Hamilton Nolan writes for the Columbia Journalism Review about Tesla Motors decision to drop its public relations department and what it means for journalists.
Nolan writes, “THIS MONTH we learned that Tesla, a $400 billion public company run by one of the richest people in the world, has done away with its media relations department—effectively formalizing an informal policy of ignoring reporters. Though we should all be grateful for the chance to hear less about Tesla, we should also recognize this for what it is: one more glaring data point showing that powerful people no longer think they need the mainstream press, especially critical and ethical outlets like the Washington Post.
“This presents a problem. Because the mainstream press still needs powerful people—quite literally, in the case of the Post, as it’s owned by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, who is no fonder of difficult stories about his companies than any other billionaire.
“We are living through a historic, technology-fueled shift in the balance of power between the media and its subjects. The subjects are winning. The internet in general—and social media platforms in particular—have destroyed one of the media’s most important sources of power: being the only place that could offer access to an audience. When Musk can say whatever he wants to 40 million Twitter followers at any time with no filter, it is little surprise that he does not feel compelled to listen to unpleasant questions from some reporter who wants to know why he busts unions and wildly accuses people of pedophilia.
“As journalists, we all view this as a horrifying assault on the public’s right to know, and on our own status as brave defenders of the public good. And that is all true, for what it’s worth. But this is about power. We need to take some back, lest the rich and powerful run away from one of the last forces restraining them.
“Because journalism, particularly at the highest level, is about raw power. It is about bringing important people to heel, on behalf of the public. Politicians and officials and business leaders don’t want to talk to the press, subjecting themselves to the possibility of being made to look bad; they do it because they have always felt they had no choice.”