If farmers are advocates for agriculture, should the media follow suit?

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owenAre you up to speed on the Chipotle restaurant controversy? Briefly, Chipotle, a Mexican grill chain, teamed up with Academy Award-winning Moonbot Studios to create a sappy but incredibly popular animated video that takes a mean-spirited and unprovoked shot at commercial-scale agriculture.

 It’s become an internet phenomenon, drawing six million viewers over the past couple of weeks.

 Sales and marketing is the motivating force behind it, although chief marketing officer at Chipotle, Mark Crumpacker (!), says the video is intended to “help people better understand the difference between processed food and the real thing.”

 Ha! Next he’ll try telling us Mexican food chains such as his sell real Mexican food.

 Anyway, the video takes the concept of factory farming to a new low – in it, animals are depicted being injected with super growth hormones and mistreated in assorted ways.

People are appalled. For example, elsewhere on this website, RealAgriculture founder Shaun Haney issues a call to arms to other farmers like him. Stand up and be counted in an unprecedented way, he urges, or be prepared for the consequences of farming in a society dominated by the Mark Crumpackers of the world.

Many RealAgriculture readers agree with Shaun, based on the numbers of tweets and likes his post has received.  So maybe the advocacy movement he champions will take hold.

 From my perch, I’m wondering what readers think of the agricultural media’s role in all this. Should it too be an advocate for agriculture? Regardless of the sector journalists cover, they’re trained to report news objectively, in a balanced fashion, straight down the middle. Present both sides of all stories, they’re told (unless of course they’re columnists, who are supposed to present perspectives).

 That objectivity irks those from the “If you’re not for us, you’re against us” school of thought. How, they ask, can a journalist take a paycheque from agriculture, yet give equal weight to what commercial farming opponents have to say?

 As well, they argue, enough people are out there taking shots at modern agriculture without the farm media doing it, too.

On the flip side, I’ve heard other farmers urge journalists to maintain their objectivity in reporting on issues. They say it’s better to read about prickly farm matters in the ag media, reported on by knowledgeable farm journalists, than it is to see issues awkwardly represented in the daily press or consumer media.

 Recently I’ve been fortunate to be involved in some agricultural journalism ethics research in the U.S. with young farmers and ranchers. At a conference, they were quizzed on the media’s role. The results were pretty clear.

 When asked if farm editors should be advocates for agriculture, 354 said yes, and only nine said no. And when asked if they agreed ag magazines and newspapers are trusted sources of information, 267 said yes, and just 38 said no.

 But when asked if they thought editors provide unbiased information, nearly half said no.

 To me, that sounds like they trust a biased media, which they think should also advocate for farming.

 Do you?

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