How the ACBJ papers came together for a package on Amazon
The 40 American City Business Journals newspapers published a package of stories and graphics on Wednesday that was the result of a six-month investigation into Amazon.com Inc. and its influence on local economies across the country.
While the ACBJ papers have coordinated on national stories before, this one was unusual in that it percolated from the local papers and not the headquarters in Charlotte, said Jon Wile, vice president of content at ACBJ.
The result was a package called “The Amazon Effect” that included a U.S. map where readers could scroll across and see how many Amazon facilities and jobs were in each state, as well as the economic incentives that each state provided. In addition, the package included a story from ACBJ’s Puget Sound Business Journal and its Washington Business Journal paper, and each paper wrote a local story.
The editors of some papers also wrote columns about Amazon, which is currently seeking bids for a second headquarters somewhere in the country. And each paper wrote a separate story about Amazon in their local market, including ACBJ’s paper in Honolulu even though the company doesn’t have any facilities in Hawaii.
“The local stories are a mixed bag,” said Wile. “The one in Milwaukee was that Amazon far surpasses the jobs promised. In others, the results were a bit squishier. We did a great job of reporting what we found to allow the readers to decide what they thought.”
ACBJ made dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests to local economic development agencies as part of its reporting, which concluded that Amazon has received more than $1.2 billion in economic incentives and operates out of more than 140 million square feet of space. Its reporters and editors conducted more than 100 interviews.
The process, said Wile, started with a spreadsheet by Craig Douglas, director of editorial data analysis at ACBJ, to track all of the Amazon facilities, with local reporters sending in the information. Reporters would share with Douglas what local government agencies had data about Amazon, and Douglas would then provide tips to ACBJ reporters in other cities on where to look.
“States all do things differently,” said Wile. “That’s one of the challenges in doing something like this. It’s not going to be the same across all 40 of our cities.”
After the stories were posted online on Wednesday, ACBJ editors and reporters appeared on local television stations to discuss their findings, and each paper also conducted a Facebook Live on Wednesday afternoon as well. Most of the content is behind a paywall, but Wile said ACBJ saw a “significant increase” in traffic.
Each of the 40 papers will publish their print editions on Friday with the Amazon package as their cover stories. The stories and graphics will take up eight to 10 pages in each paper. The papers could choose from four different covers that each illustrated a different theme from the coverage — Amazon the disrupter, Amazon the jobs savior, Amazon the tale of two companies and Amazon the one that got away.
“Our bread and butter is local,” said Wile. “It always has been and always will be. We rolled up our local resources for a national impact, and this is a great example of that.”