Matt Prior: Why Elon Musk is wrong about car journalists

by Matt Prior, Autocar UK 08 Jun 2018

Elon Musk doesn’t advertise here, but we’re fine with that.

Can I talk shop? I know, I don’t want to either, but Elon Musk has gone off on one.

Tesla’s chief executive, who has had a mixed relationship with the media, tweeted recently that the “problem is journos are under constant pressure to get max clicks and earn advertising dollars or get fired.”

Which, by the way, we’re not. Certainly not here, anyway.

“Tricky situation,” he went on, in that not-very-nuanced, fewer than 281 characters way that’s so popular these days, “as Tesla doesn’t advertise, but fossil fuel companies and gas/diesel car companies are among world’s biggest advertisers.”

Right. Where to begin?

For a start, I’ve never, in 21 years in this business, been influenced or pressured to write or amend a story to keep advertisers happy. It’s important you know that.

Sometimes we write things here that upset people who make cars – or other things advertised in our magazine pages or on this website – and that’s fine by us. On occasion, they’ve objected to these things so much that they have left us for a while. Perhaps what we write makes life difficult for the sales team upstairs (hi, guys) and that’s fine too (sorry, guys).

But the point is, you see, it’s the only way we can work. By reporting to you. Yes, you, the reader. Hi. Mostly because we want to, which is why we’re not working in advertising where we’d get paid more, and secondly, because you’re not stupid, and if we didn’t you’d see through it.

And then you’d walk away, and then advertisers would definitely leave too, because if I know one thing about advertising, it’s that talking to nobody is not good practice. It is, literally, then, our business model to ignore what advertisers think.

Anyway, inevitably, in a world where we’re frequently reviewing one thing against another, we couldn’t please them all. I know. I’ve had the emails. Online? Yes, of course ‘clicks’ matter, but the chances are that what’s being advertised to you is not exactly a vehicle anyway. It’ll be that watch or bird box or Mariah Carey album you bought two months ago.

So not really a ‘tricky situation’ at all. And to avoid other tricky situations – such as, I don’t know, defaming an entire industry in unsubstantiated fashion – we get sent on legal courses where we’re advised to definitely avoid doing precisely that. Be right, be objective, be unbiased, they say. So we are.

Or are we? I mean, it does say Autocar on the top of this website. The magazine was founded in 1895 ‘in the interest of the mechanically propelled road carriage’. So, look, whatever you get in here, it’s going to be about cars. Is that okay? I hope it’s okay. I’m compelled to say that cars are better than trains or buses or freestyle armchairs, but what if, purely objectively, I was wrong?

I’ll admit it probably would turn you – and advertisers – off if I said I preferred the 0746 from London Marylebone to an afternoon in a 911 GT3. Fortunately, perhaps, I don’t. Right or wrongly, I like cars, because I happen to believe they’ve changed the world for the better and that they’re bloody brilliant. And that it really doesn’t matter what they’re powered by, or how much those who make them spend with us.

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