby liars, and on top of being vicious slavedrivers.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:51 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mediums got a bit of a shady business model where they are user generated contented but try to get themselves confused with stuff with editorial oversight, so maybe they wanted that veneer of respectability, for whatever it is worth?
posted by Artw at 3:51 PM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Amazon is merely a high-tech mail order company, whose financial success was built on an existing climate of scientific and engineering know-how - the availability of computers, automation, operational logistics, etc. in a corporate setting. Therefore, labor exploitation and concomitant antagonism won't "go away", not without alterations to the very structure that an entity such as Amazon is deeply embedded and entwined within.
posted by polymodus at 3:52 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


this is, like, the perfect embodiment of the phrase, "pissing into the wind". good on ya, Jay Carney.
posted by indubitable at 3:52 PM on October 20, 2015


Throw a brick in this town and you hit someone with an "Amazon is awful" story, so Amazon lacks a certain degree of credibility on this.

Amazon's response doesn't really even suggest that Amazon is not awful. All it does is pick a few nits with the original article, and say that a couple of the sources are jerks, the author is a jerk, and the NYT is a jerk.
posted by aubilenon at 3:53 PM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


The company absolutely needs to counter this. It won't go away for them

The question is *what* won't go away for them.


Based entirely on what I've seen and heard from colleagues, my guess would be they've taken a massive drubbing in recruitment in what's already a very tight hiring climate, and are reacting to the fact that it doesn't seem to be abating.
posted by Itaxpica at 3:53 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


An acquaintance of mine worked with/for Prime Now. He straight up told me recently "Amazon sucks to work for." So I'll just bypass the whole media vs. tech sideshow if y'all don't mind.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:53 PM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Literally the only person I've seen argue that the article was inaccurate...

I have 100% seen a bunch of Amazon employees and other people on Facebook (friends and friends-of-friends in conversation with one another) going to bat for Amazon and framing this as yellow journalism/muckracking against a tough-but-fair employer.
posted by griphus at 3:53 PM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


The weirdest part being that otherwise these are not the sort of people to back up a prick like Carney.
posted by griphus at 3:54 PM on October 20, 2015


I was wondering why this was on Medium. Do people go there to find these kind of articles?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:55 PM on October 20, 2015


Erik Wemple, Washington Post: Amazon’s weak attack on the New York Times

Oh neat, journalistic independence lives.
posted by psoas at 3:57 PM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Isn't the whole "Bo Olson committed fraud so he's clearly a liar" the very definition of an ad hominem attack?
posted by davejh at 3:58 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Literally the only person I've seen argue that the article was inaccurate...

I have 100% seen a bunch of Amazon employees and other people on Facebook (friends and friends-of-friends in conversation with one another) going to bat for Amazon and framing this as yellow journalism/muckracking against a tough-but-fair employer.


Ok, let me rephrase that to "literally the only person I know personally I've seen defending Amazon...". The point remains that it's pretty much only current Amazon employees defending the article, and they have every reason in the world to do so.
posted by Itaxpica at 3:59 PM on October 20, 2015


I was wondering why this was on Medium. Do people go there to find these kind of articles?

Do people "go to Medium" other than to specific articles linked to from elsewhere?
posted by aubilenon at 3:59 PM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


It doesn't have the tone you would expect to see in the official Amazon blog / website (which needs to be cheerful and positive and act like nothing's wrong.) The tone here is ill-tempered, wounded, defensive. It does make more sense on Medium, to be fair.
posted by naju at 3:59 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Do people "go to Medium" other than to specific articles linked to from elsewhere?

I never have. I agree that this should have been posted on the front page of Amazon if they really wanted it read.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:01 PM on October 20, 2015


Are we only assuming this is sort of official?
posted by Artw at 4:01 PM on October 20, 2015


Isn't the whole "Bo Olson committed fraud so he's clearly a liar" the very definition of an ad hominem attack?

