The Transition of Agricultural Reporting

As newspaper conglomerates downsize because of a struggling print-news industry, there are fewer and fewer reporters with agricultural beats. Agriculture stories represent less media coverage with the advent of a computer-centric society, coupled with a population that is less interested in “hard news” and more interested in “infotainment.”

An increase in general-assignment reporters is being witnessed as print publications strive to appeal to a broader audience to remain in business. These reporters are assigned the occasional farm story from their editors, but do not actively pursue industry news. Some believe this has led to decreased quality in agriculture reporting and the emergence of industry-serving publications.

The significance of agricultural news, however, is stronger than ever.

“In today's complex world of genetically modified food, stem-cell therapies and global climate change, the need for journalists who can understand and communicate the intricacies and impact of science on society has never been greater,” states the University of Missouri’s agricultural journalism program home page.

Ag industry news is still being delivered to the public – but the format has changed. As newspapers downsize, farm journalists are taking the heat.

“There seems little doubt that cost-cutting and layoffs – the “bottom line” mentality – and the decision to cut or consolidate beats, have affected farm coverage,” states Thomas Pawlick in his book, The Invisible Farm: The Worldwide Decline of Farm News and Agricultural Journalism Training.

As a result of the shrinking agricultural focus in newsprint, more and more farm reporters are appearing on the Internet.

Farm news-specific sites are continually being produced such as, Agriculture Business Week, and AgClips. “Agriblogging” and industry podcasting are becoming increasingly popular.

"There are now literally hundreds of blogs relating to agriculture," said Chuck Zimmerman, president of ZimmComm New Media, a company specializing in agricultural and biofuels-related blogging and podcasting.

Several industry blogs exist, such as Agriculture Blog, which highlight emerging news and prevalent subject matter. Podcasts are also delivering ag news. AgriFeeds, an agriculture news and events aggregator, allows users to filter and subscribe to industry-related podcasts. Farmers, media and the general public utilize agricultural blogs and podcasts as educational resources for industry updates.

The 11th-Annual Agricultural Media Summit is Aug. 1 through Aug. 5. According to its Web site, it aims to promote, support and enhance the viability of ag media as an effective and efficient communications medium. The summit will provide education, networking and professional-development opportunities to those working within the ag-media industry. The summit is an example of the farming industry’s effort to reassert itself as a principal topic of media coverage.

The decline of traditional agricultural journalism is evident. Agriculture’s Internet presence is intense as dailies scale back and staff fewer and fewer agriculture reporters. The cultural and societal significance of the agriculture industry will secure its existence in the media forefront – in a new format. There are advantages and disadvantages to this shift that make it a hotly contested topic among those in the industry.

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