On Tuesday, a nonprofit, progressive media company called Courier Newsroom published a report about several television news stations across the country — including in Miami — running nearly identical segments using scripts and footage produced by Amazon.
A highlight reel shows anchors repeating the same talking points about the company’s improved health and safety measures, increased spending on employee wages and overtime, and commitment to delivering packages while keeping employees safe.
“Millions of Americans staying at home are relying on Amazon,” the anchors say, in a creepy-sounding chorus.
Miami’s WTVJ — better known as NBC 6 — was one of the stations that ran the pre-scripted segment. While the story package does not currently appear on the station’s website, a spokesperson tells New Times that the outlet included “short excerpts of a video provided by Amazon as part of our regular, ongoing reporting on Amazon workers’ conditions at distribution centers within our market.”
“We regret not attributing the source as clearly as we could have,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “Our station will continue to report on this important issue in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, including giving Amazon workers an opportunity to tell their side of the story.
Courier Newsroom reported that Amazon’s story push coincided with the company’s annual shareholders meeting and increasing scrutiny about the tech giant’s transparency and handling of COVID-19 outbreaks in its warehouses. At least eight Amazon warehouse employees have died because of the virus. Attorneys general in 13 states have called on Amazon to release information about workers who have tested positive or who have died of COVID-19. (Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody was not among them.)
Vice reports that the segments cut to footage narrated by Amazon spokesperson Todd Walker without specifying that Walker wasn’t a reporter for the local news stations.
TV reporters and anchors from across the country criticized Amazon for sending emails pitching a canned story passing off as a behind-the-scenes look into the actual facilities. Reporters also questioned the news judgment of the outlets that did run the segments.
Just got an email from Amazon’s PR team with a pre-edited news story and script to run in our shows. They are selling this as giving our viewers an “inside look” at the company’s response to COVID-19.
Let us go inside a fulfillment centers with our own cameras… pic.twitter.com/7mDk2xmf4O
— Zach Rael (@KOCOZach) May 24, 2020
An Amazon spokesperson tells New Times that many companies distribute video news releases over wire services and that Amazon was transparent about producing the package. The spokesperson stipulated in an email that no direct quotes could be used in this story, although general paraphrasing was “ok” and attribution to an Amazon spokesperson was “fine.”
The unnamed spokesperson said some newsrooms might choose to run the kind of content Amazon provided if they aren’t sending journalists to assignments on location at this time. According to the spokesperson, the video produced by Amazon was not a promotional video, and no one was paid to participate in it.