It may be the very definition of defamatory. I wonder it they can back it up, otherwise Bo Olsen might have a pretty strong and valuable case, which Amazon would likely settle to avoid the bad press.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:01 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think the framing is "this is a missive from a man named Jay Carney, who has Good Information and just happens to work for Amazon" and not "this is Amazon speaking ex cathedra" which I mean I guess could have been more weasely if there was, like, a picture of a member of the genus Mustela somewhere in it.
posted by griphus at 4:02 PM on October 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


I was recently talking to some recent CS graduates who are looking for new jobs after only working 12 to 18 months at some of the big companies.

LinkedInners trying to go to Facebook, Amazonians applying at Google, Googlers seriously considering Microsoft. You get the idea.

Not one a single one of them wanted to go to Amazon. They repeated everything in the NYT piece, but crediting the information to friends and friends of friends. I am not sure if the NYT started the rumors, or if the rumors led to the NYT article, but Amazon's reputation is damaged among bright new graduates.

Either Amazon fixes their reputation, or they will have to figure out how to squeeze productivity out of the not so bright ones.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 4:03 PM on October 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


yeah, right, he's not speaking ex cathedra for Amazon, he's just publishing information from employee files as a private citizen acting on his own initiative.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:05 PM on October 20, 2015 [25 favorites]


yeah, the "this is Jay Carney and not officially Amazon" may also be important re: a defamation case. This is such a weird thing from every angle.
posted by naju at 4:05 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, I can imagine some of those guys who go to bat for Amazon going solo on this, company koo laid being the powerful drug it is.

Cool misuse of company information if it is.
posted by Artw at 4:05 PM on October 20, 2015


Also, one other point of damage from the NY Times piece is the families of Amazon workers who may be dealing with their family members being ground to a pulp by the company but putting up with it. Imagine if the only point of view you have on the company is a spouse who wants to remain employed there (and gives you the party line) and then reading this NY Times article.
posted by griphus at 4:06 PM on October 20, 2015


yeah, right, he's not speaking ex cathedra for Amazon, he's just publishing information from employee files as a private citizen acting on his own initiative.

Which is why all the cringing and eye-rolling and bird-flipping at this. Like naju said upthread, this was not as good a PR move as it was probably intended and paints Amazon -- no matter how much they attempted to distance themselves from the post by having it appear as posted by one of their employees (just like the employees that talked to the Times that everyone was so eager to believe!) -- as vindictive and mafia-like in the "that's an nice job you have, it'd be a shame if something happened to it after you talked with the press" sense.
posted by griphus at 4:09 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


They should probably just fire this guy right now.
posted by Artw at 4:11 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


yeah, the "this is Jay Carney and not officially Amazon" may also be important re: a defamation case. This is such a weird thing from every angle.

Jay Carney still has deep enough pockets to be worth suing. I imagine Amazon would pick up the tab if he did get sued.

But my understanding is that the US has few protections for employee privacy; that is, employee files are not actually confidential. Unless there's a confidentiality obligation in the contracts, and I doubt there is - it's not a standard inclusion - there wouldn't be much in the 'disclosing information from employee files' bit. I'll defer to the US mefite lawyers on that point.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:14 PM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wish that everyone who claims to have a moral objection to shopping at Wal-Mart but continues to purchase from Amazon would admit that they just don't want to have to spend time with poor people.

Actually, it's more about not wanting to spend time with people.
posted by okay-quiet-time at 4:15 PM on October 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


Carney got hired in March, so it would be amazing if they burned him this fast because their attemptedly-slick human-faced PR move is turning into a fiasco and someone needs to take the blame. "We definitely don't burn through employees like human livestock!" meanwhile Carney quietly looks for other work because the Medium Gambit didn't pay off like they wanted it to.
posted by griphus at 4:16 PM on October 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


yeah, right, he's not speaking ex cathedra for Amazon, he's just publishing information from employee files as a private citizen acting on his own initiative.

From a profile where the first thing listed is his job title, and which includes virtually no other details.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:17 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I refer to a book on MeFi, I try to use a link to Barnes & Noble, or another retailer, rather than Amazon.

