Urban journalism and the agriculture story

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Two well-known Ontario journalists issued a call to action to the agricultural sector today urging farm writers and communicators to tailor their messages to urban audiences.

Clear and easy-to-access information are what urban media outlets need in order to cover agricultural issues, say Ed Cassavoy, Senior Editor at the Toronto Star, and Assistant News Director Brent Hanson with CKCO TV in Kitchener ON.

Little attention is paid to agriculture by urban media, but it’s not always for a lack of trying for stories says Hanson, whose southern Ontario CTV affiliate started covering agriculture as part of its noon news last year.

Hanson often uses the internet to find stories when he needs to fill a newscast, and most of the time, the stories he finds are from the United States, Australia or Europe.

“We want to do more and we have room to do more, but we need help from our agriculture industry to do this,” he says.

His plea for local and Canadian stories is echoed by The Star’s Cassavoy, who also talked about the changing interests of consumers when it comes to what makes news.

Cassavoy admits that urban papers don’t understand agriculture nor do they care about it because there is no connection to the land.

This is especially true of journalists, who have their own perspectives on issues, and often write about what they know, which these days isn’t likely to be agriculture.

“We need agriculture to help us make the connections between agriculture, food and science,” says Cassavoy. “You can’t count on journalists to do it, so it helps if you explain things and help them connect the dots for a general audience.”

So what can agriculture do to fill the void?

Putting messages into terms and stories the general public can relate to is the key.

This means different news releases for the urban media than what is written for the agricultural press or a primarily farming audience.

It also means easily accessible and user-friendly websites with relevant content and perhaps most importantly, current contact information for appropriate spokespeople and subject matter experts.

For print, image libraries of easily downloadable, high resolution photographs are also crucial.

“Most journalists procrastinate, so anything that can help us do our job more easily is helpful,” says Cassavoy, who also laments the love agriculture has for numbers and statistics. “Most journalists don’t like numbers, and agriculture loves to use numbers. The potential for misinterpretation is great.”

Hanson’s final advice to agricultural writers and communicators is simple. “Don’t write a news release to please your boss. Send us information that we can use. We want to use it and we’ll be glad to use it if we can get it.”

Top tips for connecting with the urban media:
* clear, easy to understand information
* find the “news” angle
* contact information for credible experts and spokespeople
* easy to use website with relevant, easily accessible information.

CFWF 2007 Conference photo album

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