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Ways to advance interests and views in rural-urban communicating

 How point-of-view communicators
can contribute in the complex maze
of rural-urban issues and relations


Jim Evans and Owen Roberts 

            This is the fifth feature in a special series to serve those who wish to communicate effectively in the challenging, dynamic rural-urban arena.  Earlier features addressed these dimensions: 

  1. We are awash in an expanding flood of rural-urban issues that call for effective communications, at all levels and in all parts of the world. Read more
  2. Journalists and other communicators face serious hurdles and roadblocks in filling information gaps, dealing with rural-urban conflict and addressing inequities and imbalances. Read more 
  3. Roles of journalists affiliated with non-aligned commercial media differ from those of journalists and other communicators affiliated with point-of-view organizations and interests.  However, all share some goals and roles. Read more 
  4. Journalists affiliated with non-aligned commercial media are using a variety of methods for covering rural-urban issues. Read more 

            In this fifth feature we highlight ways in which communicators who wish to advance various points of view can work effectively in the interest of rural-urban decision making.  

Who are the point-of-view communicators? 

            The increasing appearance of subjectivity throughout the news has made more of us point-of-view communicators. Front-page columns, journalists as opinion leaders, and more segmented and targeted media mean many journalists have put subjectivity in the limelight. We consider point of view communicators those involved in activities such as marketing products and services; promoting commodities; pursuing policies, trade interests or organizational missions; educating for change; regulating in support of policies; and advancing causes.  Even journalists who work with non-aligned media serve as point-of-view communicators when they write editorials, commentaries or blogs. 

            As noted in an earlier feature, point-of-view communicating about rural-urban relations takes us into the realm of persuasion, public relations and public information that emphasizes change (or constancy, sometimes).  So most of us involved in rural-urban communicating function as point-of-view communicators, helping pursue missions and directions we consider important. This sometimes calls into question the whole matter of objectivity in agricultural journalism. If you are advocating on behalf of the sector, how can you command credibility and respect as an objective journalist? The true test is how you see the soul of your reporting, meaning whether you believe you are serving your readers, listeners or viewers honestly.      

            That said, advocacy roles are vital to informed decision making in communities and societies. They are served by communicators who bring valuable functions and services such as these to rural-urban interactions: 

  • Identifying and listening carefully to voices of those with a stake in a given topic.
  • Creating alliances with others who have related interests.
  • Engaging citizens and other stakeholders involved in the topic.
  • Confronting and challenging opposing perspectives about the issue.
  • Encouraging media coverage that fully and accurately reflects your point of view.
  • Providing good, clear communications. 

What a range of topics and issues 

            We will not repeat here all the topics and issues examined earlier in this series, except to emphasize how they touch every country, at all levels.  Rural-urban matters intertwine with every dimension of the agriculture, food, feed, fiber, natural resource, biotechnology, bio-energy and rural development complex.  They involve aspects such as: 

  • Differences in what people know and believe
  • Lifestyle issues
  • Equity issues
  • Infrastructure issues
  • Natural resource issues
  • Policy issues
  • Property rights and wealth distribution issues
  • Trade and marketing issues 

            You can see a more comprehensive list of issues here.   

All those voices in rural-urban conversations 

            You name the organization, firm or interest group and it probably has some active rural-urban interests. Examples include: 

·         Marketing firms in agribusiness and throughout the food industry

·         Agricultural and rural organizations

·         Commodity groups

·         Consumer interest groups

·         Other cause-oriented interest groups (e.g., environment, animal welfare)

·         Universities, schools and other educational institutions

·         Government agencies

·         Non-governmental organizations interested in rural development

·         Religious groups 

Such a variety of approaches and methods 

            Methods that communicators use in rural-urban communicating seem limited only by their creativity. In this feature you will learn of examples that range from tattoos, tours and bumper stickers to national advertising campaigns - from school-based teaching to cyber cafes, films, speak-up groups and art exhibits. 

Let's look at some examples and methods involved 

British Food Fortnight - National celebration that features thousands of food and drink festivals, promotions, tastings and special menus.
International Green Week Berlin - International exhibition for the food, agricultural and horticultural industries. 
Attracts consumers from Germany and neighboring countries, as well as representatives from throughout the food value chain.
National Farm-City Week - Annual effort to enhance linkages between farm families and urban residents in the U. S. Activities of the week include symposia, local farm-city events, a state and national recognition program, and other efforts.
Supermarket boycott - Launched against a European/Asian retail chain by an organization concerned about privacy invasion associated with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology used to track food and other items.

Demonstration - By the European Council of Young Farmers at a meeting of agriculture ministers to express concern about the delicate situation and low prices in the agriculture sector.

Media-based efforts

"Every family needs a farmer" - Campaign by AgForce, an initiative by beef, sheep and wool, and grain producers of Queensland, Australia. Features advertisements, career talks in schools, farm tours, science days, lobbying initiatives, an award program for those throughout the food value chain and other activities.

"Lucky we have Swiss farmers" - Image campaign in Switzerland.

"Easier" - Television and radio campaign sponsored by a seed marketer to acquaint the general public with the realities of farming.

