Archive for the 'New Media' Category

Green with Outback envy

Today I experienced a new emotion: magazine envy.

It wasn’t a pretty sight either. Goodness only knows what Mark, the editor of Outback, thought  as I sat stupidly gaping as he brought out issue after issue of one of the nicest-looking publications I’ve ever seen.


(I realise I’ve broken a load of copyright/reproduction laws here, but I’m hoping Mark won’t mind – I just wanted you to get some idea of what I’m talking about).

I’m guessing this post is of no interest to normal people, so you might want to skip along here. Apparently there’s a rubbishy cricket match on, maybe you can go and watch that for bit. For the print media geeks among you, you would love this.

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The things I do for you guys…

When Farmers Weekly celebrated it’s diamond anniversary last year, we ran a poll to find out what readers thought the greatest farming innovation of the past 75 years was.

While the three-point linkage came out top, the mobile phone came in a close second as an invention which had revolutionised agriculture.

I’m pretty sure if we do the same survey for FW‘s 80th birthday, the mobile will have have jumped to first place – especially now smart phones are becoming less of a rarity on farms.

While I was in the US in July, I met loads of farmers who were doing everything with their Blackberrys and iPhones– from simple stuff such as emailing, to checking out the weather, trading grain and asking agronomists to identify which chemicals they needed for their crops by texting a photo over. One guy even had an iPad which he was using to map his entire farm and work out soil types and the fertilisers he needed. He also had all of his workers’ phones hooked up to the thing so he could know where everyone was on the farm at any time – very handy when he was trying to keep track of his grain trucks during harvest.

I’m always interested to see people using iPhones in innovative ways and finding apps that make their jobs easier – if only because I reckon it justifies my almost incessant praise of the things.

So, as I’m sure you’ll understand, it’s out of journalistic duty that I’ve had to upgrade to the iPhone 4 so I can find out for myself the ways the latest model can be used on farms.

Hopefully upgrading will also stop my Apple-obsessed friend, Mr Geography, from harping on about how amazing the latest iPhone is. Here’s a photo of him boring me to death about it for the 14,000th time:

Me and Mr Geography

Anyway, my phone arrived this week. It’s possible its arrival may have coincided with my lack of posts on here.

It’s all in the name of research. Honest…


Fishy way for the media to make dosh

Gob of the Wash is in London at the moment for the Chelsea Flower Show, so we’ve been going out to play in the evenings to take advantage of his escape from Lincolnshire.

We both have a fairly silly sense of humour, so last night we went to Leicester Square to watch Richard Herring record his podcast.

He says he started it because he wanted more creative control and liked the fact the internet was ‘do it yourself’ (in reality I reckon it’s cos he wants to swear like a trooper without getting shouted at by the TV bosses). The podcast’s free to download, but he charges a tenner to watch the recording, which covers the costs of the theatre and reportedly leaves him with a wage of about £84 for the show.

It’s an idea which interests me as a media geek and Matthew as a third of farming’s intermittent podcast troupe, Pure Tilth.

We often chat about how to make new media profitable – he tried but didn’t succeed in getting sponsorship for his audio shows, while trying to get financial backing for videos and podcasts at Farmers Weekly is something I think about a fair bit.

Compared with some of the publications within our publishing group, FW has to work harder to convince companies to get behind our online stuff. Offer advertisers space in the magazine though, and they bite our hands off.

I often wonder whether it’s because we haven’t yet hit on a format that really appeals to the imaginations of farming advertisers, or if agriculture’s a bit late to catch on, preferring the traditional, tried-and-tested methods of the past.

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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.


Just call me Miss Eccentricity

So Gordon Brown’s the ‘worst Prime Minister ever’, according to Manish Sood, a prospective Labour MP from Norwich.

If Mr Sood hadn’t realised before, he’s now learning that slating your prospective boss like that isn’t the way to make friends and get ahead. Yes, he might have endeared himself to a few voters in his constituency by saying what they’re thinking, but if –  in the unlikely event Gordy wins on Thursday – Sood takes his seat in Norwich North West, he’s going to be derided and ignored by the Labour party and less likely to be able have any influence on issues that matter to his voters.

In the meantime, the party and its supporters’ solution to the incident has been to discredit the outburst by insinuating he’s a “maverick” (in the words of Jack Straw), while derisory comments about Mr Sood quickly started whizzing around the internet.

The press were quick to circulate the party’s dismissives too. Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s chief political correspondent posted on Twitter that Labour sources had tried to deselect Mr Sood in the past but had failed on a technicality.

“Labour now says on the record that Sood is a ‘dreadful candidate’ and is ‘divorced’ from the campaign,” she added later.

But what confirmed it for everyone that Mr Sood’s clearly a crackpot who should be ignored?

Only that he supports farmers. He’s a bloomin’ fruitcake, obviously.

Paul Waugh, the Evening Standard’s deputy political editor tweeted the following on hearing the news:

“Manish Sood tells SkyNews that we should ‘give more power to the farmers’. I’m not making this up.”

I asked him whether that confirmed to him that Sood was a bit bonkers and his comments should be taken with a pinch of salt, to which he replied:

twitter grab
Now I’m not saying whether Mr Sood’s right about Gordy, but he’s standing in a rural constituency –  talking about something that’s of interest to potential voters in an interview for his local paper hardly seems off the point to me.

Paul Waugh may write for a London audience, but I hope that attitude isn’t endemic across the whole of the national press. I’d hate to think farming’s still a fringe topic for the mainstream media and anyone who considers it a serious subject for discussion is merely an eccentric…


Independent travel

I booked tickets to fly to Chicago and Toronto today for the first leg of my Nuffield study tour. To say I’m excited is an understatement.

