By:
June 16, 2021

Wow. What a blockbuster from The New York Times. It’s Jodi Kantor, Karen Weise and Grace Ashford with “The Amazon That Customers Don’t See.” The Times looked into Amazon during the pandemic and came away with these five takeaways:

  • Amazon has been churning through employees.
  • Buggy and patchwork systems caused some workers to lose their benefits, and even their jobs, in error.
  • Amazon’s strict monitoring of workers has stoked a culture of fear.
  • There is rising concern over racial inequity.
  • Many of Amazon’s most contentious policies go back to Jeff Bezos’ original vision.

During an appearance on “CBS This Morning,” Kantor noted Bezos’ preference for employee turnover because newer employers are fresher. At the same time, Kantor said Bezos intentionally limited upward mobility in the warehouses.

Kantor said, “I think the question in the investigation in many ways is how come Amazon can be so precise with packages and yet treat people so differently? And is this what powered Amazon’s success? Is this their secret? Does it work really well? Or is it actually an impediment to the company’s survival?”

Kantor said some former Amazon executives are worried the company could ultimately run out of workers. Like literally.

I’d go over some of the many almost-too-hard-to-believe examples of employees being mistreated, but it’s better if you read it yourself.

Kantor, by the way, was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the Times that reported on film producer Harvey Weinstein and other sexual predators. She and Times reporter Megan Twohey wrote the book “She Said” based on that reporting.

Wait, there’s more

The New York Times’ stunning investigation wasn’t the only story about Amazon to drop on Tuesday. Vox’s Jason Del Rey wrote, “Amazon’s Black employees say the company’s HR department is failing them.”

Del Rey’s story includes this whopper of a paragraph: “Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has famously said the company’s goal is to be the ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company,’ and for decades that singular focus seems to have come at the expense of nearly all else. But now a growing swath of its employees say this singular focus has helped perpetuate a race problem inside Amazon — and, crucially, that attempts to address it over the years have been stymied by the company’s HR department and its leader.”

This, too, is quite the story.

New York Times columnist, podcaster and tech authority Kara Swisher tweeted, “Sounds like a bad day for Amazon HR.”

Trump’s obsession

Donald Trump. (Photo: zz/Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx)

It just doesn’t end.

Emails from former President Donald Trump released for the first time on Tuesday showed Trump was pressuring Jeffrey Rosen to take up his claims of election fraud before Rosen even replaced William Barr as attorney general. This was back in December — well after Trump lost and well before the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian wrote, “On the same day as the electoral college met to certify the election results — which was also the day Trump announced that William P. Barr would be stepping down as attorney general — his assistant sent Rosen an email with a list of complaints concerning the way the election had been carried out in Antrim County, Mich.”

Mind you, this was only a week after a federal court threw out a lawsuit about election fraud claims there.

That was just one of many emails disclosed by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which is investigating the causes of the Jan. 6 riot on the U.S. Capitol.

As The New York Times’ Katie Benner wrote, “They are also the latest example of Mr. Trump’s frenzied drive to subvert the election results in the final weeks of his presidency, including ratcheting up pressure on the Justice Department. And they show that Mr. Trump flouted an established anticorruption norm that the Justice Department acts independently of the White House on criminal investigations or law enforcement actions, a gap that steadily eroded during Mr. Trump’s term.”

The book on Trump

A president’s memoirs are typically very successful and you certainly would think that a book written by Donald Trump, who has tens of millions of devoted followers, would be a coup for any publishing house.

So why is Trump still looking for a publisher five months after being out of the White House?

In a piece for Politico, Daniel Lippman and Meridith McGraw report that some publishers are hesitant to have Trump write a book for them because they worry that what Trump writes wouldn’t be the truth.

One major figure in the book publishing industry told Lippman and McGraw, “(It) would be too hard to get a book that was factually accurate, actually. That would be the problem. If he can’t even admit that he lost the election, then how do you publish that?”

Trump said last week that he has had two offers for a book deal, but turned them down because the timing isn’t right. In a statement to Politico, Trump said,  “… two of the biggest and most prestigious publishing houses have made very substantial offers which I have rejected. That doesn’t mean I won’t accept them sometime in the future, as I have started writing the book. If my book will be the biggest of them all, and with 39 books written or being written about me, does anybody really believe that they are above making a lot of money? Some of the biggest sleezebags (sic) on earth run these companies.”

Lippman and McGraw wrote, “POLITICO reached out to top publishers and editors at the ‘Big Five’ publishing houses — Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, and Simon & Schuster — to see if they had heard anything about any such deals Trump had been offered. None of the sources said they had heard about such potential book offers, and most said they wouldn’t touch a Trump project when he does start shopping a book around.”

Drawing conclusions

This year, the Pulitzer Prize Board took the rare, although not unprecedented step of not awarding a Pulitzer Prize in one category. Since 2000, it has happened five times. This year, no Editorial Cartooning Pulitzer was selected. It was the first time that has happened in 48 years and, as expected, editorial cartoonists are not happy.

My colleague Angela Fu wrote about this for Poynter.

The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists released a statement that said, “We are mystified by the pointed rejection of talented Finalists as well as the many other artists who have been creating powerful work in these most eventful and challenging of times. The medium of editorial cartooning has been evolving for many years now, yet the Pulitzer Board remains extremely traditional and narrow-minded in its tastes, apparently uncomfortable with contemporary trends in opinion cartooning and comic art.”

