Covering Amazon? We’ve got suggestions for telling the full story

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I’ve seen it time and time again: A gushing press release, with quotes by local elected officials and business lobbyists, enthusiastically touting all the benefits Amazon’s presence will bring. The accompanying media write-up is often a fuller version of the release that, because of time constraints or unfamiliarity with the bigger picture, completely leaves out the company’s harmful side effects.  

That’s why Pat Garofalo and I put together a resource for policymakers, journalists, elected officials and activists with 5 things to think about when Amazon comes to town.

It is not a pop-open-a-bottle-of-champagne moment.

“Amazon likes to present itself as an ally to local communities when in truth, it poses an existential threat to locally-owned and operated small businesses,” said Garofalo, State and Local Policy Director at the American Economic Liberties Project. “Instead of revitalizing Main Streets across the country, cities and states are handing over millions to Amazon in subsidies and tax breaks, ensuring their own brick and mortar stores fall ever further behind. Local news must reflect the dark reality of these Amazon deals.”

Rather than creating high-paying jobs, Amazon drags down wages, and its workers must often rely on public assistance to support themselves. Meanwhile, Amazon has benefited from taxpayer subsidies totaling at least $3.7 billion, according to Good Jobs First’s last count.

And even though Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos became the world’s richest man during the pandemic, that hasn’t stopped cash-strapped towns from opening up their wallets to subsidize his ever-expanding empire. Those deals should be closely scrutinized and if granted, should include specific, measurable targets: an adequate number of full-time jobs with benefits (that don't cost more in per-job job subsidies than the employee makes per year), tangible investments in infrastructure, and the ability to rescind subsidies if it fails to deliver, for starters.

Better yet, we think Amazon should pay its full share, the same way the majority of locally owned, small businesses do.

We hope our new explainer will help tell a fuller story of what it really means when Amazon comes to town – even if you’re on deadline or you just learned Amazon’s coming to town because even though Amazon has been negotiating with elected officials for months or even years, you got a 48-hour notice.

A line in a story with Amazon claiming it will invest millions of dollars and bring hundreds of jobs isn’t enough. The story is much bigger, and it deserves to be told and told again with depth, and with the same frequency as that press release.