I’m now having to confirm the meetings I’ve been tentatively organising over the past few weeks and I’m already thinking I could’ve done with spending another week travelling around Illinois. So far I’m meeting farm journalists from WGN radio – the ‘voice of Chicago’ – some other members of the farming press, and some agricultural communications experts from the University of Illinois.

I’ve just realised I’m going to be in Chicago for Independence Day too, which is exciting – I do like a good firework display, regardless of the reason…


Is this going in the magazine?

Without exception, conversations with young farmers at this weekend’s AGM in Torquay ran like this:

Tipsy young farmer: Are you that woman from Farmers Weekly?
Caroline: Yes.
TYF: Can I have your Farmers Weekly t-shirt?
C: No.
TYF: Will you take my photo then?
C: Yes.
TYF: Will it go in the magazine?
C: It’ll definitely go on the website…
TYF: Yeah, but will it go in the magazine?
C: Possibly, but I promise it’ll be online in a bit.
TYF: Whatever, I want to be in the magazine.

Actually, I lie when I say that’s how conversations went without exception. That last line in the exchange can also  be interchanged with: “I don’t go online”; “I don’t have a computer”; “We don’t have the internet” and, most over-dramatically: “If you don’t put me in the magazine I’m going to cancel my subscription”.

While the last example was slurred at me by a young gentleman who was wearing a fake turkey on his head, topped-off with a Barbie-pink Stetson, it’d be wrong to dismiss the sentiment.

There’s an assumption out there that young people are completely au fait with the interweb, that they use it every day, glean all of their information from it and that magazines and other dead tree press are a waste of time for the next generation of readers.

Perhaps this is the case for other markets and agriculture is an anomaly, but every time I speak to young farmers I’ve been left with the feeling that it’d be wrong to think we can write-off the print version of FW when we consider readers of the future.

The lack of high-speed rural broadband obviously plays a part in some not accessing news online, but even those that said they used the FW website attached more worth to featuring in the magazine than on the web.

Maybe it’s the history of the FW brand that makes the magazine seem more important (lots of them mentioned their dads, grandads, uncles got the magazine and had done every week for decades), or having a physical news source that appeals more to them. After all, I’ve been told before that portability plays a big part in what people read.

Hopefully I’ll find out during my Nuffield travels, but it’ll be interesting to find out if young farmers in other countries think this way about printed press, or whether it’s unique to the UK.



I’ve spent the last few days emailing what feels like every agricultural organisation in India in a bid to sort out the next stage of my Nuffield scholarship.

I want to go to India to learn about some projects out there that are encouraging farmers to use mobile technology to share information and trade. It’s a country that has crummy internet connection in rural areas, but due to mobile phone networks being run by private companies, apparently has tip-top mobile reception, even in remote spots.

Anyway, despite few farmers using the t’interweb, the interestingly-named Department of Agriculture and Co-operation (can you imagine ‘co-operation’ ever being tacked onto the end of DEFRA?) still has it’s own website, and it ain’t half flashy*.

And farmers in England complained about the DEFRA site….

*Health warning: don’t click the link if you’re affected by super-high-speed graphics and images


Changing Times

So Rupert Murdoch has finally decided to make good his threat of charging to read his Times and Sunday Times websites.

From June people will be have to pay £1 a day or £2 a week to access news across the sites, which currently attract about 20m readers.

The debate about paywalls has been going on for ages so I don’t really want to get into it too much here. In a nutshell the grab-it-all consumer in me wants something for nothing – especially if I can get more or less the same thing on other news sites, blogs and social media without charge – while the journalist in me knows media organisations can’t keep churning out high-quality content for nowt.

Like farmers, in an ideal world I want what I produce to be valued and to receive a fair price for the energy I expend on it. In reality I wonder how much value people put on information – we certainly couldn’t live without the food and energy farming produces, can the same really be said about the media? A lot of the comments on the subject perhaps suggest not.

This perhaps sounds a bit gloomier than I mean it to. I actually think I’m a journalist in one of the most exciting times imaginable – the media organisations that fail are going to be the ones that don’t change and try new things quickly enough (what’s that Abe Lincoln? We need to ADAPT, INNOVATE and OVERCOME?). It’s going to be about providing unique, value-added content that really offers something to audiences – in that respect, I’m probably going to part with my £2 each week to read the Times because I really rate the music journalists who write for it and I think their output is worth paying a premium for.

Times music site

I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens, but come June it’s going to be fascinating to see just how the Times copes – if it’s successful it’s no doubt going to be a model the majority of media organisations will follow.

It’s weird how your thoughts come together as you write blog posts. Who’d have thought when I started that I’d end up wondering whether Rupert Murdoch is the Abraham Lincoln of the modern media world? Maybe I should go and have a lie-down.


Too much information

Far too many people have shared their toilet habits with me today.

I’ve been having a chat with some of the scholars about the farming newspapers they read back home – I’ve brought a couple of issues of FW with me so we’ve been trading agricultural publications on the bus journeys.

Having a flick through, it was strange to see that no matter whether from the UK, Australia, New Zealand or the States the stories were more or less the same – lack of research and development, feeding a growing population and concerns over welfare standards of imports all feature.

As well as the similarities in subjects, there are similarities in the way the group read farming media too. Lots of them say they use mobile technology and the Internet for information, but most of them reckon they still like to read a magazine.

I’ve always known portability is an issue for advocates of printed news, but I really didn’t need to know it’s portability to the bathroom which appeals most. Thanks for sharing, guys.

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