At least once a week I receive an email or facebook message from a journalism classmate with the same request:
“Do you know a farmer I can interview?”
Being the only agriculture and journalism major at WKU, my classmates constantly ask for my help locating ag sources.
More than ever, today’s consumers want to know where their food comes from and journalists want to tell them.
In addition to the hundreds of daily farm chores, farmers and ranchers must always be ready for that phone call from the local newspaper or visit from a T.V. crew.
Is your farm ready for the 6 o’clock news?
It needs to be.
So what should you do when that phone call comes? Here’s my top 5 tips for preparing to be a source for an agriculture news story:
1. Calm down!
Journalists are not out to get you. In fact, part of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics (think of it like a journalists’ version of the Hippocratic Oath) is “Seek truth and report it” and “minimize harm.” Remind yourself that they called you because you are an authority on farming; they sincerely care about what you have to say.
2. Take a practice tour
Walk the exact same path that you’ll lead the reporters down, from the driveway to the barn and back. Notice anything along the way that will need special explanation like a lagoon or working pens. Practice keeping your explanations as short and concise as possible.
Now is the time to make decisions on biosecurity measures. Don’t wait until the crew arrives to decide whether or not the photographers can get in the pens or milking parlor. Make sure you have enough disposable boots, coveralls, etc… for an entire camera crew. If you’re expecting a newspaper reporter be prepared for an additional photographer as well.
3. Brush up on recent controversy
Is there new animal welfare legislation in your state? Was there a recent case of food-borne illness? Usually a news crew is visiting your farm for a reason. Do some research on the latest event or issue so that you’ll be ready when they ask you about it. You don’t have to give a ten minute speech on the topic, just have an answer ready.
For example, if you’re asked about e. coli 0157:H7 in ground beef have an answer prepared like, “Beef producers like me work hard to produce the safest beef products for your family and ours. My family eats the same beef as yours and I always make sure to cook ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees to eliminate the risk of e. coli.”
4. Let your emotions show
I can’t emphasize this one enough! Reporters use quotes to add emotion and meaning to a story, yet farmers are some of the toughest to get emotional quotes from. Leave out how many bushels per acre and include the joys of working side by side with your spouse or the fond memories of taking your children on their first tractor ride.
Don’t feel comfortable getting sappy in front of the camera? Make a joke! I’ve heard my dad say a thousand times “We feed our pigs a lot better than we feed ourselves.” This is a humorous and quotable method for starting the swine nutrition or animal welfare discussion without shedding a tear.
Even easier, allow your children to be a part of the visit. Photographers will always take advantage of a cute father-son moment or an adorable kid playing with a calf.
5. Say “I don’t know but I know someone who does…”
No one expects you to be an expert on the entire agriculture industry. Similarly, you can’t expect the reporter to understand farming either. If you don’t know an answer admit it by simply saying, “I don’t know but I know someone who could better explain it to you.”
Have a list of 2-5 contacts ready to give them. These “experts” can be extension specialists, state producer organizations, national commodity groups or anyone who could expand upon the topics discussed on your farm. Provide the reporter with a phone number, email, and web address for these additional sources if possible.
Its time to tell our story.
Its time to open our barn doors and welcome the cameras. Its time to show the media that American agriculture has nothing to hide.
American farmers spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year working to produce the worlds safest food supply. Its time we see that on the 6 o’clock news.