Saturday, 24 October 2015

Who would win in Amazon versus The New York Times?

You should start by reading at least part of this New Yorker story about Amazon's Jay Carney and his battle of words with The New York Times this year. Carney, who once worked as Barack Obama's press secretary, wrote and published on the SF-based website Medium a story rebutting derogatory claims the NYT had made some months earlier about Amazon's work culture.

The backstory for this article is of course the way that the new media economy that has developed in the age of the internet is sucking the lifeblood out of the mainstream media, represented here by the NYT, in favour of new companies like Amazon, which is a company that completely owes its existence to the internet.

First-off and to be frank I was surprised by the deferential tone in the New Yorker story toward Amazon, as though the article's writer found it difficult to credit any claims that Amazon might treat its workers badly. Why, I thought, would it be so hard to believe that a company treats its workers badly when history is replete to overflowing with examples of companies treating workers badly and doing thousands of other unethical and immoral things to boot? But there seems to be something different about companies in the new media economy, at least in the eyes of that writer.

In general there seems to be an understanding especially among the young and those who are intricately involved in the internet that the mainstream media is somehow responsible for its own economic woes. To a certain degree this is deserved criticism, as there have been plenty of opportunities for mainstream media companies to make investments in new media properties over the years, which might have made the difference between success and failure on the economic front in the internet age. In the Australian context, the example of Fairfax Media is a salutary one.

But this seems a little harsh. The way I see it the mainstream media has struggled to come to terms with the new media economy and although it has not done everything to save itself in the way it might have done in a perfect universe, the fact is that back in 2005 when revenues started their long downward slide it was not at all obvious which way things would work out. Social media was still pretty much just an idea in those days. Online classifieds? Still emerging in the real world.

But the stigma associated with failure persists, and sticks to mainstream media companies like body odour and people like the young writer of this article continue to go out of their way to give credit where it is by no means due. Companies behaving badly? Welcome to the real world!

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