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No, Journalists Aren’t Enemies of the People
Back in 1983, a craggy-faced soil scientist with a shock of white hair named Everett White strode up the stairs of a cellar-like classroom in South Dakota State University’s (SDSU) Agriculture Hall. Some fellow students and I who took his geology class met him at the foot of the stairs, preparing to make our case about the unfairness of one of his recent exams.
“Well, did you like it?” growled Dr. White.
“Well, of . . . of – of course not!” one of us said.
“Well, what did you learn?”
“What did you learn?”
“What did you learn that you didn’t learn at home or on the streets?”
Looking back, I think it was that “on the streets” portion that really flummoxed us. (Later on, I discovered he had also had pulled the “Did you like it and what did you learn?” line on other students, too.)
Knowing we were whipped, we swallowed our C’s and moved on with life.
Paging Lenin and Stalin
After graduating from SDSU, I moved into the agricultural media world. These days, the agriculture part is still fairly popular (among our farm audience, anyway.)
Not so with media. “Enemy of the people”—a phrase etched into history by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin of the former Soviet Union — is a phrase used by President Donald Trump to describe the media.
Several agricultural editors gathered recently at a professional group to which we belong called the American Agricultural Editors’ Association (AAEA) to discuss the “enemies” and “fake news” rhetoric of recent months.
These folks don’t look like enemies to me. Nearly all of us were raised on farms, and some still actively farm or live in the country. We all share a passion for telling agriculture’s story. In truth, this fuels our competitiveness with each other. There’s an awards contest at our annual AAEA meeting where each of us secretly hopes amid rapidly beating hearts that our name is called to the winner’s circle for our stories, photos, videos, podcasts, and layouts.
Today, though, several of us – including editors from Farm Futures, Farm and Dairy, DTN/Progressive Farmer, and Corn and Soybean Digest – are joining more than 300 other news organizations in an event coordinated by the Boston Globe to fight back against the “enemy of the people” epithet.
To be fair, Trump isn’t the first politician to be at odds with the press. And, we do make mistakes. I recently had near-heart stoppage when a name was misspelled on the headline of a web story I authored. I immediately thought I had misspelled the name all through a magazine story that appeared in our August issue. Fortunately, it was a keyboarding error that was easily fixed.
Still, it’s indicative of the mortification we feel when we make an error. A former colleague of mine had the saying “If you mess up, ’fess up,” and that’s some of the best advice I have ever received.
We in the ag media like to think we’re different from the general media. We are, but there are times when we have to take on conventional wisdom in agriculture and turn it on its head.
Personally, I’ve taken and will continue to take lumps on my coverage of the reality of manmade climate change and how farmers can help mitigate it. Akin to Dr. White, readers may not like it, but I hope they learn from it.
At our meeting, one editor painfully told of two farmers who saw his media badge at a national meeting and muttered “#^@& fake news” as they passed him. This individual was recently honored by AAEA for a lifetime of stellar service to agricultural journalism. He wasn’t scared, for it was apparent they had been imbibing in the “spirits of the evening.”
He was just sad.
Those of us in the agricultural media have and will continue to make mistakes at times. When that happens, we’ll do our best to ‘fess up’ and remedy the situation.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to do what we’ve done for decades — provide you with the most accurate agricultural coverage possible. Sometimes, you may not like it. But it’s our hope that you’ll take our reporting and apply it to your farm to enhance profits and create a successful family life.