Want to see change? Tell your story
It happened again this month. I got another call that went roughly like this:
Caller: "Hello, is this Mikkel Pates?!"
Me: "You've got him."
Caller: "Yeah, I've got something here that I think would make a really good story for you."
Caller: "We met once at the (fill in the blank here: Big Iron booth, CropStop, a sugar beet or other meeting). I don't know if you remember me." (Chances are, I do.)
"Yeah, I just thought you might be interested in what's going on out here (fill in the blank here: marketing cheating, government overbearance, crop insurance fraud, lending fraud). This is a really big deal. People are getting hurt really bad, and nobody seems to do anything about it."
We've discussed the problem, gotten to the nub of who might be at fault. I tell the fellow I'm interested, but a story of this type really needs someone to put a face on it and actually stand up and explain what happened.
The reader doesn't have to stand alone, I tell him. If it's a big problem, others may have the same problem. But whatever individual, agency or entity who is committing some alleged atrocity can't be confronted with rumors and innuendo. He agrees and says he'll round up a few friends or neighbors to put up a united front. I tell him that would be great. We say goodbye.
A week later, he calls back.
Caller: "Yeah, I talked to those neighbors and they all wanted to, but none of them would talk about this. None of them want to be identified. They are worried that ("XYZ" entity, alleged bad actor) will find some way to get back at them."
Me: "Well, I am sorry they can't do this because if what you're telling me is true, it's important. I just won't proceed until something is on the record and attributed to a source."
Caller: "Yeah, yeah. I know. But I just can't ... too much of a risk."
Me: "OK. Be in touch."
I'm disappointed in these outcomes because — in the end — it's these stories that probably matter most in a democratic society. When someone sticks their neck out we can all learn just a little more about how our agriculture and farming systems work. Problems can get fixed.
Frankly, there are are so many stories out there that yours probably won't be told if anonymity is required.
At Agweek, I and my colleagues feel strongly that we're here to add more light than heat to situations. There's plenty of content with just the facts — no name-calling or libelous adjectives or adverbs. We have to give both sides an opportunity, but always — always — the farmer's point of view is fully understood.
But if there is no risk, there may not be an magazine or TV story.
Someone will suffer in silence.