Nandita Bose on story reporting Walmart’s foundering employee delivery plan
In late July, a Reuters story revealed that Walmart has stumbled with its ‘last mile’ package delivery plan, which would have store employees bringing online orders directly to shoppers’ homes after completing their usual shifts of up to nine hours on the sales floors. The story, by correspondent Nandita Bose, offered insight into Walmart’s ongoing attempts to find unconventional ways to close the gap with Amazon in the game of cheap, rapid, doorstep delivery of packages. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Nandita offers a look at the reporting behind the story.
Q. How did you land this story?
A. My editors Vanessa O’Connell and Amy Stevens had identified “last-mile delivery” as a theme, which allowed us to examine investments and announcements in that space closely and pick areas we wanted to dominate. We broke news on how a bunch of high-profile grocery delivery partnerships Walmart had announced with Uber and Lyft failed to take off. That story got a lot of attention. We then started looking at the associate delivery announcement Walmart made a year ago. Walmart touted this program as a game changer and we wanted to find out if it was living up to the hype.
Q. What types of reporting were involved?
A. This involved a lot of travel and shoe-leather reporting over two months to find out what was going on. I visited some of the stores over a dozen times and spent my weekends trying to get former employees who lived and worked around there on the record.
Q. What was the hardest part of the reporting?
A. Figuring out the location of where Walmart was testing this program within New Jersey and Georgia was a challenge and we were able to pin that down with help from my colleague Michelle Conlin. The next challenge was to find out what was going on with these tests, convincing employees to open up and talk to us and also retrieving company documents. I also kept trying to get folks on the record, which was a very challenging experience as employee after employee said “No” to their name being used, fearing retribution or firing for talking to the media.
Q. Why was this an important story to tell Reuters customers?
A. Large U.S. retailers are currently spending the most on making sure they have the technology, partnerships and labor to get their packages to customers as fast as possible. They are investing billions of dollars to catch up with Amazon, which offers deliveries in an hour under its Prime membership program. They are also trying to use labor in different ways and benefit from the rising popularity of gig-style jobs that don’t usually require paying for benefits. This story offers a peek into how Walmart, the largest retailer in the world and the largest private-sector employer in the U.S., is trying to benefit from the rise of the gig economy.
Q. What makes you passionate about journalism?
A. I’m curious and competitive by nature. I enjoy speaking to people and finding things they don’t want to talk about. I especially enjoy corporate reporting because companies, unlike government, don’t have to make everything public and they spend millions carefully constructing their public images. Given those barriers, being able to break news on some of the biggest corporations in the world is a good feeling. Also, in today’s news environment, the opportunity to pursue journalism at Reuters, where reporters and editors go the extra mile always to make sure we are accurate and free from bias, makes the hard work worth it.
Q. What is your beat and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
A. I cover company news and focus on big box retailers like Walmart, Target, Home Depot, etc. The retail industry in the U.S. is undergoing a tremendous amount of disruption because of the rise of online shopping and the growing influence of Amazon. Legacy retailers with large stores are investing billions of dollars to find unique ways to close the gap with Amazon and I really enjoy covering an industry being disrupted. That’s the way the world moves forward and it is exciting to be able to chronicle that.
Q. What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?
A. One of my first big scoops was landing a treasure trove of internal company documents on how Walmart had circumvented regulations to enter India. That reporting contributed to slowing down Walmart’s efforts to enter the country. A really difficult experience would be getting the leader of a radical Islamic group in Bangladesh, who did not speak to women let alone female reporters, to not only talk to me but also look at me while answering my questions. This was while covering elections in Bangladesh, which had turned violent, and this very important man would always look at my male colleague and not look at me even when I was the one asking the questions.
I think sometimes reporters forget that it is not just our duty to report the truth but also stand up for it and do the right thing when it comes down to that. I think being empowered to always do the right thing under very challenging circumstances has been very rewarding. That wouldn’t be possible without the support from Reuters of course, and I’m glad I work for a company that always helps me do that.
Q. Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
A. I was studying biotechnology to become a biotech scientist before I turned to journalism. I did that for over a year before I realized I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in a lab wearing a lab coat and a face mask and I needed to pursue a people-facing profession. That decision upset my parents a lot. If I hadn’t become a journalist, I would probably be a lawyer.