Is it our responsibility to interact with journalists?

Initially, I felt this article questioned and covered the issue of electrical vehicles and their perceived environmental benefit in a succinct and thorough way. Because it’s point of view was atypical, I was led to believe that it had addressed all sides of the issue adequately. At first glance,  did you find this article balanced and fair? Were you convinced of EVs’ false environmental benefit?

I was convinced. I may have even tried to reference this article in a discussion with a friend, questioning the alleged “eco-friendliness” of EVs. When I read through a second time, however, I noticed a strange lack of support for the claims of EVs’ “dirtiness” with quotes and links.  My feelings of unease were confirmed and my perception completely changed by reading through the comments section. This radical change of heart left me wondering: Can community members and readers help keep news honest and unbiased? Is it our responsibility to interact with journalists in order to enforce the standard of fact-based journalism that we expect?

All too often, I find myself accepting the opinion of an author as truth when I am under-informed on an issue. In this case, it was important for me to read further and see the rest of the audience’s reaction, in order to fully form my own opinion. Do you often read the comments section of online articles? Are these arenas for legitimate discussion?


8 Responses to “Is it our responsibility to interact with journalists?”

  1. The article, in my opinion, was too short in order to cover the topic adequately or fairly. It does highlight the other side of the argument, that EV are not as environmentally friendly as some would suggest, however, as you mentioned, it leaves the supporting details of facts, quotes, and figures to support its claims. I believe that the topic of EVs is something that requires a lot of information, because it is not a clear-cut solution. EVs still cause environmental damage as the article suggests, but from this article, it is not clear as to whether or not that damage outweighs the solutions it is trying to correct. Also, many would argue that EVs goal for many car manufacturers is to lessen America’s dependence on foreign oil. This article barely skims the surface of what would be necessary to inform any reader. I do like to read the comment section, because it gets me to think and see other sides to the story. The ability to create a conversation after an article, such as this one, is a major pro to the online news of today. Does anyone see a problem with comment sections? Do they influence anyone’s opinion?

  2. I had a very similar reading experience to you, Caroline! I think the writer presented an interesting argument, but upon second glance, I do not think it is fair or balanced. I do not think that this article displayed accurate fairness because I think that the thoughts of proponents of electric vehicles should be represented in the article as well. From my experience, I’ve found that, more often than not, experts in the environment believe that electric vehicles are cleaner than those ran on fossil fuels. If this is truly the case, the article would focus on the opinions of the proponents rather than the opponents to electric vehicles. I do think the argument in the article is interesting, but I’m not sure that it’s fair to only reflect this argument because I do not think it represents the majority. I agree with Katie’s comment above mine, that the comments following an article are important. I think the ability to post comments that all readers can see helps the reading community hold writers accountable for what they’ve written. In the old days, readers had to submit Letters to the Editor, which were published in the paper at the staff’s discretion. With online news, all comments are posted instantaneously and the publication may not be influencing what readers post. I think this is exciting because it gives people a less-regulated outlet to discuss these issues.

  3. I agree that the article does not present a fair argument and found the stark contrast between the article and comments very interesting. Especially after one-sided articles, I try to read through comment sections. Even if they’re not informative, they’re usually pretty entertaining. Also, I do believe that the public interaction between article and reader can help keep journalism honest, or at least fair. The comments at the end of this piece bring up some good points, but they lack links and direct quotes just like the article itself. It’s important to stay skeptical of comments just as with whole articles. I wouldn’t say that it is a reader’s responsibility to keep journalists in check, but I do argue for reading responsibly and checking up on facts.

  4. At first I too was convinced by this article that EVs may not be as good for the environment as they have been advertised. They are much more expensive than regular gas fueled cars and don’t last as long so after reading this article I normally would have believed it and decided that I personally would never invest in one. I usually never read the comments underneath, but was in shock when I did for this one. Not one comment was positive about the author or article and people seemed to be pretty worked up about it. The comments made me realize that the article didn’t list any sources or use any solid facts or statistics to back up its points. I think that this article, along with many others we have read in this class, are good examples of why we shouldn’t believe everything we read, even if it does seem well written and convincing at first like this one. It is also always a good idea to do further reading on anything you may want to reference in another piece or in conversation, especially if you are not familiar with the topic. Finally, I think the comments are great because they allow for anyone to make corrections or call out the author if there were mistakes and the people that actually take the time to comment on an article usually are passionate about the topic and know a thing or two about it, but at the same time they may not have solid links to back up their opinions either. All in all, I think this article was convincing after the first read, but after reading the comments and then going back up to reread it, it seemed quite weak.

