By Pam Caraway, 2021 AAEA Board Member
The old county commissioner adjusted his steel gray tweed cap, took a long pull on a filter-less cigarette, then turned his perceptive gaze toward the reporter from the local daily. “What makes you different?”
Before answering, my question was whether being different was a good thing, at least in this instance. Turns out it was. He didn’t expect me to always write articles that favored him or his positions. He did, however, expect fair articles and he knew to find them under my byline. Then, he asked again: “Why?”
Because I’m going to run into your wife at the grocery store. Because the story I write today won’t be the last one that involves you. Because I’m not going anywhere. Other reporters were breezing through to grab a couple solid clips on their way to a larger paper in a booming metropolis. I was already home.
I was winging it because that was the first time I gave any thought to building a network or gaining a community’s trust. He bought it because I was honest. And that answer holds true today. So, tip No. 1: be you. If you don’t know, have the confidence to say so. If you make a mistake, admit it. When you sit down at the computer, be fair to all.
The second tip is to answer the phone. Any time of the day. When I was a reporter, the police chief called when he had something big. As an ag editor, I heard from farmers at dawn and at midnight. Those are the hours that farmers work. Be willing to work those hours any day – and eternally thankful that you don’t work them every day.
Finally, show your passion.
As an ag journalist, we shouldn’t be advocates. It is our job to cover the industry – and that includes writing about the tough topics. As an ag communicator, we represent our clients. Overall, however, we can show our passion for agriculture. On some levels, that support is more important today than it has ever been. In some corners, it was just as important 20 years ago.
What we do every day adds up. As with all the important lessons, the day I learned it lives on.
Leaving a tobacco farm in the midst declining quota and lawsuits against Big Tobacco, I paused to thank the farmer for taking the time to visit with me during harvest. His reply: “After what you wrote in the magazine, you are welcome on this farm any time.”
It was a column published years earlier that focused on tobacco laws, how they impacted farmers and smokers, and my fear that those same laws could come to bear on my beloved Blue Bell ice cream. It, of course, supported tobacco farmers. I didn’t remember it. He did.
Pam Caraway is the Marketing Communications Lead with Syngenta.