Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

Streamlining the Postal Service, when a merger fails and ‘Who lost Ukraine?’

Steven Brill
May 13, 2014 05:00 UTC

U.S. postal service trucks sit parked at the post office in Del Mar, California

This piece has been updated with a postscript at the end.

1. Postal Service blues:

Last week’s report that the U.S. Postal Service lost another $1.9 billion in the last financial quarter made me yearn for a story detailing the cost constraints afflicting this largest and most hidebound of government services. Everything from union restrictions, to legacy pension obligations, to congressional pressure that keeps even the smallest rural post office not only open but open on Saturdays, to lobbyist strong-arming that keeps the service from using its 32,000 retail footprints to offer other services.

Here’s the way for a reporter to write this: Completely reimagine the Postal Service by supposing it was sold to a private company. In fact, suppose the uber-opposite of a government agency — Amazon — bought it.

What would the real estate be worth if a more efficient company, freed from congressional oversight, bought the agency and slimmed down its holdings, cashing in on some of the premium properties scattered through every town, while using those that remain to offer all kinds of additional retail services?

What would Amazon’s Jeff Bezos do with what the Postal Service’s website says is its $47 billion payroll, not to mention its 211,000 vehicles?

What efficiencies could be achieved by radically streamlined operations? What would that look like? Who would be the victims, from among its 626,000 employees to people who still depend on delivery of 158 billion pieces of snail mail processed annually? How could the government require in the sales contract that some of this collateral damage be limited?

Amazon’s price increase, Congressional whistleblowers, and a question for President Obama

Steven Brill
Mar 18, 2014 04:34 UTC

1. Are customers really upset at the Amazon Prime price increase?

The day after Amazon raised the annual subscription price for its Prime service from $79 to $99, the New York Times ran a story headlined, “Complaints As Amazon Raises Cost of Prime.” I found the reporting lacking and the headline unfair.

I imagine if I were reporting the story, I could find people to quote grousing about the 25 percent increase. Indeed, Times reporter David Streitfeld did it the easy way, going on Amazon’s own customer comments page.

But everyone I’ve talked to who subscribes to Prime — membership not only delivers everything from a book to a flat-screen TV to your doorstep for free, but also provides free movies and TV shows and a free book-lending library — thinks it is a hard-to-believe bargain at $99 or $79. (One happy customer in my office thought the price had gone from $179 to $199.)

Bezos’ silence, lobbyists and Egypt, and the inner workings of State-owned TV

Steven Brill
Aug 27, 2013 11:48 UTC

1. Wash Post reporters: Get a Bezos comment

These sentences in last week’s Times profile of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos beg for a follow-up from the house the Grahams built:

 “Every story you ever see about Amazon, it has that sentence: ‘An Amazon spokesman declined to comment,’”  Mr. Marcus said. 

Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesman, declined to comment.

Over the years, in reading stories about Amazon I’ve noticed the same pattern of Amazon simply refusing to comment no matter what the story was about. And, although Amazon’s website lists a phone number for a public relations office, it lists no names of anyone specific to call, nor do its press releases list names for reporters to call for follow-up. Amazon’s resolute refusal to answer press questions and the paradox of Bezos now owning a business whose employees are paid to ask them is captured nicely in this column by Jack Shafer.

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