What is journalism? Is it sharing a story? Is it getting to the truth of something despite the challenges or the consequences? Could it be a journey to the truth?
How do you decide the core message of a story? How do you know when the process of discovery is far enough along to publish your findings? How do you know when you’re ready to have an impact on a reader or viewer who you may never cross paths with?
These are questions that come to my mind when I think of journalism. It is an art, not just of storytelling, but of sharing something that matters — not just to me, the writer, but to you, the person receiving this message objectively.
A key to this art form is journalistic objectivity. This means that the one presenting the message via article or video is striving for complete fairness, factuality, and nonpartisanship.
I write about Tesla, often, and many of my pieces, such as this one, are opinion pieces. This is not straight news reporting. Tesla is something I am not disinterested in, but I am (or try to be) fair and factual. I own Tesla stock and am a fan of Elon Musk, but despite that and even though many of my pieces are opinion pieces, I still try to be fair and honest in them.
However, many seem to not be as objective as I think they should be.
On August 18, 2019, Elon Musk tweeted the following:
Tesla Solar just relaunched. Lmk what you think … https://t.co/mDoPO17YB9
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 18, 2019
Over the past 12 days since that tweet, several things have happened. Walmart sued Tesla, and several articles were published about that. Many of the articles covered the Walmart lawsuit, but one article published by Vanity Fair was not, in my personal opinion, fair or objective. It gave a voice to those who are known for hating Tesla, who are constantly calling Elon Musk a liar and fraud, and who mock everything he does online and in his personal life.
The headline is titled, in all caps: “He’s Full Of Shit: How Elon Musk Fooled Investors, Bilked Taxpayers, and Gambled Tesla to Save SolarCity.”
This headline does two things: It triggers those who support Tesla and encourages those who do not. Either way, many have fallen for the clickbait-style headline.
This headline was psychologically written to make you click it so you could read and react to the article accordingly. It is packed with bold, identity-smearing claims. Maybe you shared it while talking trash about Tesla and Elon Musk. Maybe you support Elon Musk and Tesla, opened it to see the claims, and shared it with like-minded supporters in a state of disbelief at the gall of the writer and editors. Either way, the author of this article got what they wanted.
Your clicks and your emotions.
The article includes an interview with a well known Tesla short named TeslaCharts, who is anonymous. He claims to be a former Fortune 500 executive in the article. He uses an infamous “TeslaQ block list” and has blocked numerous Tesla supporters, owners, shareholders, and fans (including myself) who he’s never even interacted with. He once tweeted that he’d delete his Twitter account if Tesla achieved one of three things. After Tesla achieved one of them, he decided to keep trolling the company instead, stating that he never said when he’d delete his account. He has also engaged in online bullying and scare tactics.
Yes, a lawsuit was implied simply because that Tesla fan indicated positive results from switching to Tesla Insurance.
For a former Fortune 500 executive, this person sure does spend a large amount of time on Twitter focused on making Tesla and Elon Musk look bad. Why? What is the aim?
Let’s get back to the Vanity Fair article and journalistic objectivity. The author of this article has used Jim Chanos as a source before, and even scored a $1.4 million dollar book deal thanks to information she sourced from him. She was later hired by Vanity Fair as a contributing editor.
Jim Chanos has been one of the most outspoken Tesla short sellers in the past few years. How did the Vanity Fair end up using an anonymous tweeter, whose bold Tesla forecasts have fallen through the floor, as a top source for an article on Elon Musk and Tesla? Who linked up this third-party source with no apparent connection to Tesla or Walmart, and for what purpose?
The Vanity Fair article was published on August 25, 2019. On August 23, 2019, two days prior, Tech Crunch had already reported that Walmart had paused the lawsuit. The Vanity Fair article neglected to mention that Walmart paused the lawsuit even though it happened long before the article was published.
The point of this piece I am writing is to pose questions. What is journalism today? In the age of social media, triggering headlines, and attention spans shorter than a tweet, how carefully are journalists making sure they are not being used as tools to shift billions of dollars around for short sellers? A smear can go a long way, even if debunked in coming days or weeks.
To me, journalism is supposed to be a beacon of truth. It sheds light on something. It doesn’t attack without extreme care for the validity of not only the claims, but also what the claims imply and how they fit into a bigger story. They do not emotionally manipulate readers or viewers in order to benefit specific friends or sources.
When I read that Vanity Fair article’s headline, I felt angry and helpless. Angry, because how dare a professional journalist use such toxic wording in a headline about someone who I do not think fits those claims or implications? Helpless, because I am just one person whose opinion doesn’t matter — at least not to those who wrote that headline — and no response from me is going to undo the damage already inflicted.
Here’s how I fight that helplessness: I seek to learn from it.
How can I be objective in my writing and be a better journalist? What can I do to convey fairness and factuality, and how can I learn from this experience? How can I write in a way that gives a response, but not to the author — to you, the readers, in a way that doesn’t give the author a sense of gratification?
The reason why the Vanity Fair article doesn’t seem fair is that, to me, it isn’t. The article uses a source who is known for bullying online. And this piece is just one of many that use these “anonymous sources” to paint a negative picture of Tesla for a quick money-making headline that will probably fade in the light of Tesla’s success. In the short term, though, its purpose is clear: slamming Tesla and Tesla stock, through claims about the company’s CEO.
What is journalism today? Is it a tool used to make money, or is it part of a democracy? Is it about gaining influence online so one can get likes and shares, or is it about sharing the truth even if no one sees it? Is it something one can use to harm someone — a company, a person, a demographic group?
How does one, as a journalist, write objectively while knowing the potential emotional, mental, or even psychological harm they could cause another being?
This article’s headline is a question. “Has Mainstream Media Been Fair To Elon Musk & Tesla?”
By fair, I mean objective and with nothing to gain. The answer to that, my opinion is a resounding “NO.” Tesla is a well known company, and that’s not because it has spent millions buying ads. It has spent $0 buying ads. Tesla has never paid any network for advertising. How does it gain so much support from consumers without buying ads? Who is hurt by a business model that skips advertising?
We no longer publish “Pravduh About Tesla” reports, but when we did, it was clear that Tesla coverage was predominantly negative among major media sites, even in weeks filled with positive company news. Journalists and editors routinely turned positive news into negative headlines. They put 10 times more headlines out about a fairly inconsequential negative story than a much more important positive story. Why?
No, I don’t think the mainstream media has been fair toward Elon Musk and Tesla. But I do have hope, because I know that mainstream media isn’t one singular being. It is a vast network of beings who have their own core values, beliefs, hopes, and dreams. We are all a part of the media. Over time, I am hopeful the truth will break through more than the smears.
I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don't like paywalls, and so we've decided to ditch ours. Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It's a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So ...
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