Category Archives: Uncategorized

New York Times: We got it right on ‘culling’ the staff

As I wrote Monday, I thought the most significant part of Nick Ciubotariu’s post in defense of Amazon was his flat-out denial that the company fires a certain number of employees every year as a way of “culling” the staff. So I want to note that The New York Times is now asserting that its reporting is correct and that Ciubotariu is simply wrong:

His points contradicted the accounts of many former and current colleagues, and some of his assertions were incorrect, including a statement that the company does not cull employees on an annual basis. An Amazon spokesman previously confirmed that the company sought to manage out a certain percentage of its work force annually. The number varies from year to year.

The responses to the Times’ megastory on Amazon’s workplace environment, reported and written by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, continue to roll in. Here are a few — none of them long — that I think are worth your time.

At Fortune, Mathew Ingram argues that though the Times’ reporting may be accurate, it lacks context. “For some, it is probably a cruel place where they [employees] feel unwelcome, and their performance is judged more harshly than they would like,” Ingram writes, “but for others I expect it is a challenging environment that makes them do things they might not have even thought they were capable of.”

Ingram also makes an important point that I couldn’t help but notice as I was reading the Times opus: an underlying dismissiveness of Amazon because it’s a mere retailer (not actually true, but whatever). Ingram puts it this way:

I think part of the reason that Amazon gets singled out is that it is seen as just a retailer, not a company like Apple that is making magical products to improve people’s lives or fill them with joy. This tone runs throughout the New York Times piece, which talks about how employees are subjected to inhuman treatment “with words like ‘mission’ used to describe lightning-quick delivery of Cocoa Krispies or selfie sticks.” The implication is that selling things somehow isn’t a worthwhile goal.

Buzz Machine blogger Jeff Jarvis thinks the Times article lacks balance, and says that though it did manage to take note of the fact that Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, more emphasis should have been placed on the Times’ rivalry with the Post.

“The Times did not say until halfway down its very long piece that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, which some say is closing in on The Times,” Jarvis writes. “The problem at a moment like this is that once one starts to believe The Times might have an agenda, one is left trying to suss out what it might be.”

Former Poynter faculty member Bill Mitchell, a colleague of mine at Northeastern, praises the Times article for its use of on-the-record sources rather than relying on anonymous whispers. “I don’t recall an anonymous source amid the 6,700 words,” he writes. Actually, there are a few, but he’s right that the story is better documented than many such stories.

Mitchell also hails the Times for its “even-handed tone,” which I find interesting mainly because of how different readers interpret the same material in different ways. I thought the Times article was overwhelmingly negative, and that the Amazon employees and officials who spoke favorably about the company were cast in the role of corporate stooges.

Anyway, much to chew over — as there should be given Amazon’s role as a paradigm of the new economy.

Hail hits Hub

Click on image for Instagram video

Click on image for Instagram video

The view from Pavement Coffeehouse on Gainsborough Street in Boston a little over an hour ago.

Before the next blizzard


Looking north toward the Upper Mystic Lake from the causeway between the Upper and Lower Mystic Lakes at the Medford-Arlington line. Please click on the image for a high-resolution Flickr slideshow.

Media freedom and human rights

Journalism about human rights is both important and dangerous. That was the message at the K. George and Carolann S. Najarian Lecture on Human Rights at Faneuil Hall, endowed by the Armenian Heritage Foundation and held Thursday night.

The lecture, titled “Truth to Action: Media Freedom,” featured Ray Suarez of Al Jazeera America and PRI; Boston Globe investigative reporter Stephen Kurkjian, who’s also an adjunct professor at Northeastern University; and Thomas Mucha, editor of the Boston-based international news agency GlobalPost.

To see a Storify of live tweets about the event, please click here.

How Clay Christensen’s thinking has influenced John Henry

Fall2012_185wHarvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has an important article in The Boston Globe today on the disruptive changes coming to higher education, arguing that the fading away of MOOCs (massive online open courses) will amount to nothing more than a temporary reprieve for the old way of doing things.

Ultimately, Christensen and his co-author Michelle Weise argue, college and university administrators will have to deal with “disruptive innovations” coming from the outside as they find that their high and increasing costs are unsustainable.

But what I find at least as interesting as Christensen’s views on education is connecting the dots between him and the Globe. Consider:

  • In the fall of 2012, Christensen and two co-authors — David Skok and James Allworth — wrote the cover story for Nieman Reports, “Breaking News,” on the challenges facing the news business in a time of disruptive innovation.
  • Last October, John Henry, shortly after completing his purchase of the Globe, wrote a piece for his new paper outlining his vision — and citing Christensen’s oft-repeated mantra that business leaders should think in terms of “jobs to be done.”
  • A month later, Christensen’s co-author Skok, the former head of a Canadian news site called Global News, was hired as the digital adviser to Globe editor Brian McGrory. (And here is an article by Skok that accompanied the main Nieman Reports essay.)
  • In an exchange of emails with Boston magazine earlier this year, Henry expressed admiration for Christensen and Skok, adding, “I’m not sure it is necessarily up to the disrupted to be disruptive as a strategy, but virtually everything these days is subject to disruption.”

Given that context, Christensen’s appearance in today’s Globe would appear to be a side effect of the “jobs to be done” thinking that has already permeated John Henry’s news organization.

Washington Post to expand staff and ambitions

Then-Boston Globe editor on WGBH-TV (Channel 2) in 2009.

Marty Baron (2009 file photo)

The Washington Post faced a lot of questions after Ezra Klein packed up and took his talents to Vox Media. Were Jeff Bezos and company making a Politico-level mistake in not finding a way to keep Klein, the founder of Wonkblog, under its own roof? Or was Klein making unreasonable demands — reportedly a $10 million investment for a much bigger staff?

My own view is that the two sides should have found a way to keep Klein loosely affiliated with the Post, although I have no way of knowing whether that was a realistic option.

In any event, I’m burying the lede. On Wednesday the Post went a long way toward answering those questions by announcing a significant investment in its news operations. Wonkblog will continue. And according to a memo to the staff from executive editor Marty Baron, a considerable amount of hiring and expansion is under way, including more blogs, a breaking-news desk and an expanded Sunday magazine.

“With these initiatives, we can all look forward to a future of great promise,” Baron wrote. (Thanks to Jim Romenesko, who also links to a Washingtonian story in which Post publisher Katharine Weymouth offers further insight into Klein’s departure.)

In an interview with Ravi Somaiya of The New York Times, Baron says of Bezos: “He hasn’t been passive. He’s heavily engaged, keenly interested in what our ideas are. He offered his own thoughts and expressed a willingness to invest.”

These are very good signs at a time when the news about the news is more favorable than anything we’ve heard in years (Patch’s latest near-death experience notwithstanding). Whether such optimism is warranted will be the media story of 2014 and beyond.

Photo is a screen grab from an appearance then-Boston Globe editor Baron made on WGBH-TV’s “Greater Boston with Emily Rooney” in 2009.

Fall panorama


Looking east on Elliot Street in downtown Brattleboro, Vt., toward Wantastiquet Mountain late Saturday afternoon. Shot with an iPhone 4 — fuzziness caused by digital zoom.