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NY Times Cries Foul on Its Own Coverage of Amazon Hachette

streitfeld-topics-articleInline[1]As anyone who has been following the Amazon-Hachette fight can tell you, Hachette has a number of allies in the media. Right or wrong, certain parties are going to slant their coverage of an Amazon story against Amazon, and it is often easy to tell what the slant will be based on who is writing the piece.

For example, any Amazon article at is going to be slanted against the retailer. It doesn’t matter who writes it; the editorial policy is to blame Amazon. Likewise, any piece from David Streitfeld of the NYTimes is going to be slanted against Amazon.

I’ve known Streitfeld had a hate on for Amazon ever since last July, when he took Amazon to task for daring to sell books at or near the publisher’s retail price (I fisked him for it), but it seems that some readers only noticed his bias when he started to extensively participate in cover the Amazon Hachette contract negotiation.

His unbiased coverage has drawn enough complaints from readers that yesterday the NYTimes' Public Editor posted a column which questioned the activist role Streitfeld seemed to be taking.

in an article titled "Publishing Battle Should Be Covered, Not Joined", Margeret Sullivan writes:

Many readers have complained to me that The Times is demonizing Amazon and siding with publishers and those authors who support them. …

“Propaganda” is a stretch, and Mr. Streitfeld has done plenty of solid work. But it’s certainly true that the literary establishment has received a great deal of sympathetic coverage. Authors including Douglas Preston and Philip Roth have been featured giving their allegiance to the complaint against Amazon. 

She then cites less biased coverage elsewhere, and goes on to slap her colleague around again:

In some Times stories, the Amazon position is summarized in a few sentences, and then it’s back to the opposition’s fears and anger.

Consider an article last week on the business section front headlined“Literary Lions Unite in Protest Over Amazon’s E-Book Tactics.” Quoting the powerful agent Andrew Wylie as predicting the death of literary culture, it reported that many authors — not all of whom are published by Hachette — want the Justice Department to investigate Amazon for illegal monopoly tactics. But it’s not until near the end that doubt is sown: “Whether a viable case could be mounted against Amazon is a matter of debate among antitrust scholars. An earlier effort by Hachette to interest government regulators in a case did not go anywhere.”

I believe that is called damning with faint praise. She then goes on to reiterate the criticism many have directed at Streitfeld doe his early support coverage of the Authors United full page ad:

Then there was the Page 1 article in August about a full-page ad criticizing Amazon, signed by 900 authors, that was scheduled to appear in The Times two days later. Noting that ads normally don’t become front-page news, some commenters also objected to Mr. Streitfeld’s seeming dismissal of an opposing petition with nearly 8,000 signatures. He described it as a “rambling love letter” to Amazon.

While I don’t expect this to change the slant of Streitfeld coverage of Amazon, it is nice to see at least someone at the NYTimes acknowledging that there is an issue with its coverage.

To be fair, the NYTimes is not the only newspaper to take a swing at Amazon, but when you compare the NYTimes with its competitors you can get a good impression of just how far Streitfeld is leaning in favor of Amazon’s opponents.

For example, when orders came down at the Wall Street Journal to contribute a hit piece for the coordinated attack on Amazon in early September, they couldn’t find anyone who wanted to put their name on it.

The WSJ is known for crediting multiple contributors on a single article, and yet they couldn’t find a single reporter who would take credit for that hit piece. Instead, I am told that several reporters contributed to the piece, which was published without a byline (link).

As much as I dislike the WSJ management, i respect the journalists for refusing to attach their byline. (Perhaps they should have asked Streitfeld to take it on.)

Thanks, William, for bugging me about this ans inspiring a post rather than a linkin the morning coffee!

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fjtorres October 5, 2014 um 7:37 pm

Hey, don’t forget her swipe at the full page ad BOGO hack piece:

"Then there was the Page 1 article in August about a full-page ad criticizing Amazon, signed by 900 authors, that was scheduled to appear in The Times two days later. Noting that ads normally don’t become front-page news, some commenters also objected to Mr. Streitfeld’s seeming dismissal of an opposing petition with nearly 8,000 signatures. "

fjtorres October 5, 2014 um 7:39 pm

That hack piece did give us a new internet term that is gaining a lot of usage:


Merriam Webster is taking notes. 😉

Nate Hoffelder October 5, 2014 um 8:09 pm

Okay, even though it makes the piece longer, I added that clip.

fjtorres October 5, 2014 um 10:23 pm

As bad as the other slanted pieces, selling the front page of the NYT is the worst offense against the paper’s alleged integrity.

Nate Hoffelder October 5, 2014 um 10:27 pm

Yes. And it is why I expect the coverage to continue.

William D. O’Neil October 5, 2014 um 10:40 pm

It will certainly be very interesting to see.

William D. O’Neil October 5, 2014 um 9:10 pm

This really is pretty brutal by the standards of such things — congrats are due to the NYT for being so up front. I’d guess that we won’t be seeing a lot more reporting by brother Streitfeld on these issues. Certainly if I was his editor I’d assign him to some other beat, whether I agreed with him or not, simply out of self-preservation at a time when the paper is cutting 100 newsroom positions.

William D. O’Neil October 5, 2014 um 9:21 pm

A further thought about the Times' integrity: They get a lot of advertising by the book trade and none that I know of by Amazon, but here is the voice of their conscience saying that it’s not OK to slant it in favor of the publishers.

Mirtika October 7, 2014 um 3:54 am

If she doesn’t think what D.S. has been doing is propaganda, she needs to go look up the definition of propaganda and refresh herself. I referred to it as propaganda a while back among my FB pals.

And if he is not removed from reporting on Amazon vs. Hachette (or even Amazon altgether given his clear inability to divorce personal feelings from reporting), then all this talk from the Editor is just hot air. Action on this will prove she’s serious. about fair coverage.

If I were the editor, I’d have fired his ass for incompetent and hyper-slanted reporting. (We all have biases, and I don’t expect objective purity every single time a reporter addresses an issue, but this is ridiculous. He should have excused himself with an, "I hate Amazon and can’t be objective. Pick someone else." Then he could send letters to some other paper’s editor offering his viewpoint, slant and bias and blinkers and prejudice and all.)

Dan Agin October 5, 2014 um 10:11 pm

NYT does get ads from Amazon–full page ads for Kindle ereaders. But they do not advertise selected books because that’s the job of publishers and not booksellers.

Dan Agin October 5, 2014 um 10:12 pm

Correction: they do not advertise selected books in the NYT.

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Mirtika October 13, 2014 um 2:53 pm

No, DS is still at it. More anti-Amazon, pro-Hachette, slanted reporting. So much for his boss' admission. It would be nice if he did actual interviews, research, looking at data… instead of swiping comments off blog posts. And I used to think highly of the Times. Boy, that’s history.

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