Fighting fire with fire – how farming won’t win friends

I had several failed attempts at starting a blog before I really got my teeth into writing this one (and I probably only stuck with this because I paid for the domain name and, being northern, I hate seeing money go to waste). It’s not that I lost perseverance in writing posts, it’s because I find this kind of writing terrifying.

As a reporter, news articles gives me anonymity – I don’t have to offer my opinion in my stories because the point of my job is to be fair and impartial, and I like being able to hide behind my reporter’s guise. Blogs are completely different though – I’m sharing my views here and every time I write a post I spend the next day or so panicking that someone’s going to leave a comment telling me I’m an idiot or that I’ve mortally offended them. It took me ages to find the right tone and my blogging ‘voice’ too.

So I found it interesting that an article by Richard Keller, the editor of US farm website AgProfessional, advocated journalists writing articles in the way they speak around the coffee machine – inflammatory language and all.

He reckons name-calling and sensational language in articles is a way to get attention and points to the way organisations like PETA have grabbed headlines through ‘false facts’ – “claiming facts that are nothing more than opinions or lies”.
Agriculture should fight fire with fire he says, using sensational language to counter arguments and “inspire people” into taking notice of how brilliant the industry is.

I can’t say I share his views. For one, I doubt many people are that interested in the way I talk when I’m making a brew (how Nottingham Forest managed to concede so many goals against Blackpool has been a fairly constant rant for the last week or so).

I don’t think my opinions should be obvious in my news articles either. This will probably rile people in the blogosphere who argue that news is news, regardless of how it’s delivered, but I think news articles carry more weight if they are written in a serious, authoritative way. Heck, I’m a journalistic dinosaur – shoot me.

But most importantly, as I said after the Soil Association published its last report about food security and organic farming, I don’t think it’s the right thing to counter ‘false facts’ with name-calling.

Farming can’t fall into the trap of thinking that hurling insults is the only way of getting attention. People grow weary of inflammatory rhetoric – resorting to childish name-calling means when the industry does have something that’s really worth saying then people are more likely to dismiss it.

If agriculture wants to get people to take notice of the work it’s doing it needs to make itself more newsworthy – that includes speaking out when it’s doing something interesting and countering criticism with a united, rational message. It’s a slow process but, like finding your writing voice, it’s one I reckon is worth persevering with.

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5 Responses to “Fighting fire with fire – how farming won’t win friends”

  1. Mary Critchley

    Well said, Caroline. If only it was easier to counteract official ignorance or the insidious sneering of those who have it in for farming with a “united rational message” As you say, it is a horribly slow process – but the alternative is worse. Tantrums in print do look pretty silly.

  2. Tom Rigby

    Quite right Caroline, it is the calm reflective tone of your writing which makes it so readable – and such a pleasant change from the frantic pace of Twitter (who was it that said: “Oh God, I can’t stand the woman – she’s even more of an annoying rent-a-gob than other politicians”?)

  3. Dacier Outten

    Dear Caroline,

    Nice post. You have reminded me I have an outstanding piece of writing to do myself!

    I fear that one of the troubles is that in many situations those who represent the industry are not tuned into modern methods of communication. They are no doubt very good at lobbying MPs but public opinion generally is left to fester in ignorance. I am currently preparing a piece on the work of a dairy farmer with Mary Horesh and having spoken to one group of environmentalist there was quite a bit of ignorance and sympathy for the plight of people trying to put milk in the fridge and on the breakfast table. The same was the case with Foot and Mouth. One colleague was puzzled as to why farmers got so upset when the beasts were going to be slaughtered anyway. A few minutes explanation as to blood lines, beef and dairy and developing a top rate heard seemed to do the trick. The less the industry does to bridge the gap between town and country the more politicians will be able to sideline the issues into ill informed demands for greater efficiency and lower prices. Meanwhile the public will be happy to think that the supermarket orders the milk from a factory somewhere, and that’s all there is about it.

  4. Steve Fairchild

    There is also honest outreach here in the U.S.’s Midwest. is a consortium of interests who take the approach Dacier suggests.

    I can recommend the group’s latest video effort wherein man-on-the-street interviews are conducted and reveal the cost of modern farming equipment to urban residents. Most are dumbfounded to learn the capital requirements to run a modern farm.

    I agree that decorum should prevail, but the very nature of some pressure groups over here makes it difficult to be heard. For anyone to do with agriculture other than the small-holder’s variety is tarred as a tool of corporate interests (full disclosure: I work for a cooperative that lists “Incorporated” at the end of its name).

    While Mr. Keller’s approach may be lacking, I understand the spirit of his call to arms.

    Food politics is politics of the most personal sort. And so, like all of politics, it may get ugly.

  5. neil ridley

    There is the wonderous adage coined by a newsman from the States along the lines of why let the facts get in the way of a good story. The trouble with agriculture is no one can agree on the facts. I have stopped contributing on the threads on FWispace so consistently for this reason.

    For many years I have challenged farmers and agriculturalists about the way they hide behind different performance figures.

    Many other businesses have certain benchmark figures with which they function. Football for example we know when our team loses.

    A farmers take is to ignore the result and blame the referee or say if such and such an incident had occurred in a different way then the result would have been the correct one.

    No one listens to agriculturalists in Britain any more because like Peter they have cried once too often… Woolfe (think Quebec?), or actually wolf.

    This is all founded on a pre-lapsarian romanticism.