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Tesla Autopilot in action stopping at a stop sign. Photo by Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica.

Autonomous Vehicles

Major News Outlets Need To Hire People Who Understand Tesla

There are now many media outlets that frequently cover Tesla. Some have a writer who has Tesla as one of their top areas of focus. Shockingly, though, many reporters covering Tesla don’t seem to understand the tech or the company. That even goes for some people who have been covering Tesla for several years.

If media outlets are going to cover Tesla obsessively, in my opinion, they should have people on the team who understand how Tesla vehicles work.

The recent Tesla crash in the Houston area highlighted this yet again. It was clear to many Tesla owners very quickly that the initial statement from the police didn’t make sense and early coverage didn’t match the technology. In probably less than 12 hours from the news breaking, many Tesla owners were explaining on Twitter that the implication that Tesla Autopilot caused the crash didn’t make sense. Reporters, though, fully got behind one statement from a police officer on the scene rather than acknowledging the knowledge and experience of countless Tesla owners. (Admittedly, it was a strongly worded statement that seemed to indicate true conviction.)

Here at CleanTechnica, we wrote about this matter a day or so after the announcement. I personally pointed out why the common narrative that was spreading around bigger media outlets like wildfire didn’t make sense. My hope was that, perhaps, reporters would refrain from misreporting this any further if they read my piece explaining why the officer’s claim didn’t jibe with how the technology works. Instead, Tesla/Elon Musk critics slammed me and acted as though I was writing on the topic out of some bias that was detached from reality, rather than explaining things from a perspective grounded in experience with the product at the center of the discussion.

A couple of weeks later, Tesla made it more clear on a conference call that Autopilot didn’t cause the accident that led to the unfortunate deaths of the two men in the car, and that there were several factors indicating that one of the men was indeed in the driver’s seat at the time of the accident. I published an update to ask how many of the media outlets that hyped up a false narrative about Tesla Autopilot were going to publish big headlines indicating that they were wrong and Autopilot wasn’t on. That article was triggered by the fact that major media outlets were still pushing the false narrative even after the conference call. To my surprise, a bunch of Tesla/Elon Musk critics attacked me for jumping to conclusions “just” based on the words of Tesla’s CEO (God forbid) and VP of Engineering (who is basically never on those conference calls but explained the situation in detail — I assume in order to hopefully get people to accept and understand it). What those critics missed — again — is that it was obvious almost immediately that the false narrative regarding Autopilot’s supposed involvement in the crash was illogical.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has now issued a preliminary report backing up everything Tesla owners said right after the news of the crash came out*. There is nothing surprising here … for people who understand the Tesla tech. Will any of the critics who attacked me (twice) now apologize and try to understand why I wrote what I wrote and why their assumptions were wrong? I wouldn’t count on it. From what I have seen, they are akin to QAnon followers on this topic. They ignore anything that doesn’t fit their worldview when it comes to Tesla and they are quick to sweep their own incorrect assumptions under the rug. I am not going to waste time on people so deeply living in a world of hate for Tesla. Life is too short to focus on such things. (One reason I stopped focusing on global warming deniers a decade ago.) However, I do think that news agencies that now think it’s important to cover Tesla closely need to have reporters on staff who understand Tesla. If you are going to make it a core topic, then you should make sure you have useful coverage of the company. Otherwise, not only are you doing harm on this topic, but you’re also doing harm to our whole profession — and this is not a time to weaken faith in the professional free press.

If Tesla reporters at major tech and business news organizations had enough experience with Tesla vehicles and Autopilot, I don’t think we’d have the enormous amount of misreporting we have on the company. And, at this point, with the large number of Tesla owners in the world, I don’t see why these other outlets can’t have more informed and experienced writers covering the Tesla beat. It’s one thing to want “unbiased reporting”**, but it’s another thing entirely to be content with uninformed reporting.

So, yes, this is my plea to every outlet covering Tesla on a weekly or daily basis — hire people who can write about Tesla news with real-world experience and context to back up their coverage! Hire people who have a history of getting the Tesla story right, rather than a history of claiming the sky is falling and #Pizzagate #Autopilotgate is for real week after week, month after month, and year after year.

Or just ignore me and more than a million other Tesla owners. Again.


*Some major outlets have, thankfully, pointed this out clearly.

**Side note: If someone followed Tesla closely for years but never invested in the stock [TSLA], is it perhaps possible that person has an anti-Tesla bias from feeling like they missed out on the opportunity? Or because they have a bruised ego from making major mistakes along the way? Opportunity cost should tell us that investment in something is not the only thing that can create bias — lack of investment in something can also create bias. Disclosure: I do own shares of TSLA, but I strive for objective reporting as much as possible and do not feel that owning a few shares taints my analysis or reporting. And, to that point, I’m planning to write another article soon putting forth a few reasons why I think Tesla stock — and investor faith in Tesla — has dropped so much this year. I actually think that honest investors in a company are often the best reporters on that company, because they dig in the most deeply since their money is on the line — and they keep an eye out for both threats and potential. The value of hearing from people who understand the company well is much greater, from my experience, than the cost/risk of having some bias infused in that commentary. And the absolute best analyses I see are from shareholders who are able to think and communicate objectively and honestly about the company.

 

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Written By

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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