Jeffrey Dastin on the exclusive reporting Amazon rolls out machines that packs orders and replace jobs
Earlier this week, a Reuters exclusive reported that Amazon.com Inc rolled out machines to automate a job held by thousands of its workers: boxing up customer orders. Amazon has considered installing two machines at dozens more warehouses, removing at least 24 roles at each one, Reuters sources said. In an Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Technology Correspondent Jeffrey Dastin gives a behind-the-scene look at how he reported the story.
Q: How did you score this exclusive?
A: Good stories are often unexpected. I was asking a source detailed questions about Amazon’s interest in robotic hands for grasping customer orders, when the person stopped me and said, ‘That’s not the real story here.’ I asked what was. The source explained that the technology I had focused my attention on was too experimental for Amazon to roll out widely, unlike, say, box-packing machines. That gave me a news tip to pursue.
Q: What types of reporting were involved?
A: I looked for anyone who could elaborate on the news tip. I went to events where I could introduce myself to sources. Lots of digging and luck eventually led me to the right people. I then had to earn their trust over time to ensure Reuters got the full, factual story.
Q: What was the hardest part of the reporting?
A: Learning how many roles the machines would replace was not an easy number to uncover.
Q: Why was this an important story to tell our customers?
A: Automation is a topic of immense public interest. Workers need to know if their jobs will be around tomorrow. Investors need to know if Amazon can cut labor costs without alienating customers and lawmakers. I hoped my story could start to offer answers.
Q: What makes you passionate about journalism?
A: The mission of keeping the public informed through fair and factual journalism, through probing fearlessly and from the front lines, motivates me every day. I’m happy to contribute my small part. (Plus, reporting is a lot of fun.)
Q: What is your beat and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
A: I cover Amazon and broader technology news. Algorithms are exerting ever more influence over our lives, often behind the scenes. Giving readers an inside look at what’s changing is a challenge that’s both important and personally meaningful.
Q: What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?
A: Highlights: reporting from the first scheduled flight between the U.S. and Cuba in half a century. Uncovering an AI recruiting tool that Amazon scrapped after it showed a bias against women, a story I felt resonated with readers. Not a highlight: occasional 4 a.m. earnings calls from San Francisco.
Q: Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
A: I once hoped to be a composer, and many years before that, a basketball player. I’m not sure which was more realistic.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: I’m ecstatic that our colleagues Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were freed last week. Welcome back!