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GUEST OPINION: Protecting land for Islanders
The news industry has largely neglected agriculture. It has firmly planted itself deep inside our cities, fostering a knowledge dissemination climate that has kept vital information regarding food production, farming and all the related science out of the spotlight.
Provincial cuts to education, say, will get attention and usually raise concerns over the system’s ability to provide quality schooling to our children. Changes to health care will garner comment on how people’s access to the medical system will be affected. These are both services that, when put in jeopardy, are covered from the assumption that they are essential and that their loss will have negative impacts.
Rarely, in both of these examples, will the reporter hinge the story on the wage-earning implications for teachers or doctors. Any education or health care story, we can all agree, is much larger in scope than that.
A farmer’s ability to turn a profit is, similarly, not getting at the heart of most agricultural issues. Often, though, the stories we hear are about a farmer’s struggle to make ends meet, a tragic situation only relevant in context of the larger concerns that are plaguing agriculture.
Farmers talk about low commodity prices, suffering trade relationships and we sometimes push government for support, but that’s not the news. The hook lies in the fact that something essential is in jeopardy — something that affects everyone.
During a recent visit to my alma mater, the University of Winnipeg, a professor was dismissive of the fact that I grow commodity crops, saying, “Talk to me when you start growing vegetables.” The implication was that soybeans, wheat and canola are not food. They are. Wheat is a staple across the globe. Soybeans are an excellent source of accessible and efficient protein, and canola is also a sought-after and versatile food product.
The comment highlighted what is a formidable knowledge gap among people, like her, who are otherwise very well-informed.
Journalism graduates tend to know things like how to cover courts, how to cover government, how to cover policy and how to sniff out special interest groups. Agriculture is something the occasional newsroom has an edge on, but only if they have someone on staff with some perspective on it.
The distribution of agricultural knowledge has largely fallen on interest groups to handle, and with that comes the taint that has manufactured a baseless assumption among reporters and the public that the science the ag industry puts out is nothing more than coy messaging meant to dupe those with less intellectual fortitude than our gatekeepers.
Twitter has been especially lousy with statements from journalists uniting in their contempt for special interest groups vying for their attention. Journalistic integrity should be anchored on more than fealty to an anti-bias sentiment that, without additional context and without an understanding of the source, is weak and empty.
How is agriculture supposed to have a voice when the people tending the gates to information lack the required perspective and knowledge of what qualifies as relevant, and, worse yet, equate acquiring such knowledge themselves with a loss of integrity or a betrayal of their readership?
News outlets, journalism schools and whoever else has consciously or subconsciously shut the door on agriculture are sitting on a tremendous opportunity. Canadians should be privy to more information about agriculture, about where their food comes from — including commodity crops — and about how to outsmart misleading labels at the grocery store.
The opportunity remains for newspapers to be that important conduit through which credible information and balanced reporting could fill a void currently rife with lies, fearmongering and other goop.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020