Continuing with a series of interviews with IFAJ guilds, Lena Johansson, IFAJ Vice-President, presents the New Zealand Guild and their new President, Elaine Fischer.
Who are you?
I am Elaine Fischer, new president of the New Zealand guild since October 2017.
I live in the Bay of Plenty, and recently retired from full time work as editor and full-time journalist on a monthly rural publication as well as for a magazine for the Avocade Industry Council. Prior to that I have worked on a number of community and provincial newspapers and edited the Kiwifuit Journal.
What is the name of your guild?
The New Zealand Guild of Agricultural Journalists and Communicators.
How many members do you have?
At the beginning of 2018, we were 85 members. But the number fluctuates every year, last year it was up to 100.
What are the big issues for agricultural journalism in your country?
At this moment it is the announcement that one of the country’s two large media organisations ‘Stuff’ owned by Australian parent company Fairfax Media, is to sell or close 28 of its rural and community newspapers because of falling profits. The company plans to focus on growing its digital business.
The rural publications affected are Waikato Farmer, NZ Dairy Farmer, NZ Farmer, Canterbury Farmer, Central District Farmer and Otago Southland Farmer.
There is some indication that these titles may be purchased by new owners but it’s uncertain times for the staff they employ, including many of our Guild members.
These journalists include some of New Zealand’s most experienced and talented rural journalists and it would be a loss to agriculture and the reading public if they are not retained by Stuff, or the potential new owners of the publications.
However, the uptake of digital news in New Zealand has been rapid and the younger generation are not readers of newspapers. Perhaps a new focus for Stuff, and its rival media organisation NZME, on digital platforms may in fact aid in presenting the public stories which help meet the New Zealand Guild’s aim – that agriculture is recognised for the major role it plays in New Zealand’s export-oriented economy.
How long has your country been a member of IFAJ?
Since 1980, before that there doesn’t appear to have been much contact between IFAJ and the NZ guild.
Why did your guild become a member?
New Zealand was invited to send a delegate to the world congress 1981. While there they were invited to host an international tour in 1982.
What is your biggest dream right now?
Those of us working in rural journalism and communications, and indeed in all aspects of primary industry, know how important it is to tell the stories of our farmers, growers and their industries in ways which are informative, factual and engaging, to help bridge the growing gap between urban and rural residents.
New Zealand is a farming nation but today the majority of its population lives in cities with few direct contacts with the land, farming or horticulture. This division creates tensions and a lack of understanding of what making a living from the land really entails, and what farmers and growers are doing to ensure they not only produce quality, safe food, but also care for the environment.
I’d like to see bad farming and growing practices reversed too, so that New Zealand’s wild natural beauty, and “tamed” landscapes can thrive to benefit our future generations.