Not sure how much money MeFi gets from the Amazon referral (or whatever it's called) program, though.
posted by amtho at 4:38 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Parasite Unseen: "I wish that everyone who claims to have a moral objection to shopping at Wal-Mart but continues to purchase from Amazon would admit that they just don't want to have to spend time with poor people. outside the house"

FTFY/FTFM
posted by symbioid at 4:42 PM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'll go to bat to defend the 'tech vs media' narrative, at least as I think John Herman means it. I think the real meat of the Awl piece is the end of access journalism, and the factors that are causing that to happen. Individuals within tech and the media might not be in competition, but their best interests are in conflict - they have different models of how journalism should look, a common theme.
posted by sagc at 4:55 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Based entirely on what I've seen and heard from colleagues, my guess would be they've taken a massive drubbing in recruitment in what's already a very tight hiring climate, and are reacting to the fact that it doesn't seem to be abating.

The correct capitalist response here would be to realize employees aren't buying what you're selling and then adjust your employment practices accordingly so that you can attract the applicants you'd like. That Amazon instead decided to make it clear that they're even worse than the article suggested (i.e. - sharing the employee file information) suggests to me that they, as an organization, don't have the ability to look at themselves and change.

This is part of why the whole "the market will fix it" thing is bullshit.

Its also an opening for a company that thinks it can compete with Amazon to swoop in and start some serious competition. The running comparison of how employees are treated to Walmart is CostCo. Is there another place online that does what Amazon does but isn't as shitty to its employees?
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:59 PM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think the real meat of the Awl piece is the end of access journalism

If access is only granted to a journalist that skews the story in your favor, then what good is the access? It reminds me of political reporters lobbing softballs at politicians with no follow-up or push-back because if they started doing their job they wouldn't get that access anymore. And so lies get reported and spread but it's defended because this will get them another interview.
posted by downtohisturtles at 5:04 PM on October 20, 2015


Also, I don't know how this fits into the narrative of tech versus media, but with notably few exceptions, the media are famously uncritical of anything that goes on in tech.

There are pretty much two modes of writing about "tech" - breathless hype and backlash.
posted by atoxyl at 5:06 PM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


When I refer to a book on MeFi, I try to use a link to Barnes & Noble, or another retailer, rather than Amazon.

I normally put up links to the book at Powell's, since really the best thing you can say about B&N is that at least they're not Amazon.

(please tell me Powell's isn't secretly awful...)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:06 PM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also the way Jay Carney's response pulls out all these details about ex-employees reminds me a little bit of the way Scientology responds to defectors.
posted by atoxyl at 5:12 PM on October 20, 2015 [21 favorites]


Say what you will about Amazon, the informed consumer can get their questions answered there.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:21 PM on October 20, 2015


Also the way Jay Carney's response pulls out all these details about ex-employees reminds me a little bit of the way Scientology responds to defectors.

For reals. the shocking thing about Amazon's retaliation campaign is how totally low-rent and lame it is. you'd expect it from a crazy fringe cult like Scientology or Westboro Baptist. It's a little disorienting to find that a company that we've entrusted with like practically everything is as amateurishly, pathetically vindictive as those fringe organizations are.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:23 PM on October 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


As a former Amazon employee, I can say that the Times got it mostly right. I never saw anyone actually weep the entire time I was there (two years), although I did hear a story or two. But what is less glamorous but more significant, I can say that I have never before or since worked in a company as stressful as Amazon. It was very stressful for me, and many (most?) of my coworkers.

That being said, Amazon engineers really are some of the most capable and motivated I've ever worked with. In the trenches, there is plenty of espirit de corps. I also admire how, as an organization, Amazon understands how to properly build quality software in a timely manner. It's shocking how few companies are able to get that right.
posted by Edgewise at 5:35 PM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


"Media versus tech"? This seems like a nebulous dichotomy. Does the writer mean "the media industry" versus "the tech industry"? Because those industries have a large degree of intermingling these days.

Especially since Bezos owns WaPo.
posted by Edgewise at 5:39 PM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Based entirely on what I've seen and heard from colleagues, my guess would be they've taken a massive drubbing in recruitment in what's already a very tight hiring climate, and are reacting to the fact that it doesn't seem to be abating.

