Opinion: What Elon Musk doesn’t get about journalism



In this Dec. 2, 2015, file photo, Tesla Motors Inc. CEO Elon Musk delivers a speech at the Paris Pantheon Sorbonne University as part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. For years, Tesla has boasted that its cars and SUVs are safer than other vehicles on the roads, and CEO Elon Musk doubled down on the claims in a series of tweets this week. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

Jc Canicosa

There is a serious problem with American journalism today, but it has nothing to do with Tesla.

To catch you up, Elon Musk sent out a series of tweets about how no one trusts the media anymore, claiming, “the problem is [journalists] are under constant pressure to get max clicks & earn advertising dollars or get fired.”

Also tweeting out that he is going to create a site that can track the credibility score over time of each journalist and rate the core truth of any article.

“Even if some of the public doesn’t care about the credibility score, the journalists, editors & publications will. It is how they define themselves.” tweeted Musk.

Here’s where Elon Musk got it wrong: The country is now more divided than it has been potentially since the Civil War.

Family and blood relatives are in-fighting. College campuses, Loyola and Tulane alike, are being torn apart. Beloved hip-hop stars are being publicly ostracized for supporting the wrong presidential candidate.

And in case you haven’t been paying attention, the seemingly unbridgeable partisan divide has a lot to do with the current state of journalism. As in 2009, then-President Barack Obama predicted:

“I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding.”


News is generated like a product in the free market, and people are picking and choosing which facts they want to consume. This had worked out fine for most of the 20th century, but as hundreds of newsrooms across the country are now disappearing or downsizing — without any sort of suitable successor there to take its place — literal “alternative facts” and opinions are winning the day.

From 1994 to 2014, the American newsroom workforce saw a 39% decline.

While (probably for completely different reasons) this figure is scary for some of us in college, majoring in journalism — seeking employment and tens of thousands of dollars in debt — this statistic is relevant to you non in-college journalism majors too. Yes, you.

Journalism cannot lose 39% of its reporting and editing capacity and continue to provide the information needed to maintain a realistic democratic discourse, open government and the outlines of civil society at the federal, state and local levels. It just can’t, to paraphrase the authors of award-winning book, The Death and Life of American Journalism, Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols.

The core issue with American journalism today is that the rocky marriage between journalism and the free market may have finally run its course. The journalist’s noble vocation to seek the truth and keep the powerful accountable may no longer be sexy enough to be profitable in America.

So it seems that our options are to either sit back and watch journalism die before our very eyes, or expand on press subsidies so that journalists can focus on keeping the public informed without having to worry about “number of clicks” or ad revenue.

My vote is the latter.

The solution is not, however, to create some sort of rating scale of the press, Mr. Elon Musk.

To me, if a self-run credit score website for journalists is Elon Musk’s big idea for fixing the Fourth Estate, then there is a serious and dangerous lack of understanding of the core issue, and its potential resolution on Musk’s end. If Elon Musk really wants to “solve,” journalism, he should use his platform to push for press subsidies so it doesn’t die.