By Gary Truitt
A recent tweet from a well-known agricultural activist stated that “1% of the people in this country protect us and 1% of the people in this country feed us, yet both groups are under attack by the media today.” Media stories that are positive about agriculture have always been few and far between; but, even when we have a positive story to tell and one that is of interest to consumers, it is ignored by most of the non-farm media.
A good example is the recent launch of the Indiana Grown program. This state-funded program is designed to brand and promote food products that are grown in Indiana. With the local food movement a popular item with consumers and food activists, you would think such a program would generate something more than passing interest by the media. Yet, last week when Marsh, a major food retailer in Indiana, announced it would install special Indiana Grown sections in its stores, media coverage was minimal.
The Lt. Governor and top Marsh officials held a media event at an Indianapolis supermarket to announce the new kiosks. While the ag media showed up in force, the news media produced only one television camera and one radio reporter. The Indianapolis Star published a story the next day based on the press release sent out by the State Department of Agriculture.
Had this been the announcement of a new 1000 head confined feeding operation, I think the media turnout and resulting news reports would have been different. The news media has argued that they don’t cover ag stories because their audience does not care or understand, but that was not the case this time. The local food issue is one that consumers have opinions on, and are interested in, and do understand. The sad reality is that the news media today only wants to cover stories about food and agriculture that are negative and alarmist.
I conducted a Google news search and found that there were 65,400 stories posted on-line about local food. There were 98,000 on the subject of antibiotics in food, and 174,000 on the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in food. The vast majority of the stories on local food were positive, while the majority of the stories on antibiotics and GMOs were negative.
Nasty letters to your local newspaper, radio, or television station decrying their treatment of agriculture may make you feel better, but are not likely to result in a change in their coverage. This is why agriculture must tell it own story and connect with consumers directly whenever possible. We cannot rely on the news media to tell our story. While social media can be a great way to engage with consumers, especially younger consumers, the increasingly vitriolic tone of social media discourse makes it a hard place for real communication. The original form of social media — face to face conversation — remains the most effective way to tell our story. Perhaps if the media would stop bashing farmers and law enforcement officers, the tenor of discourse in this country would improve.