Reporting on agriculture in metropolitan media

Perspectives and tips from a 27-year adventure

Editor’s note: We could not pass up the opportunity when we learned that members of Rural Media South Australia had hosted a speaker during May on the subject, “Bringing rural issues to the city via metropolitan media.”
That speaker, Angela Goode, was a columnist in The Advertiser newspaper (Adelaide). Hers was the only weekly column on rural issues in any capital city daily newspaper in Australia. Might she be willing to share with IFAJ members, and others, some of her thoughts on rural-urban reporting?
She kindly agreed, so we feature her response here and express thanks for her thoughts. And, in reading some of her columns, we can appreciate – with her readers – why she has been honoured as the inaugural Rural Icon by Rural Media South Australia.

Jim Evans

Evolution of “The Goode Life”
My column was born in 1981 when I married a cattleman and moved from city journalism to farm life. The words “what on earth are you going to do with yourself” said repeatedly by my city colleagues were the catalyst for a writing career for the next 27 years. I thought if smart, intelligent journalists did not understand farm and rural life, then hardly anyone else would. I thought I knew a bit about farming since two of my three brothers were on the land, and although we grew up in the suburbs of Adelaide, we had an acre of land on which we grew all our vegetables and most of our fruit and poultry.
Soon after moving to the country, I started writing short stories about my experiences as an outsider and newcomer with much self-deprecating humour and sent them off to my former editor at The Advertiser. They were published under the title of “The Goode Life”. Gradually the character of the column evolved from being wide-eyed and quirky to that of a commentator on rural issues, environmental matters and political decisions made without consideration for the rural population.

“This episode…illustrated starkly the different stances of city and country people.”

Readers also enjoyed day-to-day descriptions of the work we did on the farm, about the changing seasons and stories about animals. The endangered Bush Stone Curlews which live on our farm, just one remnant pair of once large flocks, were written of several times a year as readers followed their nesting attempts.
Last year, I wrote of killing a fox which had been bailed up by two of our Jack Russell terriers in a hollow log. A State-wide debate erupted about the morality of killing feral animals and the Animal Liberation president debated the issue with me on radio, but furious farmers hit the airwaves resulting in a satisfying back-down. It was a nice victory for the farming sector which too often is intimidated by well-organised liberationists.
This episode, which resulted in an avalanche of emails as well, illustrated starkly the different stances of city and country people. Other disconnections are numerous. Some which attracted considerable reader response were on the work ethic of farm children; the rural sense of community; closeness to nature; corporate farming versus family farming; self-reliance and resourcefulness versus dependence on governments; attitudes to water use; lack of good mobile phone and broadband access; and basic things like farm cooking. A great wave of nostalgia for the perceived slower, healthier and more nurturing lifestyle of the country exists.
“It became clear to me how much people had enjoyed being taken each week on a journey into a world which for most of them was completely foreign.”

On the agenda now
In mid-June, I decided to cease writing the column. It was time for a change. I had been approached by a major publisher to write books for them. My daughter, who is a rural journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, had just begun working nearby as well, and I thought it was a case of too many Goodes in the same field.
The extraordinary outpouring of sadness by hundreds of readers that the column had ceased was something I had not anticipated. I am still working my way through responses to these emails! It became clear to me how much people had enjoyed being taken each week on a journey into a world which for most of them was completely foreign. (Most of the readership of The Advertiser is urban.) They had seen me as a voice of common sense and reason, with a fresh approach to many issues. It was a wonderful way to end.
This was capped by the honour, however, a few weeks earlier, of being named the Inaugural Rural Icon by Rural Media South Australia. I was overwhelmed that my work should receive this sort of recognition. When you tap away in isolation, far from your readership, researching and writing about topics which fire your own enthusiasm, it is gratifying and extraordinarily humbling to be recognised in such a fulsome way by your peers.
Ian Doyle, RMSA president, said in his citation that, as Australia’s only rural columnist working for a capital city media outlet, I had been a fearless crusader for the agricultural and rural sector. It has taken me a while to come to terms with such praise!

“There are so many things happening in country areas which interest city people.”

Tips for othersYou ask what tips I might be able to offer rural journalists on encouraging local media to report more about rural issues. Is it not simply a case of ensuring you have a good story and sending it to them? There are so many things happening in country areas which interest city people. If these are presented in a way which appeals to a reading, listening or viewing audience, in all likelihood they will get a run.Getting paid for those stories is another issue! For some misguided reason, in my early freelance days, I believed that bridging the rural and city gap was more important than proper financial rewards. In time, my columns led to the writing of five books, all of which sold well – eventually compensating for those lean “apprenticeship” years.

Read some of Angela’s columns

Author contact information

Angela Goode
PO Box 261
Naracoorte
SA 5271
Australia

Internet: www.angelagood.com.au
Email: angelagoode(at)bigpond.com

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

By: Angela Goode

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