'Too much negative news'
I was sitting in the Agweek booth at an area farm show early this winter when a farmer came up to visit. I had never met him, but knew him by reputation as a good farmer and level-headed guy.
He said some nice things about my writing and Agweek in general. Then he said, "I just wish you guys had more positive stories. There's too much negative news now."
I mentioned the cover stories I'd written recently, all positive. I mentioned that most of the stories in the current issue of Agweek were positive.
He nodded and said he realized that. His complaint was that, in his view, there are too many stories about poor crop prices, export concerns and extremely limited farm profitability. "We don't read to read more about that; we already know it. What we really could use are stories that encourage us things will get better," he said.
He hesitated a moment and then apologized for not being as articulate as he would have liked.
I told him I'd like to be more articulate, too. Then I thanked him and told him I'd keep that in mind (which, obviously, I have).
So, is he right? Should there be more positive news and less negative stories in Agweek?
I don't have an easy answer. Agweek needs to contain a mix of stories — whether positive, negative or informational/neutral — that gives our readers a balanced, realistic view of modern agriculture. No doubt well-intentioned observers can differ on what that mix should be.
I am certain that our staff understands the importance of positive stories and strives successfully to include such stories in every issue. Yes, we're impartial journalists here at Agweek. But our farm ties run deep; we'd much rather cover farmers' successes and victories than their struggles and losses.
Defining "negative" complicates matters. Over the past year, my Agweek colleague Mikkel Pates has tackled a number of splendid investigative reporting series that dig into financial shenanigans by some area ag businesses and ag businesspeople. The stories certainly aren't "positive," but they're so important and relevant that they undeniably have a place in our magazine and TV show.
The horrible Midwest flooding is another example of negative news that needs to be covered.
As for the complaint about "excess" coverage of trade issues, farm profitability and crop prices: These issues are not static, they change and evolve regularly. Yes, we may have written about them many times in the past, but important new developments dictate new, additional coverage.
And the "negative" stories often take a decidedly practical approach, featuring useful advice from ag lenders and others on how to overcome the challenges.
My personal criteria for selecting Agweek articles is this: Is the subject interesting, useful or relevant — or some combination of the three — to people involved in area ag? Would it serve Agweek readers and viewers? If the answers are yes, I'll pursue the story.
Sometimes that criteria leads to negative stories.
The most negative
Two final thoughts for the farmer at the farm show, as well as area farmers and ranchers in general:
Good luck with planting. Good luck with calving and lambing.
And most of all: be careful, stay safe. Farm accidents, injuries and fatalities are the worst, most negative news possible, and they're the stories that those of us in ag journalism never want to write.