Maybe they could try not being such a shitty employer? That might improve recruitment. Or is that just crazy talk?
posted by octothorpe at 6:00 PM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well....You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues....in any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.” ― Michael Crichton

It's a worthwhile thing to remember -- it seems very rare that anyone who has read a newspaper article on a subject they know a lot about thought that the article was substantially accurate.

Although I've heard separately that Amazon is a lousy place to work -- not so much because of the culture outlined in the article, but because of brutal 24-hour on-call schedules for their engineers.
posted by phoenixy at 6:30 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


the media v tech framing here makes no sense. this is a classic piece of investigative journalism and the response is a classic piece of corporate propaganda that slimes the people who told the truth without actually rebutting what they said. Since Amazon doesn't have the facts on its side, it uses innuendo. just like that piece that claimed that the media messed up by not chasing down a low level drug dealer in the overdose of the basketball player, it obfuscates far more than it clarifies.

if the NYT made substantive errors— say, claiming that Amazon is hell to work for when, in fact, it has the best and most worker-friendly policies in the U.S.— that might be an example of the NYT going after Amazon because media wants to attack tech. but the NYT didn't make substantive errors. all of what they claimed is corroborated. If Amazon wants to improve its image, it could try actually treating people better.
posted by Maias at 6:53 PM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Michael Crichton

Yeah, of course Crichton would say something like that. He was a notorious climate change denier and portrayed a critic he didn't like as a child molester in one of his books.
posted by FJT at 6:54 PM on October 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


Yeah, this "Guys, you can't trust the media they are always wrong about everything and lying" stuff seems like pure FUD to muddy the waters. It's a really obvious, desperate ploy by Amazon, and it's weird anyone here is buying it.

"Media vs. Tech"? Come on.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:03 PM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


That being said, Amazon engineers really are some of the most capable and motivated I've ever worked with. In the trenches, there is plenty of espirit de corps. I also admire how, as an organization, Amazon understands how to properly build quality software in a timely manner. It's shocking how few companies are able to get that right.

I think it can be said that many "nice to work at" shops are considered "nice" because they give voice to people who don't know what they're talking about, and ignorant people like being listened to (like everyone else).

I kinda wonder if the "nice place to work that also doesn't tolerate BS" is sort of like a pin balanced on end. I hope not.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 7:23 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Amazon's biggest problem with future recruiting is people who used to work there, not the media.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:39 PM on October 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


> I kinda wonder if the "nice place to work that also doesn't tolerate BS" is sort of like a pin balanced on end. I hope not.

Though note that there's no real direct correlation between "nice" and "BS" — I refer you to Zappos as an example of a place that is high in both meanness and bullshit. if the "nice and bullshit," "mean, but not bullshit," and "both mean and bullshit" quadrants are filled in, maybe "nice and not bullshit" is also possible. However, it may be that this quadrant is inaccessible because of the fundamental violence of capitalism that can only be ended if we seize the...

[... Marxist gabble continues for 700 pages... ]
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:45 PM on October 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think the framing is "this is a missive from a man named Jay Carney, who has Good Information and just happens to work for Amazon" and not "this is Amazon speaking ex cathedra"

no, the piece explicitly says "we" (meaning Amazon) decided to respond. it clearly IS ex cathedra.

the piece really amazed me. being a lawyer myself, I was struck by the absolutely textbook effort at impeachment of the people who provided negative quotes.

