Directly or indirectly, everyone has an example of a positive or (sometimes) negative experience with the media. It seems that around every corner we hear or read a story where agriculture is unfairly represented or entirely misrepresented. It’s hard to open up our homes and lifestyles to a global microscope---especially if the potential for a negative interaction exists.
Some public perceptions about agriculture are driven by fear and misinformation—a dangerous combination. There are plenty of people willing to speak on behalf of agriculture. We have to make sure we are leaders in that discussion. Working with the media shouldn’t be viewed suspiciously it should be viewed opportunistically. With a few proactive steps, farmers and ranchers can guarantee their local media will turn to them.
It’s important to emphasize—media outlets are not our adversary; they are our asset. Don’t wait for a reporter to come to you and ask questions, be proactive and initiate the conversation with them. Doing this allows you to form a relationship and become the reporter’s expert and go-to contact for ag stories and questions. There are two things to incorporate into your first meeting with a reporter.
- Local Contact Sheet— be the group that makes it easy for reporters to get the answers they need. Provide media sources with a list of contact information for people they can call for interviews or to fact check information. This might include the county Farm Bureau President, board members, other farmers and ranchers in your county, the local extension agent, veterinarians, and a variety of additional local officials.
- Farm Bureau News Resources—introducing them to the network of media outlets and contacts available through Farm Bureau is helpful. If they’ve already heard of Farm Bureau they’ll be more comfortable utilizing Farm Bureau in their reporting as well.
Getting the Message Out
When it’s time for the first interview here’s what you need to remember:
Prep Time—reporters should always give you two pieces of information before the interview:
- The topic
- The expectations of the interview
Reporters ask hard questions, so they should, and usually do, respect your time to prepare. However, they work against often unforgiving deadlines and can’t always provide you the questions ahead of time. You have to assume some responsibility and prepare to research any piece of the interview topic you’re not familiar with—and sometimes do it quickly. In the same way we want them to respect our time; we need to be respectful of theirs as well. They often work on tight deadlines and will sometimes need your response within a few hours. That’s why it’s helpful to have your own network of resources—like Farm Bureau—you can quickly contact to help prepare.
Be a Human—sometimes interviews, especially TV, can be intimidating and uncomfortable at first. But the number one rule to remember: You’re not talking to the reporter—you’re talking to the public through the reporter.
Show the viewers you’re a parent, a spouse, a community member and you share common concerns and values. The reporter might ask you questions you think are unfair or frustrating:
Don’t become defensive—use it as an opportunity to show the reporter and the viewer/reader your perspective.
Know your three points—it helps keep you collected and prevents rambling during the interview. Additionally, if you’re prepared it gives you more power to steer the conversation back to your three points rather than allow the reporter to control the interview.
Nothing is off the record—remember what you say is being recorded. And if a reporter asks you to answer something, off the record, we caution against that. During an interview, never say anything you wouldn’t want broadcast across the front page or the evening news.
Proactively working with our media outlets is no longer optional. In fact, it should be a regular part of your county Farm Bureau Program of Work. These tips help lay the foundation for successful relationships built on confidence and trust. Farmers and ranchers are the most credible spokespeople for agriculture and it’s time we took the conversation back!