Not Financial Advice: Why I Sometimes Cover The Longshot Cleantech Companies (Part 2)

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This is the second part of a two-part story. You can find Part 1 here.

What I’m Probably Worth Listening To About

I think I’ve firmly established that I’m not a good source for financial advice, but I don’t want to just trash myself and end the article. There are some things I know enough about to be worth listening to.

I’m not an automotive engineer, but I have been tinkering with cars since I was a kid. I couldn’t tell you what everything in a car company’s quarterly financial report means, but I know the difference between a V8 and an inline 4, and why it matters whether the power from these engines goes through a manual transmission or a CVT before going through a differential and out to the wheels (for example). This means I can at least know what’s happening when an EV manufacturer starts talking about how their new design works.

I also have some experience in public safety and most of a master’s degree in Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Some of that experience and graduate coursework covered things like sustainability, planning for climate change, and other things that are relevant here. So, when I say that I think solar and battery storage is great for community resilience and personal family preparedness, I’m not just saying that because I’m a Tesla and Elon fan (I’m largely not).

I’m also pretty experienced with computing and electronics. I haven’t worked professionally in IT for quite a while, but I’m still a certified computer technician and I hold the highest class of FCC amateur radio license (which requires a lot of arcane knowledge). These things in my background help me to understand a lot of things with EVs and clean technology.

Finally, I’m big on self-learning. I might not be familiar with a topic, but I can get myself up to speed pretty quickly and make sure I’m conveying good information about something I’m not already familiar with. I don’t personally have to be an expert on everything, but I do know when I should be relying on the experts first before typing.

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Let’s Talk About Press Releases & AI

Another thing I’m apparently bad for is rewording press releases for some articles. On that, I’m guilty as charged. But, I’m far from the only writer who does that. The truth is, many interesting and valuable stories about established clean technologies come from press releases, and if you find a press release and Google a sentence from it (in quotes), you’ll find that there are many websites that straight up copy and paste them, and maybe add or remove a word here and there to keep their post from being penalized by Google.

Why do people do this? The sad truth is that many of these stories deserve our time, but don’t really need a bunch of our time. So, it’s pretty standard practice to take information from press releases (and reword it, not copy/paste), add some information and context the release didn’t provide (when applicable), and pass it along to readers. You’ll see this all over the media, including trusted mainstream publications, because the information is of high value but there’s not a deeper story to dig out of it.

This isn’t something that should be done with every press release. Sometimes it’s a very complex story that merits additional reading and maybe an interview. Some of these stories even merit actual research (not just Googling and reading, but deep study and testing).

For the high-complexity stories, AI tools like ChatGPT just aren’t that useful. They can only provide you with basic information at best, and even then they frequently get facts flat-out wrong. They aren’t useful enough to even help make a rough draft of a high-value article. One fellow writer says he uses these tools in that context to help formulate difficult to word paragraphs, essentially to bypass writer’s block and keep the flow going. He then later goes on to edit the AI-generated paragraphs and make them his own before submitting.

Not all stories are at that complexity level, though. Often, the who, what, when, and where are pretty much the whole story, while the more complex “why” and “how” are either common knowledge already or are easily understood from the first four Ws. These stories are important, but they’re already very well covered in the press release and need very little more.

For articles where the press release relays important information, but where reading and research aren’t really needed to develop a deeper story (because there just isn’t a deeper story to be had), AI tools can be more useful. In many cases, the people who wrote the press release already did a great job of relaying the facts, so covering these releases is unavoidably a matter of rewording things and tailoring them to the audience.

Rewording information can be very tedious and unenjoyable, so part-time writers and hobbyists won’t spend their time doing what it takes to relay these important stories and tailor them to readers. If I only wrote a a few articles per month, I’d skip those, too. But, letting AI tools (there are far better ones out there than ChatGPT) assist with the rewording to get me past that tedious step can let me move on to doing important and intellectually stimulating things the story still needs.

But, that doesn’t mean AI is doing my work and that I’m cheating the ownership at CleanTechnica. AI tools can generally only reword a paragraph at a time, and they frequently make glaring errors in fact or tone. So, it’s not really even a time saver to let AI do the initial rewording. The reworded text still needs to be proofread, corrected, fact-checked against the original press release, and then improved upon and put into a better voice (my own) manually.

But, doing those things is a lot less tedious than starting with rewording is. The end result is what I would have written myself, but it’s arrived at in a way that’s mentally easier, despite the lack of any real time savings.

Even then, AI tools really don’t give you a complete story. The press release-derived story needs to be introduced to the audience, and no AI tool can do that as well as a human because they have no life experience or connection to the audience. They’re simply not a part of our community. Then, these press releases still often need some context and/or opinion added to help readers get more good from the story. AI just isn’t there yet, either, because they can’t know the audience like we can.

Finally, no AI tool that I know of can reach out to the company which made the press release and network with it, ask small questions, or do things with these companies that lead to deeper stories later. AI can’t pass contact information to a colleague who works locally to the company for a tour or interview. AI can’t work with these companies to attend events. AI can’t follow and strike up conversations on Twitter with the company’s people. AI can’t become friends with some of them, either.

The truth is that these small stories that hobby and part-time writers generally don’t “waste their time” on add up to bigger things over time, and they’re important to the situational awareness of our readers as they process the deeper stories later. If spending time on these makes me unserious, then I don’t want to be serious. I want to keep serving our community with them.

So, no, I don’t think ChatGPT or any of the better tools I pay for are anywhere close to “eating my lunch.” But, these tools are useful for helping me get through tedious tasks that hobby writers wouldn’t spend time on. I’d love for all of my writing to be deeply thought out research pieces, but then readers would miss out on the small stories that eventually add up to big ones as we work with companies of all sizes and viability, and that would be a real shame.

Featured image: “Robots Counting Beans and Crushing Dreams,” generated by Fotor AI.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1880 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba