Amazon and NYT: the row continues

New York Times newspapers Image copyright Getty Images

In decades past this kind of row would have taken place in private.

"Have you seen this?!" an exec would scream at an assistant. "Get me the New York Times on the phone!"

The long suffering helper would totter off to the next room in a panic.

Moments later… bzzzt… "I have the editor of the Times on the line for you, sir."

A heated back and forth would ensue, where the exec, feet up on an expensive varnished desk, rips into the editor. Exactly what kind of no-good newspaper is he running?

The editor, end-of-day bourbon in hand, and in a much cheaper suit than his caller, would lean back in his leather chair.

"Forget it, the story stands."

Phone slammed down, and… end scene.

'A lot more boring'

I'm getting carried away. My point is, things are less romantic when it's 2015. And a whole lot more public.

Today, it seems when a company like Amazon is raging at the New York Times over an article that is now two months old, it apparently doesn't just offer a stern phone call.

It's time for the "open letter". Oh great.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Amazon's anger at the article has been stewing

A quick re-cap: In August, the New York Times said it had interviewed more than 100 Amazon employees past and present - and the result was a story detailing a horrid atmosphere of people crying at their desks, working crazy hours, and so on.

In response, Amazon said it simply wasn't true. The Times was describing a company they didn't recognise, senior execs - and lower employees - came forward to say. Just to be sure, Amazon also invited any current employees to come forward, in confidence, to express any concerns.

And that was the end of it, we thought. Everyone moved on, we thought. We thought wrong.

Jay Carney is Amazon's "senior vice president for global corporate affairs". On Monday, he published a 1,300 word essay about the article. In it, he outlined why he thought the Times had got it very, very wrong.

I won't list all the rebuttals here, but it's worth checking out the full post - if only to observe a corporate giant so seething with rage it drops any sense of jargon, spin and positive PR. Instead, it goes right for the language that would've been, like I mentioned, hollered down the phone in years gone by.

"What we do know is," Carney concluded, "had the reporters checked their facts, the story they published would have been a lot less sensational, a lot more balanced, and, let's be honest, a lot more boring.

"It might not have merited the front page, but it would have been closer to the truth."

Take that, New York Times! Just chasing a front page story to flog newspapers. Typical!

'Too good to check'

But, with a delivery speed worthy of an Amazon Prime membership, the Times hit back with its own 1,300 word open letter.

Dean Bacquet, executive editor, was the person who took it on.

"Our reporters spoke to more than a hundred current and former employees, at various levels and divisions, over many months," he wrote.

"Many, including most of those you cited, talked about how they admired Amazon's ambitions and urgency even as they described aspects of the workplace as troubling.

"Patterns emerged: many people raised similar concerns."

One-by-one, Bacquet knocked off each of Carney's complaints, eventually finishing with: "Any reading of the responses leaves no doubt that this was an accurate portrait."

No sign of a budge on either side, then.

Later on, Carney responded to Bacquet's response (are you keeping up?) with why he thought his complaints still stood. The discussion has (so far) rested on this final line: "Reporters like to joke about stories and anecdotes that are 'too good to check'.

"But the joke is really a warning. When an anecdote or quote is too good to check, it's usually too good to be true."

So. What have we learned from the whole affair?

Not much, other than that the Times' story really, really hurt Amazon's feelings. It hurt so much that a senior executive felt compelled to re-energise a story and debate that had just about been forgotten about, such is the short attention span of the news agenda.

Oh, and we've learned that Medium - the place where this whole row took place - is fast becoming the platform of choice for debates worthy of more than 140 characters on Twitter.

It's the thinking-person's Tumblr, with fewer Taylor Swift gifs, but just as much angst.

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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