By Matthew Wilde, AAEA Special Interest Groups Committee Chairman
It didn’t matter what professional development presentation I attended at this year’s Ag Media Summit in Kansas City, I was surrounded by the “who’s who” of ag journalists and photographers. And, possibly even better, the next generation of ag communicators.
Award-winning ag writer Gil Gullickson of Successful Farming, former AAEA president who deservedly took home 2021 writer of the year honors, was often among those seeking tips from other journalists to hone his craft. So were Sara Wyant, president of Agri-Pulse Communications, and new AAEA President Mindy Ward of Farm Progress. Legendary ag photographers and communicators Jim Patrico and Harlen Persinger also shared their knowldge with colleagues and learned from them as well.
New AAEA President Mindy Ward shares tips with guests
about creating compelling, narrative writing on a deadline.
(Photo Courtesy: Chuck Zimmerman)
The inspiring part is these and other venerable ag journalists — most of whom have won dozens of writing and photography awards that cover their office walls — were sitting by aspiring ag journalists from universities across the country. The experience and skill sets may differ, but they all had a shared goal: Continual improvement to tell the story of agriculture and serve farmers and ranchers.
That’s the beauty of the Ag Media Summit. The networking and comradery are great, but the professional development opportunities that help all ag communicators to improve keeps me coming back.
I left the summit with a notebook full of tips to better my writing, interviewing and photography skills. Most of that time has been conveying agronomic, economic and other information to farmers to help them make better decisions and be more profitable. I also show non-farmers what modern agriculture is all about.
Journalists with decades of experience consistently indicated during the summit that learning never stops. I couldn’t agree more. I picked up several new writing and photography techniques. A few included how to write a compelling lead, take photos in low-light situations and ways to weave important information into a story with colorful observations. Reminders of writing and photo skills learned long ago are also helpful.
AAEA President Mindy Ward (left) welcomes Guest Speaker Lolly Bowean
to the 2021 Ag Media Summit. Bowean, a program officer at
The Field Foundation of Illinois and former Chicago Tribune reporter,
shared her insights about narrative writing during an AMS session.
(Photo Courtesy: Chuck Zimmerman)
Lolly Bowean, program officer at The Field Foundation of Illinois and former Chicago Tribune reporter, blew me away with her insights about narrative writing. Here’s a few tips she provided about making stories a mandatory read:
—Weave specific, vivid details into stories that are relevant to the character and circumstances.
—Transport a reader to the location of a story with specific details.
—Give subjects life using active verbs. Think of non-living subjects, such as storms, as living things.
—At times, the writer can insert themselves in a story when appropriate. An example is giving a hungry family food and conveying their reactions.
—Tap into human senses in stories.
Three outstanding journalists — Jennifer Shike, Emily Unglesbee and Mike Wilson — provided tips on how to make a story compelling. Here’s a few:
—Know your audience to help them solve problems.
—The story lead is everything. Make it sing to draw the reader in, but it shouldn’t be too long.
—Don’t be afraid to utilize poetic license when writing a lead to make it compelling.
—Find the story behind the story. Dig deep.
—Empathy, authenticity and action are important elements of a good story.
The saying, a “picture is worth a thousand words,” is true. For many photos, no explanation is needed. David Lunquist, Jim Patrico and Harlen Persinger have taken many photos like that, but I’m thrilled they decided to provide the backstory to some of their favorite images during the summit.
The veteran, award-winning photographers displayed some of their favorite photos and explained during a panel discussion why they have captured their heart. The trio also shared what it takes to get a great photo.
One photo and explanation greatly moved me. Persinger, a former Marine, displayed a photo he took of two young sisters in Vietnam in the late 1960s. They washed clothes at his base. It wasn’t a photo with sweeping leading lines or beautiful scenery, but it was full of emotion. Years later, on a return trip to the once war-torn country, Persinger found one of the sisters and gave her a copy of the photo. She broke down and cried saying it was the first time she saw a photo of her and her sister together.
Believe me, I asked the three photographers many questions about lighting, composition and other things. I learned ways help the subject of an environmental portrait more relaxed. I learned you can effectively show action by panning the camera as the photo is taken. Also, getting the subject involved in the shoot by soliciting their ideas is a good thing.
However, Persinger’s sacrifice for his country and hearing first-hand the toll war takes on civilians spoke to me the most since I’m also veteran.
I’ve been a journalist for more than 30 years, and I’m glad to say the “who’s who” in ag media taught me a lot. I hope others who attended the 2021 Ag Media Summit can say the same.
Matthew Wilde is the Crops Editor for Progressive Farmer.