Agriculture and TV News
By Stewart Truelsen
At a workshop on environmental reporting held in Los Angeles, television reporters were discouraged by the lack of interest in the stories they cover on the environmental beat. News directors and assignment editors are demanding stories that are relevant to the audience. If global warming is affecting tomorrow's weather forecast, fine. If it's a problem in a thousand years, forget it.
According to the reporters, environmental reporting on television peaked about six years ago with the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. They attribute the decline since then to a steady diet of bad news about the environment. Viewers have developed an immunity to scare stories. Also, many environmental stories today just aren't visual enough for television.
These reporters longed for the days of industrial smokestacks belching black smoke and lakes so polluted that they could be set on fire. In a way, the reporters' lament is good news for agriculture and many other industries. While TV news was trying to tell us how bad the environment was, viewers only had to go outdoors to realize that the environment was getting better.
Unfortunately, good news about the environment doesn't sell any better than bad news. In fact, good news is less likely to be watched. So, TV news doesn't bother reporting that soil erosion has been substantially reduced, and water quality improved, and that farmers are providing habitat for wildlife. These stories go unreported or are glossed over by most news operations.
News consumers aren't just tuning out environmental news on TV. The biggest scare at this convention of reporters and news directors was that young people aren't watching much news at all. According to a survey, only 6% of the public between the ages of 18 and 34 watch the evening network news. They don't have time to watch news or prefer sports and entertainment on television. They want news that is relevant, and are less interested in being informed or educated by the news.
Nothing could be more relevant to all of us than food, but viewers don't always associate food with agriculture. They don't care how the food gets on their table, just so long as it is there.
The future of agriculture in this country will have a direct bearing on the well-being of the young viewers who want relevant news. We just need to convince them and the news media of that.
Stewart Truelsen is director of broadcast services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.