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Journalists with dirt under their nails

The winners of this year’s IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism Awards are living proof of one of the unique features of their profession.

They have qualifications in, grew up in the midst of, or are actively involved  in agriculture. In some cases, all three  boxes are ticked.

In this respect, the winners are typical of their profession, which has the rare distinction in the world of journalism of nearly being a fully “imbedded” part of the farming and food industry sector  they serve.
With farming more and more a part time occupation around the world, the farmer -journalist has a unique viewpoint, straddling the lifestyles of both the mass audience who are non-farmers and the farmers.

Then again,  not having lived through the situations they are writing about has never stood in the way of the great journalistic achievements of our times. And arguments can be made for and against agricultural journalists having “dirt under their nails”. In many countries, there is a wide urban-rural gap – in some cases, a gap of understanding which can make  it a big challenge for those from non-rural backgrounds to break into agricultural journalism. There is a huge amount of technical background information to be understood, not just about agricultural science but also about the increasingly complex public support schemes for agriculture. But  it is one of the journalist’s basic skills to get to grips with esoteric topics and understand them well enough to explain them in easy terms for the public. That challenge may come easily to the farmer-journalist,  but he or she must beware of the traps   – such as complacently assuming every reader or listener has their level of knowledge; or not pursuing  verification adequately, because they think they know it all. There is also the trap of not maintaining  independence from those they cover – for example,  being over-sympathetic when covering a farmer with problems which  the journalist may himself have encountered down on the farm. One has to admire the industry of anyone who carries on farming and journalism simultaneously. But they are two professions where your work is literally never finished. That begs the question:  can any farmer-journalist other than the super-talented truly excel at either occupation? Single-mindedness is typical of those who achieve the greatest success. What are your views? Give your opinion in the poll  on this topic, on the home page.

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