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Serving: West

Relationships are key to restoring trust in media

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There is much that ag media has to offer in terms of lighting a path for the larger news industry.

As news outlets in the post-Trump era begin picking up the pieces of a fractured industry, I’ve seen positive signs indicating that a reset in how they approach their audiences may be on the horizon.

In an industry not always known for introspection, some is occurring, fueled largely by a recent poll from Edelman finding that Americans’ trust in traditional media has reached another all-time low. It’s also fueled by pandemic-related economic downturns that hit some sectors such as newspapers particularly hard.

Media folks are responding in different ways. One of my former newspaper editors wrote on LinkedIn of exploring “demand-driven journalism” to provide more reader-driven coverage. Other ideas I’ve seen bandied about include adding “news media literacy” units to high school civics courses. If you ask me, what we really need is just to re-teach people how to recognize opinion when they see or hear it. Opinion isn’t “disinformation;” it’s meant to be taken with the requisite grain of salt.

But despite the polls (or maybe in small part because of them), I remain optimistic about the future of American news media. From people I talk to and commentaries I’ve read, I get a sense that people still yearn for a common set of facts, even as we build varying opinions around them. And from what I’ve seen of the successes of agricultural media, there’s much that our sector has to offer in terms of lighting a path for the larger industry.

For one thing, the nature of our audience tends to push us toward the center politically. Agriculture and its related industries are a big enough group that its members cross the spectrum, but small enough that we don’t want to alienate any portion of it.

Secondly, ag-focused media is very competitive, and competition sharpens our skills. Our 10-state region has numerous well-established publications and startups covering ag and various commodities, and more are appearing. Some sectors of media have discouraged competition either through company consolidation or political pressure, but ours is robust, which pushes all of us.

Most importantly, though, the successes that I’ve seen in ag media have been fueled by the relationships our publications have cultivated with growers and ag professionals over a period of years. We develop those relationships by constantly going to farms and functions and getting immersed in their world, and over time these sources begin to trust us.

As my former Farm Press editor, Ron Smith, wrote to farmers when he retired last year: “You welcomed me onto your farms, often into your kitchens and living rooms, sometimes onto your combines and cotton pickers, and explained how you do your job, often against incredible odds of bad weather, breakdowns and poor markets. I treasure your friendship.”

We cover stories objectively, but we love what farmers do, and it shows. If you want the trust of others, love them where they live.

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