By Mike Wilson
*Editor’s Note: This article is part of the “Story Behind the Story” series featuring first place 2018 AAEA Communication award winners.
As ag journalists we wear many hats, all of which focus on service to the truth, and to the reader. Switching between feature writing, analysis, profile, or editorial opinion is something I view as an opportunity to stretch my skillset.
My editorial, “Immigration reform: The issue that will not go away,” was written about seven months in to President Trump’s administration, prompted by a series of questionable presidential trade and immigration moves that, to me, made no sense for U.S. agriculture or for that matter, the general economy. Why deport people in a revved up economy short on labor? This was shortly after the President threatened to tear up NAFTA and deport migrant workers – two things important to farmers.
Despite farmer admiration for the president I felt the time had come to summarize how his positions were at odds with their best interests. I wanted to offer some simple truths that seemed to be missing from the heated rhetoric over immigration – things I learned from face-to-face interviews with people running businesses. Getting people riled up is not fun but when you rely on first-hand observations from the frontlines of our business, it’s hard to go wrong.
One of my goals in editorial writing is to not let the rhetoric overwhelm the message; and yes, I’m as guilty of going on a rant as much as anyone. To me, a good editorial presents a balanced view of the issue along with thoughtful ideas that can lead to resolution.
I got both positive and negative feedback from this column, which, to me, is a sign of success. If people simply agree with what I write I have failed because it means I was preaching to the choir.
It was the first of many times that I have heard passionate reactions, pro and con, from commentary focused on this president. Our readers even criticize the presidential photos we publish. We live in interesting times. Moving on.
One goal at Farm Futures is to provide proactive analysis – information people can use for the benefit of their business and family. One of our obligations is to try to help reader-customers understand what may lie ahead. In my regular column, “What tomorrow’s farmer looks like” (November 2017 issue, Farm Futures), I wanted to pique reader interest in how Silicon Valley is disrupting and transforming a very traditional industry. It was important to write a lead using descriptive language, to create a fantasy world that would hook readers.
I will often start a column by jotting down the big picture themes I feel are most important, then go back into the guts of the story to add evidence and supporting anecdotes where needed. Sometimes that information comes from past interviews. When possible I try to paraphrase quotes for brevity’s sake. We believe that if people can get a clear picture of where the industry is headed, the smart ones will focus on the opportunities in that transformation. This was a chance to help readers embrace the kinds of skills they would need as agriculture becomes digitized.