Amazon references the woman who had provided the "four sleepless nights" story and how she had backpedaled in her own response to the NYT story. I found that somewhat chilling. do not doubt for a second that Amazon had "reached out" to her prior to her publishing that response, and the subtext of their overture was almost certainly "we will destroy.you."

in a war of credibility, we've got a former professional liar for the White House versus the NYT.

this is so absurd.
posted by jayder at 7:59 PM on October 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


I also expect/hope that we will hear from "Bo" (the guy who allegedly tried to defraud vendors) and that the real story is going to have considerably less "oomph" than Amazon would have you believe.
posted by jayder at 8:04 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


jayder, I'm going to steal "destroy.you" whenever I need to speak about Silicon Valley firms retaliating against former employees or whistleblowers. I don't care if it was a typo--it's perfect.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:16 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was under the impression that nowadays, when you call up a major American corporation to check an ex-employee's employment, all they will provide is a confirmation of whether or not that person worked there between whatever dates and maybe their job title. As a matter of policy, they won't provide any indication of their performance, things like "John Doe received excellent performance evaluations" or "Jane Smith was fired for cause", presumably out of fear of getting sued.

Well, I guess Amazon weighed the risks in this case and figured that whatever risk of getting sued was outweighed by whatever benefit they hope to gain from Carney's "rebuttal".

They should probably just fire this guy right now.

I would be hilariously shocked if Jay Carney just freelanced this. What are the odds that Carney managed to slip this out there without Jeff Bezos himself proof-reading every line in that Medium article? I would wager that no fewer than a dozen executives across Human Resources, Legal, and Public Relations had a hand in this one. That would also explain why it was released two months after the original NYT article. Also note that the NYT's response to Carney did not take two months...
posted by Pseudonymous Sockpuppet at 9:36 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Jay Carney was the White House Press Secretary when the White House bizarrely overreacted to Jodi Kantor's book The Obamas, right? Disclosure: Jodi's a friend of mine.
posted by nicwolff at 9:38 PM on October 20, 2015


I worked with one of the people quoted in the original NYT article (at a post-Amazon company), and they were totally trustworthy and super clever. Although this person wasn't mentioned in Carney's Medium post, the threatening tone towards everyone who spoke to the NYT is gross and infuriating.
posted by jess at 11:15 PM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


That's why my current strategy is going to Amazon for the reviews and then buying the thing from a company which is not Amazon.
posted by yoHighness at 2:28 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I worked for Amazon for several years, I found nothing to fault in the NY Times article. It is a soul-sucking and unhealthy place to work (ridiculous hours and political backstabbing), only do it if you are single and need to bank some money, at the cost of your mental and physical health!
posted by Yosemite Sam at 3:21 AM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Amazon Tried to woo me into an interview with promises of a 70 thousand dollar signing bonus if I was hired and I just couldn't bring myself to give them my resume. I've known too many people who work there. I would probably kill myself if I had to work under the pressures some of those engineers are under. I don't understand why people are willing to work under such grueling and demanding pressure. I'd rather be much less riche and much more worried about being able to pay my electric bill than worried about AWS going down and having to deal an extraordinarily painful RCA process that could potentially end up with me being fired. I mean. Really. Amazon sells mostly crap, and people go destroy years of their lives to keep amazon's lights on. For what? Cyber Monday specials? And it's not just Amazon that subjects people to pressure at those levels. It's a problem in the industry at a lot places and I wish more enigineers would speak up.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:25 AM on October 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Erik Wemple, Washington Post: Amazon’s weak attack on the New York Times

Oh neat, journalistic independence lives.


Do you not realize that the author is an opinion blogger?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 7:52 AM on October 21, 2015


An opinion blogger in a paper owned by the guy who owns Amazon, yes.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:03 AM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


The closest I have ever heard to a defense of Amazon from someone who was not working there or related to someone working there was from a friend who is now working for Google. She's pregnant with her second kid (part of the reason she left her previous company) and mentioned that she had had an offer from Amazon. I said something about dodging a bullet by working at Google and she said that her impression of Amazon was that it was hard, but that it was really team dependent (the team she got an offer from was not one of the horrible ones). So depending on the team you were in, it could vary from intense to soul-crushing. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
posted by Hactar at 8:25 AM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


An opinion blogger in a paper owned by the guy who owns Amazon, yes.

Ah I see, so I was reading snark into the comment, when none was intended. My bad.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 8:38 AM on October 21, 2015


We hire a ton of ex-Amazon people... they all tell basically the same story: smart people, interesting place to work, give up any life you hope to have outside of work.
posted by ph00dz at 9:47 AM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


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