  5. I think a major reason online news sources have been frequented more than print can be attributed to the reader’s ability to comment on stories. The general rule is to take the validity of each comment with a grain of salt, but this feature opens the door to a more interactive way to share information. In the case of the electric vehicle story, the comments brought to light what might have been blindly taken to heart.
    The basis of this electric car debate is based on a Life Cycle Analysis report. LCA’s analyze the impact of a product or function from cradle to grave. LCA is a new tool to compare the “sustainability” of a product, but it’s validity is sensitive to the “Functional Unit” that the analyst chooses. Its a much more subjective process than the public thinks. For example, an LCA report was done to compare paper bags to plastic bags, and the findings claimed that paper bags were much more harmful to the environment. These atypical results caught my eye and I looked to what functional unit the LCA was conducted under: re-usability. Because the entire LCA report was calculated based on the re-usability of the bag, the consumption of the paper bags sky rocketed above plastic (even though no one brings single use plastic bags back the the grocery store). LCA can be a very useful tool to assess the impact of a product, but results can easily be manipulated by the definition of the functional unit.

  6. I think this article does an excellent job of trying to sell the idea that electrical cars are not as good as they appear. The mention of articles and throwing around top university names to give credit is very convincing. However, I would like to see the author link to the scientific articles that backup the claims made. Instead, only articles from the same website and from one guy, Zehner, are linked throughout the story. I doubt a majority of people bother to follow those links and read for themselves what is said on the issue. It takes an interested individual to explore the “facts” and claims made by an author. As good as the comments section may have done in this particular case, I do not believe they are a good place to go for information. The people most likely to comment on an article are ones that feel strongly and more towards an extreme side of either spectrum. I think most comments relating to any article that takes a side on an issue will be praising the article as the best thing ever created, or trying to point out every flaw in the argument. Although it may differ from website to website depending on what kind of people are attracted to the site.

  7. The article raises legitimate issues, but addresses them in a biased manner.

    Batteries, motors, and power electronics are more carbon-intensive to manufacture. But studies suggest that, currently, these are less than 20% of the lifecycle carbon emissions from conventional vehicles, which are dominated by fuel combustion. As conventional vehicle efficiency improves in the future (and it will – likely x2 by 2030 and x4 by 2050), the upstream manufacturing carbon emissions will become relatively more important. Of course, batteries and motors will get better and their upstream emissions will likely decrease. So, while this is a legitimate issue and should not be ignored, it does not negate the potential advantage of EVs.

    The big issue is simply the electric grid. If you are producing 50% of your electricity from coal, as most of the US does, then there is little or no carbon advantage for an EV over a good hybrid, such as the Prius. If you are recharging in California, with virtually no coal, 55% natural gas, and the rest renewables, EVs have less than half the carbon emissions even of the Prius. If you envision a future where renewables dominate, EV carbon emissions could reach very low levels, even accounting for the upstream carbon emissions from manufacturing.

    One final point. The article assumed that EVs would use exotic materials, such as carbon fiber. It is true that a few exotic EVs will use carbon fiber bodies, such as the BMW i3, but it certainly not required. In addition, the lighter weight of carbon fiber and aluminum allows a smaller battery pack to be used to achieve the same range, a smaller motor to achieve the same power, and reduces the amount of electricity consumed during the vehicle life. These savings in upstream battery and motor manufacturing and in-use carbon emissions from recharging should be far higher than the additional carbon from manufacturing carbon fiber and aluminum. The article does not seem to address these tradeoffs.

  8. It’s no one’s responsibility to interact with journalists. But the web offers the opportunity. By and large that’s healthy. As for this particular story, it demonstrates that the policy issues around EVs are complex. The question, usually not clearly answered in articles on this topic, is what is the goal of promoting alternatives to petrol fueled vehicles? If the goal is to reduce petroleum consumption for national security or economic reasons, that’s one thing. If the goal is to reduce CO2 emissions across the life cycle of the vehicle, that’s another. These goals are not the same, and the blog post (and many of the comments) miss, or make too little, of the difference.

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