It is never wrong to speak up. As a farmer and rancher, accepting a media request for an interview can induce a sudden panic attack — rightfully so. You go from “how cool” to “what did I just agree to” in 0.2 seconds. Take it from this late-blooming magazine editor who raises livestock and has once walked in your shoes, the wave of fear pondering the “what-if” can actually hold you back from sharing your agriculture story.
Frankly, not every media interview will be smooth sailing. Even for fearless individuals like me who has never turned down a chance to speak on the record, I have had moments when I have looked into the eyes of the reporter and knew it was not going to end well. The reporter is shaking their head in understanding, but their body language says the opposite. Let’s face it, like all humans, journalists come with different experiences, perspectives and understanding.
A balanced approach is always expected, but never promised. Most media outlets do not allow you to see the finished project before it goes public. The interviewee reads the words on a page or sees the clip for the first time along with the entire world. The angle or the tone of the story is completely out of the interviewee’s control.
Recently, Illinois pig farmers bravely accepted in good faith to share their story and open the barn doors widely for the world to see. Taking time from their busy day in the barns, they moved forward and shared the world of pig farming with reporters from the Chicago Tribune. Hoping to add value to the story, pig farmers took on a challenge with an open attitude and complete transparency.
“Our efforts were to provide the writers from the Chicago Tribune accurate information about what is happening in Illinois’ pork industry and the dedication and passion our producers demonstrate every day on their farms,” says Illinois Pork Producers Association president Bob Frase.
On Aug. 3, the first article in a series of stories investigating Illinois pork production was published. Unfortunately, the end product was not exactly the “equilibrium” all parties involved pictured.
As National Pork Board president Jan Archer, North Carolina pig farmer, articulately responds in a letter to the editor, “Representatives of the Illinois Pork Producers Association worked tirelessly with the Tribune staff for more than 8 months, opening their barn doors to these reporters in an effort to support our industry’s commitment to on-farm transparency. While elements of the pig farming perspective were accurately shared, there were many more instances where the Tribune simply got it wrong.”
Yet, the Chicago Tribune managing editor Peter Kendall tells the Brownfield Ag Network that their writers presented a balanced piece. He says, “This is a thoroughly reported story and its findings are based on numerous interviews and a thorough review of public documents. We have full confidence we lived up to our obligation to be fair and balanced.”
Yes, numerous interviews were conducted, snips were taken and the information wrapped in a finished package presented before us. A package that does not just include the time spent in the barns but also lengthy discussion on Illinois’ livestock permitting process and neighboring farmers pitted against each other. (Perhaps, it is time for me to brush off the big ’ole “kumbaya” — “We are all in this together” — farmer pep talk, however I will save that for later date.)
Honestly, the story was going to be presented with or without the Illinois pig farmers’ participation. It is just ill-fated that certain truthful elements were skillfully left out. I applaud the pig farmers who actually spoke out. You answered the call to be more transparent.
For my fellow Chicago Tribune readers, I urge you to spend more time in educating yourself and researching pork production outside of the pages of the Chicago Tribune. Better yet, I encourage you to chat with a pig farmer.