Turning to the front page of The New York Times business section yesterday, I did a double take.
Sitting above the fold found The New York Times taking on the story line of Amazon constructing buildings around oversized greenhouses in downtown Seattle. I wouldn’t exactly call this a puff piece, but it sure does come off as “friendly.”
How could such a piece come about after the contentious fight between the two organizations last August?
To refresh memories, The New York Times published the investigative piece, “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace” on August 15, 2015. If the headline wasn’t clear enough, the kicker noted that “The company is conducting an experiment in how it can push white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions.”
In short, the piece painted a picture of “Lord of the Flies” in a corporate setting.Jeff Bezos was not amused. As Shakespeare so aptly wrote, “Hell hath no fury like a founder scorned.”
And the company punched back, underscored by the post published on Medium, “What The New York Times Didn’t Tell You“. The close left nothing to interpretation:
The Times got attention for their story, but in the process they did a disservice to readers, who deserve better. The next time you see a sensationalistic quote in the Times like “nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk,” you might wonder whether there’s a crucial piece of context or backstory missing — like admission of fraud — and whether the Times somehow decided it just wasn’t important to check.
The tussle gave all appearances of being of epic proportion, meaning the Times would continue to cover Amazon professionally and Amazon would continue to spit out responses to the Times‘ questions, but the two would never forget.
Yet, yesterday’s story reveals that some time after August 15 Amazon extended an olive book and the Times accepted the peace offering.
How else do you explain Times‘ journalist Nick Wingfield getting access to wander Amazon’s one-acre greenhouse and hang with the resident horticulturist or the NYT devoting precious resources to a story about kale Caesar salads and bringing more greenery to a corporate campus?
Wingfield does reference the Amazon story on its “bruising workplace,” but it appears a good 1000 plus words deep into the feature via the innocuous line:
“Any respite from stress could be particularly helpful for a company that has a reputation for a sometimes punishing work environment”
In short, the story screams “we’re good” (from both parties).
I don’t have any back channels into Amazon shedding light on how its truce with The New York Times came about.
Still, I suspect Amazon’s PR function let some time pass to dull emotions before raising the viewpoint that it’s in the company’s best interest to cultivate a constructive relationship with The New York Times. Eventually Bezos capitulated and the course correcting commenced.
Judging from afar, I’d say it’s working.
Side note: If you’re interested in rewinding the clock on the spat between Amazon and The New York Times, check out “One Not-so-little Detail Missing from the Debate on Amazon’s Culture.”