"Sugar isn't the enemy" - Message line of an advertising campaign by an industry association regarding the role of sugar in obesity issues.

"Farmland" - An interactive online computer game to help European children understand the animal welfare issue.  Web site established by the European Commission.

Consumer Centre of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency - Provides online resources (including classroom materials) related to food, cooking, food safety, plant and animal health, biotechnology and other topics.

"The myths of biofuels." - Video presentation by a representative of two interest groups.
Biogas rural-urban communication plan - In support of a project in Sweden, using varied media and methods.
http://www.vafabmiljo.se > Use the site "Search" system, entering "communication"
"One cup." 
Short documentary film about fair trade and coffee farmers in Timor Leste.  Sponsored by fair trade and social welfare interest groups. http://www.archive.org/details/OneCup 

Food, Farming and Community program - Activity of the Michigan State University Museum (USA) to increase awareness and stimulate discussion about the economic and ecological issues related to contemporary agriculture.  Includes a curriculum, case studies, portraits and resources for book discussion groups, theatre performances, film festivals and civic dialogues.

"A threat to living communities."  Movie from a global welfare interest group suggests the economic development model being imposed on India's farmers is neither inclusive nor sustainable.

Television advertising campaign to attract farm workers in France
"A different way to connect with consumers" - Examines how to add a personal touch through use of podcasts and online videos.
http://www.professional.farms.com > Insights > Newsletter > Highlighter 2nd Qtr. 2008

Bilingual virtual dairy farm tours - Tours provided through an interactive web site established by dairy and farm animal interest groups in Canada.
http://www.bcmpadev.com/images/uploads/Vol_3_Issue_1.pdf > Scroll to article on page 7.

Bumper sticker diplomacy - Technique proposed by a livestock extension agent to remind the American public of the importance of the agrarian economy.

"Quilts on barns: the beauty of rural art." - Film from a community arts council (USA) encourages installation of quilt patterns on barns in the area.
Action groups
"Speak up" groups - "Handpicked communicators for agriculture" used through AGCARE (Canada) when "a farming-related crisis arises, when someone is unfairly putting the boots to farming practices, when an expert is unexpectedly needed, and none is around."

"Rural Realities." - Case example of quick response by rural interest groups to a plan by CBS Television (USA) to produce a reality tv series, "The real Beverly Hillbillies," that seemed likely to reflect negatively on rural life and people.

Web-monitoring efforts.  Agri-marketers are among those using communications professionals to focus solely on social media, including Web monitoring.

Community food bank - An exchange to bridge the rural urban gap in Poland.
http://www.citizenbase.org > Search on "food"

Educational approaches 

Les Fermes Pedagogiques in France.
Fattorie Didattiche - Educational farm in Italy.
Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) in the United Kingdom.
Educational Dairy Farms initiative in Japan.

Educational resources from AGCARE (Agriculture Groups Concerned About Resources and the Environment), Ontario, Canada

Agriculture in the Classroom program coordinated by the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Rural Knowledge Centres - Venues for harnessing the power of information and communication technology resources to build skills, understanding and welfare in rural communities.  From the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, India.

Farm tours and educational classes - Samples identified by Sustainable Table, an organization advancing organic and sustainable food. http://www.sustainabletable.org/schools/programs

"Love of the land: stories of life, the land and environment."  Virtual exhibit with study guide from the Michigan State University Museum, USA.

Partnering with media
"Telling our story: partnering with the media" - Tips from a conference sponsored by the Leopold Center, Iowa State University, USA.

Local farm initiatives

"Farmers taking on a more active PR role" - Newspaper report from Canada.

"Communication between farmers and the public" - How Swiss farmers can communicate with the public

Farm tours and educational classes - Samples identified by Sustainable Table (USA), an organization advancing organic and sustainable food. http://www.sustainabletable.org/schools/programs 

"Bridge builders for farmers" - Ideas from Purdue University Extension, USA.
http://www.ces.purdue.edu/extmedia > Site search on "rural/urban conflict" 

"Rural-urban interdependency and the future of agriculture" - Five areas for rural and urban interests to draw on agriculture as a common denominator at the community level. http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/33500/1/fo02bu02.pdf 

Tips for rural-urban interaction

"How to talk rural issues" - Message frames recommended in a report of the Kellogg Foundation, USA.
http://www.wkkf.org/default.aspx?tabid=101&CID=274&CatID=274&ItemID=44232&NID=20&LanguageID=0 > Click on "print this chart" in the summary 

"Framing" - How to frame agricultural issues strategically to improve communications, broaden constituencies and reinforce messages across issues and organizations.

"Urban vs. rural community outreach tactics" - Similarities and differences in approaches to successful public engagement in rural and urban communities.

What examples and methods would you add? 

Please pass them along to us at evansj(at)illinois.edu or owen(at)uoguelph.ca 

Best wishes in your rural-urban communicating 

About the authors: 

Jim Evans is professor emeritus of agricultural communications at the University of Illinois, USA.

Owen Roberts heads the agricultural communications program at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. 

(This professional development feature is produced through a partnership of IFAJ and the Agricultural Communications Documentation Center, University of Illinois.) 

December 2009