Stories that an Iowa editorial cartoonist may have lost his regular commentary role for offending a major advertiser have spread far and wide, and concerned many about the independence of the farm press in an environment of increasing corporate concentration. The cartoonist, Rick Friday, worked for Farm News of Fort Dodge, Iowa, which says it serves 24,000 readers in 33 counties.
Farmers need to believe the media they rely upon for information, perspective and commentary is independent and is looking out for their right-to-know and their right to hear contrasting commentary on matters that affect their lives and farms. Trust is based on credibility, and credibility is founded upon the belief that publications are committed to their readers’ interests, not those of advertisers or other parties.
This concern with putting readers’ interests first applies to all news publications urban and rural, but for farmers there is a special vulnerability to, and anxiety about, the reliance of farmers and farm media upon a few huge suppliers and advertisers. There are tens of thousands of individual farmers spread across the continent, but certain areas of the agriculture industry are dominated by only a handful of companies, so farmers have a legitimate worry that their general but diffuse interests will be overwhelmed by the concentrated power of major commercial players.
Farm publications need to strive especially hard to ensure that their readers know that their interests are being put first and that advertisers and major commercial interests are not exercising any influence over the news and commentary that appears in their publications. As farmers come to more and more rely upon a few major commercial players as partners in the agriculture industry, so too do they come to rely more and more upon a free and fair farm press to provide them with the information and perspective they require to operate their farms in an always challenging farm economy.
NAAJ members attending the annual meeting in Washington, D.C. in April 2014, were escorted to the new Norman Borlaug statue in the U.S. Capitol. Here is a video by member Ed White, The Western Producer. Pilgrimage to Norman Borlaug Statue
NAAJ photos can be found at NAAJ photos on Flickr
Created by NAAJ, the scholarship encourages high-caliber students to enter agricultural journalism and honors the life of Sonja Hillgren, a leader in the field as a reporter, editor and magazine executive. Hillgren passed away in December 2006 and work on the scholarship began in 2007. It was endowed in 2010. As of April 2014, the scholarship has almost $67,000. For the first couple of years of its endowment, the scholarship was awarded to one student per year. For the first time since its inception, three students were given the scholarship in 2012-13.
Hillgren was a sterling writer who simultaneously saw the big picture of farm policy and the practicalities of modern agriculture. She raised reporting standards through hard work, by being thorough, fair and objective in her work and expanding the realm of “farm reporting” to include diet, tax, trade and environmental policy. Although a formidable competitor, Sonja always was willing to share knowledge with colleagues. All of these are qualities the scholarship intends to propagate. With her designer wardrobe and a sparkling wit, Hillgren made agricultural journalism glamorous, whether as National Press Club president or visiting folks at the county fair.
NAAJ is grateful to Sonja for her role in modernizing the group, formerly the Newspaper Farm Editors of America, into a professional society with an international membership.