While I personally did not see all the nominated work and I can understand the editorial cartoonists being irked, I’m not sure we should have any issues that a winner was not selected. I find it hard to believe that the Pulitzer board has anything personal against the cartoonists.

The board’s obligation is to Pulitzer standards and maybe they felt the cartoons this year simply didn’t meet those standards. This isn’t about which cartoons were the best of 2020, but which cartoons deserve to be placed alongside all the other Pulitzer Prize winners in every category ever.

Major move

Big shakeup in the journalism world. Politico’s top editor Carrie Budoff Brown is jumping ship to NBC News to take over the “Meet the Press” franchise. That includes not just the iconic Sunday morning show on NBC, but “MTP Daily” on MSNBC, a podcast, streaming shows and a daily newsletter.

In a note to staff, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim said, “In this role, like Libby Leist at TODAY and Janelle Rodriguez at Nightly News, Carrie will oversee the MTP brand in its entirety.”

This is a big deal for a couple of reasons.

One, as Axios’ Sara Fischer wrote, “Budoff Brown has been with Politico since its earliest days in 2007 and is admired among newsroom staff. Her departure will be a major loss to the organization.”

And, two, it’s a sign that NBC News wants to beef up “Meet the Press,” particularly the platforms other than just the traditional TV shows. According to Oppenheim’s note, John Reiss will remain executive producer of “Meet the Press” and Melissa Frankel will continue to serve as executive producer of “MTP Daily.” Both will report to Budoff Brown.

Meanwhile, in a letter to staff, Politico publisher Robert Allbritton appeared disappointed that Budoff Brown was leaving but said her decision “does not come as a surprise.” He wished her well in her new job.

Bizarre report leads to firing

It started off innocently enough. A reporter for a TV station in Houston was about to do a live report about the hot weather. But before Fox 26 reporter Ivory Hecker talked about the heat, she had a message for viewers.

“Before we get to that story, I want to let you, the viewers, know that Fox Corp. has been muzzling me to keep certain information from you, the viewers,” Hecker said. “And from what I’m gathering, I am not the only reporter being subjected to this.”

She then continued on air about how she was going to go through the controversial Project Veritas to release “some recordings” about Fox Corp. Then she went onto the story about the weather.

No surprise, Hecker now tells The Daily Beast that she has been fired.

She told The Daily Beast’s Diana Falzone and Justin Baragona, “I have been longing to part ways with this strange, slightly unhinged corporation since last August when I realized what they were. The piece with Project Veritas doesn’t touch what they did. Fox 26 knows I’m fearless. I have zero interest in working for another corporation. They all toe the same line.”

Hecker then took a shot at the big company — Fox News — saying, “I would turn down Fox News. They wanted to bring me up to the network. I met a lot of executives there and I don’t want to talk to them anymore. It came from one of the top executives there that what I needed to succeed was to get in line with the narrative.”

The Daily Beast wrote, “A Fox News spokesperson, however, confirmed that the network did have a single meeting with Hecker but that it was only as a courtesy and the reporter was never offered a job with the network.”

Turns out, Hecker’s complaints were about her station steering her away from certain stories, such as cryptocurrency and hydroxychloroquine. For more of those details, check out The Daily Beast story that Tuesday night changed its headline to “Wait, This Is Why a Local Fox Reporter Sabotaged Her Career?”

AP’s latest move

Associated Press reporter Farnoush Amiri tweeted out that the AP “will no longer name suspects in brief stories about minor crimes in which there is little chance AP will provide coverage beyond the initial arrest.”

According to Amiri, the reason is to “minimize harm on suspects’ who later gain employment or just move on in their lives.”

In addition, the AP says it will also stop publishing stories “driven mainly by a particularly embarrassing mugshot.”

Who is The Athletic’s latest hire?

James Holzhauer. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

You remember James Holzhauer. He’s the “Jeopardy” contestant who won 32 consecutive games and nearly $2.5 million in 2019 before moving on to the trivia game show “The Chase.” He has also been a professional sports gambler since 2005.

He’ll now take that sports betting experience to The Athletic — the ad-free, subscription-based sports site. In a column for The Athletic, Holzhauer announced he is joining the site to write primarily about sports betting. In his column, Holzhauer will write about things such as when to bet, where to bet, which sports to bet on and more. What Holzhauer won’t write?

“Picks,” Holzhauer wrote. “I will likely devote an entire article to why I wouldn’t bet anyone else’s plays, but for now, I’ll just state that I won’t be giving out picks in this or any other space.”

His first sports betting column will run Thursday.

This seems like a really smart move by The Athletic. Holzhauer is an engaging personality and, obviously, is really good at what he does.

In addition, gambling such a big part of sports, and a sports website needs to be, well, all in on coverage.

The big meeting

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet today in Geneva. Here are some stories previewing the historical first meeting since Biden became president:

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: NBC News)

  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on this morning’s “Morning Joe” (6 to 9 a.m. on MSNBC) for special coverage of Biden’s face-to-face meeting with Putin.
  • “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt is being inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame on Oct. 11 in Las Vegas.
  • Slate has launched a new season of the podcast “Decoder Ring,” which cracks cultural mysteries and is hosted by Slate television critic Willa Paskin. The first episode is “The Soap Opera Machine,” which looks at the wild world of ripped-from-real-headlines soap operas.
  • Good media story from The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi with “The Barbara Starr question: Why did Trump’s Justice Department want CNN Pentagon reporter’s emails?”

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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