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Is ag media helping to bridge scientific knowledge gap?

Todd Fitchette wfp-todd-fitchette-modesto-irrigation-district-74.jpg
The sound bite culture cannot effectively communicate the nuances of how U.S. agriculture benefits the world. How agricultural communicators tell these stories is ever challenging in a culture rich in information, but poor in understanding.
The sound bite culture cannot effectively communicate the nuances of how U.S. agriculture benefits the world.

Getting out and interviewing people in person is a big part of what motivates me as an ag journalist. Being tethered to a desk and computer screen for more than a year was difficult on several fronts.

In my first outing since the world was chained down by a pandemic, a compliment from someone I've been trying to connect with for several years suggested that I was still on the right track. The context of the compliments appeared more than just nice words and were backed up with examples elsewhere in the media that my source cited as "sophomoric."

There has long been a drive within media circles to be "first-to-market" in reporting. Ag media may not be any different, but in some circles, this has come at the expense of accuracy. Over time it appears that accuracy became a roadblock to this concept. I read recently of a fellow journalist challenged by a copy editor in the name of accuracy. Perhaps there's hope.

I learned in journalism school about the battle between 19th Century publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, and how hyperbole and melodrama used to sell newspapers became known as "yellow journalism." This was perhaps a phrase to delegitimize the messengers. The more recent "fake news" rant is not much different, though there's some truth to both. It seems a bit ironic that the iconic award for reporting is named after a publisher linked with such a negative term as "yellow journalism."

How does the general distrust of today's mainstream media affect ag publications? Surveys cite a growing distrust of the media. I wonder if those questions and surveys were sampled of niche media, what the consensus would be. Are agricultural publications, car magazines and other specialized media seen in the same negative light as the mainstream press?

Agricultural communicators do not have the corner on great information or even the truth. None of us are perfect. We may even be (perish the thought) biased in our human nature. Nevertheless, ours is an interesting vocation if we're honest. We talk daily with people accused of poisoning people and the planet, and stealing water from fish, fountains, golf courses and swimming pools. These folks are simply trying to make a living for themselves and their families while producing the food we need.

We chat with people charged with being greedy for wanting the irrigation water they already paid for to grow the food that someone with a clipboard and an office title thinks is not being grown properly. Sometimes we marvel at turns of phrase like "big agriculture," perhaps yet another delegitimizing term developed by a shock-and-awe culture.

Technology allows those of us in ag communications to share these technical stories in ways Hearst and Pulitzer never dreamed. The challenge, as with all communications I suppose is convincing readers and influencers of the many ways U.S. agriculture benefits our world.

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