The Five 'Angles' of EV Journalism
By Bill Moore
Posted: 18 Oct 2011
I've been following our EV world since the summer of 1997, not as long a some, but certainly longer than most; and I've seen a lot of articles written about it: more than 25,000 of them in EV World's database alone. And over that course of time, I've identified what I see as five different editorial angles that writers employ to tell a particular electric vehicle story. There isn't anything scientific about my analysis; a brighter person could probably find more, but this is how I categorized them recently after reading yet another "EVs are a failure" story on the web. That got me thinking about this subject and certainly my role in it as a relatively early proponent of electric propulsion technology. For my own edification, I decided to write them down and here is the result.
Five Angles of EV Journalism
• Axe-to-Grind: It is all too easy to ascribe nefarious motives to writers who paint all electric vehicles with the same tar brush. The 'axe to grind' stories always seem to have an underlying agenda, occasionally economic or environmental, but usually it's political; and they almost never offer an alternative, which leaves us with the currently comfortable but ultimately untenable status quo of a billion motor vehicles running on petroleum headed towards 2 billion by 2030.
• Techno-Porn: At the opposite end of the spectrum from the axe-to-grind angle is what I call techno-porn: the infatuated with anything new and shiny regardless of its practicality or potential impact on our culture or planet's ecosystem. These "kid-in-a-candy-shop" stories are intended to excite the senses, titillate the imagination, and arouse lust in our hearts; and motor vehicles are the central icon of this cult: cars and motorcycles especially. We're physically aroused when they throb and vibrate and utter deep sonorous tones that climax in redline howls of horsepower.
• Techno-phobia: Somewhere between axe-to-grind and techno-porn is the "if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it" attitude, or what I call "techno-phobia": the fear of changing technology. The only improvements we want, this angle takes, is more power, more speed, more goodies; and if you can throw in a bit of old fashioned, Golden-era nostalgia from my youth, even better. This angle has an underlying suspicion of and bias against anything that doesn't reek of aromatic hydrocarbons, the gear head equivalent of Eau de Cologne. If it hasn't got pistons, valves, rocker arms and fuel injection, it ain't an automobile. Everything else, especially them damned sissy hybrids, aren't worthy of consideration; and electric models? You kidding me? What person in his right mind would plunk down two and three times the price of a "real" car for something that can't go 100 miles and needs a stupid extension chord?
• Techno-nemia: This particular journalistic angle exhibits a basic lack of understanding about the technology. It is typically characterized as a fluff piece that talks about styling, amenities, and personalities: this or that actor has one. How the technology actually works is less important than who is using it. A surprising number of auto industry press releases reflect this approach. Either it is believed the intended audience really doesn't care about such things, or the writer simply isn't aware of or comfortable with how it all works and why.
• Shock-It-To-Them: Outlandish headlines are the weapons of choice for this approach. It is employed to grab reader attention and is often followed by similar exaggerations for effect in subheads, captions and/or in the body of the story, itself. The intent isn't so much to convey useful information as to sway opinion and imprint the author's attitude on the reader. I am pissed and want you to know it! Whether the writer is disgruntled with the product or simply with life in general is hard to ascertain; maybe it's a bit of both.
I've been writing about EVs for well over a decade and if truth be told, I've probably used all of these at one time or another: it's hard to write an engaging, interesting story without them. It's when we writers used them to color the facts or simply overshadow the object of our focus for the sake of telling the story that these "angles" are transformed into "slants"; and the line between bias and slant is a very thin one, indeed.
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