Times Public Editor: An Amazon Hatchet Job?
On Saturday, Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the New York Times, fielded complaints that the newspaper, in its coverage of the Amazon-Hachette battle, is "demonizing Amazon and siding with publishers and those authors who support them," she wrote. "A pro-Amazon author charges that the paper is spewing propaganda and, on Twitter, asks for a public editor 'intervention.' One reader, Michael Harris, wrote that the Times and David Streitfeld, the technology reporter who covers Amazon, as members of legacy media, 'don't hesitate to hold Amazon/Bezos to a different standard than they hold themselves and old money/traditional publishing/big media.' "
In response she called the charge of propaganda spewing "a stretch," and said that "Streitfeld has done plenty of solid work. But it's certainly true that the literary establishment has received a great deal of sympathetic coverage [and] it's easier to find Amazon defenders and fans outside the pages of the Times." She quoted defenders of Amazon, including Mathew Ingram and Barry Eisler, and said that many of the paper's stories about the conflict don't challenge some statements critical of Amazon, such as Ursula K. Le Guin's description of Amazon's tactics as censorship, and are dismissive of the pro-Amazon crowd.
One example: "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."
In response, Streitfeld said "his stories have been driven by one value: newsworthiness. When established authors band together against the largest bookseller, he says, 'it's just a great story, period.' And he says that 900 of their signatures mean much more than 'a petition that's open to anyone on the Internet.' To treat them as equal would be false equivalency, he says."
Describing the Amazon-Hachette dispute "a tale of digital disruption, not good and evil," Sullivan called for "more unemotional exploration of the economic issues; more critical questioning of the statements of big-name publishing players; and greater representation of those who think Amazon may be a boon to a book-loving culture, not its killer."