Five Things I've Learned as an Ag Journalist

My Generation

Day 6 of 30 Days: Fifteen years as an ag journalist with Prairie Farmer have yielded more than a few lessons. Here, five of the top ones.

Published on: November 6, 2013

1. We take freedom of the press for granted in America. During our time in Sweden last year, I met journalists from countries where the press is either semi-free or recently free. Decades of reading only what the government sanctions or prints leads to a general distrust of virtually everyone and everything. Consider this as well: in countries where there's no free press, there's also hunger. It is no coincidence. Absolute power begets absolute corruption. Our press may not be perfect - and I say this having recently flipped on CNN during the daytime and having been shocked at the amount of editorializing that passed for news. But at least we're free.

Image design by Erin Ehnle, Keeping It Real: Through the Lens of a Farm Girl. She rocks.
Image design by Erin Ehnle, Keeping It Real: Through the Lens of a Farm Girl. She rocks.

2. The Illinois agricultural community is like family. I hardly do a story or cover a meeting where someone doesn't already know someone else: we went to college together, we showed cattle together, we went on this trip together, we sat through this press conference together, we were on the Young Leader committee together, we work with so-and-so who's married to so-and-so. It's a small world, and it's a lovely one in which to work. When my mother died last year, I was awed by the response. Ya'll are good people.

3. The people who work in agricultural journalism are exceptional and take their work very seriously. I have amazing colleagues who do incredible work, looking at every angle and side of an argument. We're part of a professional organization called the American Agricultural Editors Association, and I am fortunate enough to be president this year. Year in and year out, I am awed by the work that's honored in our annual writing and photography contests. Farmers are passionate about what they do, and – maybe because a lot of us are former farm kids - ag journalists are equally passionate about the work they do.

4. In all of my 15 years at Prairie Farmer, no story of mine has generated more mail and more comments than the column I wrote in summer 2001 about the state of Illinois bidding against farmers to buy thousands of acres of prime farmland, claiming it as part of the Open Lands Act. You want to make an independent, freedom-loving farmer's blood boil? Tell them how their tax dollars were used to outbid farmers, then how the state cash rented it back to those same local farmers. Actually, it makes me mad all over again. (And I'd link to it for you, but it ran well before we began our online archival system. Sigh.)

5. I have covered farm bills, corn refuge requirements, GMOs, gestation crates and countless other controversial topics. Bar none, wind turbines, however, were the most surprisingly contentious issue. As in, I've never covered any topic where the two sides agreed less than they do in the wind industry. Even on where the wind blows. And how hard the wind blows. Which should be a fairly black-and-white sort of issue. To those folks involved in it? Not so much.


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