Panel Shares Media View of Agriculture

Journalists from outside agriculture give farmers a glimpse of what shapes their agricultural stories, and what farmers can do about it.

Published on: Jan 16, 2014

Three journalists who cover agriculture for their non-agricultural publications convened on a panel during the American Farm Bureau Federation in San Antonio, to share their experiences – including how farmers view them.

Alan Bjerga writes for Washington, D.C.-based Bloomberg News, and is the author of "Endless Appetites." Bjerga also grew up on a farm in Minnesota, which it helps him pass what he calls the farm bona fides: when the farmer he's interviewing wants to know whether he has a farm background, whether he understands what the farmer does and whether he has the experience the farmer has.

Bjerga adds, however, those concerns couch a big question: Will you be on my side?

Farmers and ranchers gathered this week in San Antonio, Texas, for the 95th Annual American Farm Bureau Federation convention.
Farmers and ranchers gathered this week in San Antonio, Texas, for the 95th Annual American Farm Bureau Federation convention.

"I usually pass the farm bona fides. I've had the experience. But no, I'm not on your side. I'm a journalist. I'm not supposed to be on anyone's side," Bjerga explains.

His colleagues on the panel, including Lynn Brezosky, San Antonio Express News, nodded in agreement. "People do want to read about latest technology," Brezosky said. "Agriculture isn't very sexy. It's a hard sell sometimes, to readers and to editors."

Jerry Hagstrom, Washington, D.C., writes the subscription-based Hagstrom Report, and says it's important to tell each side – in this case, organic farmers and corn/soy farmers – what's going on on the other side. He's also spent time writing about agribusiness demand on commodity producers: what happens and who pays when Kelloggs wants certified sustainable rice for their Rice Krispies?

Each of the panelists had succinct advice for farmers as they talk to media:

Hagstrom: "Try not to sound angry." Especially with questions about GMOs and government regulation, he added. "Take a greater interest in the origin of the question: why are people asking it? What are they concerned about?"

Brezosky: "Reach out to us more. Reach out through your farm organizations and let us know what's on your mind. Invite us to your farm." That helps her put a face with an issue and it makes for a more well-balanced story – and a story that's more likely to get on the front page.

Bjerga: "Be known as someone who respects other's opinions and respect the role they play." He tries to respect the farmer's role and asks that the farmer respect his role, which is to answer his reader's questions.