#onthefarm with Susan Crowell and Gary West

For last week’s #onthefarm, I chatted with two members of the ag media, Susan Crowell of Farm and Dairy and Gary West of The Capital Press. I’ve found these two writers and publications to be among the most prominent on Twitter, both in terms of sharing content and in having conversations with their readers and others in ag. So, I thought it’d be interesting to get their takes on big topics they’re covering (especially considering they are based in different regions), what their readers think of their content, how social media is playing a role in their content creation and curation and the discussion in journalism circles of paying for online content.

I thought it was a pretty darn good interview, as we get to hear from reporters who are covering the ag beats every day. Susan, Gary and all ag reporters do a great job of covering ag’s issues and in promoting agriculture, and it was nice to get their perspectives.

So, I’ll stop writing here and let you get straight to reading the Twitter interview. Hope you find it as enjoyable as I did!

Take it easy, but take it,

Nick

n_web: We’ve got pubs from the Salems today: Capital Press from Salem, Oregon and Farm and Dairy from Salem, Ohio. Get going in a few! For this segment, I wanted to talk w/ a couple ag media and get their takes on trends in their biz and in ag.Once @capitalpress and @scrowell send a tweet, we’ll roll with this week’s interview.

scrowell: Ready and waiting…

capitalpress: Gary West from Capital Press checking in.

n_web: OK, here we go! Q1: Can each of you take a few tweets to tell us about yourself and your publication?

capitalpress: I’m Gary West, associate editor for the Capital Press, which covers agriculture in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California.

scrowell: I’m editor of @farmanddairy, weekly newspaper (avg. 150pp/week) w 30K circ in 44 states, but primarily OH/Pa/Ny/WV. I was raised on a #farm, and grad. from Kent State Univ; been with paper for 25 years (started when i was 10). @farmanddairy is not just dairy, but is gen. ag publication; major auction following and our classifieds kick butt (as does news). @farmanddairy founded in 1914; owned by local family, same family since 1930s. @smdarling (Scot Darling) is publisher

capitalpress: Capital Press has been around for 82 years. HQ is Salem, Ore. I’ve been here 4 years. Been a journalist for 20 years. And I’m the son of a crop duster, schooled at Oregon State University #gobeavs! We are family owned too, part of a small family-owned group of papers, most are general news papers though.

capitalpress: Shall we compare classifieds Susan?

scrowell: Ooo… Twash talk

n_web: Q2: What are a few of the big topics and trends that you’re covering right now?

capitalpress: Q2: Low prices for everything it seems. Milk, hay, potatoes, wheat… The economy dominates much of our coverage now. Seems everyone talking to farmers and ranchers is telling them to get out in front on issues, get involved, communicate. Animal welfare has been big out West too. Prop. 2 in California, and Issue 2 in Ohio have every state wondering who is next. Oh, and GMO issues. The legal fight over Roundup Ready sugar beets is big in our area where both seed crop and field crop grow. Water, or lack of it, is huge too, especially in California. ESA issues too, like salmon, wolves.

scrowell: Since we’re in OH, #Issue 2 (livestock care standards constitutional amend) on Nov. ballot was HUGE. It passed, if u didn’t know. Livestock care battle will con’t to be battle; we’ve also covered farmland preserv. issues for 15 yrs. right now, #farm finances are obvious issue for all commodities/livestock. Legislative/policy issues that affect #farm, rural residents, i.e. envir. always on our plate. Proud we led nation in coverage of Pigeon King Ponzi scheme (for real. check our archives). Affected r Amish/Menn. readers

n_web: Q3: So how do you stay on top of all these issues? Are you using more content from other sources? There’s a heckuva lot happening.

capitalpress: We have reporters in all 4 of our keys states and we do as much as we can when we can. Also have a lot of freelancers. We also are Associated Press members, so we get some copy from other member papers, but our 9 reporters do most coverage.

scrowell: w ltd. resources, hv to prioritize coverage. This is huge issue and I think future collaboration w others is critical

capitalpress: Susan is right, prioritization is the key. What stories affect the most farmers and ranchers. That’s where we focus.

scrowell: Also use freelancers. In fact, just looked thru my file last nite to find others to tap into. Quality is sometimes issue. We have 2 reporters (no, not a typo). think I’m not stressed?

capitalpress: There are also legal restrictions on how much we can interact with freelancers, which makes it hard to direct specific stories
scrowell: would lk to check out collaboration effort like @Publish2, particularly for online information. Aggregation as well as byline

n_web: Q4: What are your readers telling you about your content? I guess the No. 1 factor is circulation, both print and online. . .but I would imagine you get feedback directly. What are you hearing from them?

capitalpress: Q4: Our readers love us, which after 15-plus years at mainstream papers, that was odd to get so much positive feedback. But we face same circulation challenges other media do. Subscriber numbers sometimes slip. We aggressively work to keep ’em.

scrowell: Circ. is holding its own, unlike most newspapers. 08 circ. down only 1.3%; single copy sales up 3.8%. Our strength is our history/legacy of respect, trust. Readers call us ‘the farmer’s bible’

scrowell: @capitalpress Our circ. mgr just came from daily year ago, and said same thing, ala Sally Fields “You like me, U rlly like me!”

capitalpress: Most of our circulation is by mail. Rack sales are pretty small overall. We are continually working to make our coverage as relevant as possible so we are a valuable tool for farmers & ranchers.

capitalpress: @scrowell we here the “farmers’ bible” term out here too. #onthefarm
04:12pm Dec. 3 2009 EST

n_web: Q5 from @Tyne_Ag: “Do you see multimedia features being a good tool for farmers? Do they even watch or listen to those features?”

scrowell: from 7/09 3rd party readership survey, we basically discovered online readers are not our print readers. IMO, multimedia works, yes, but really hard to gauge how much. Trad. #ag readers not looking to Web right now. Web in general, tho, will be growing part of my newsroom. Is more today, than 12 mos. ago.

capitalpress: Multimedia tools are gaining in importance. Farmers and rural folks have been the slowest to adopt online tools, but growing. Age is a factor in that too. Our readers tend to be older than general news paper, as farmers also tend to be older. To Susan’s point of online vs. print we know the bulk of our online readers aren’t our print subscribers based on hours of use. But we also know that the environmental issues, food safety issues, the ag issues we cover of interest to more than just ag folks

scrowell: ditto RT @capitalpress: Age is a factor too. #ag readers tend to be older than general newspaper, as farmers tend to be older

capitalpress: We have to be ready though, for when the rapid adoption of digital happens. If we aren’t there and useful, they will leave us. Many of the businesses we deal with our taking their business online in some fashion. We can either help them, or wave goodbye.

scrowell: Hiring new copy editor/paginator right now. Must come w Web/SM skills

capitalpress: @scrowell is my SM mentor. She got me on Twitter, kicking and screaming though I was. That was a year ago.

n_web: Q6: Guessing that you’re operating on the inevitable that rural areas will have high-speed internet access in the near-future? And it will pay to have the online and SM presence once they discover it?

scrowell: Q6 You had to bring that up, didn’t you? High-speed access is a big, big issue for #farms.

capitalpress: Rural areas do have online access now, maybe just not in same way cities do. Cell phones, satellite, etc. I think the bigger issue is farmers who don’t have it now, or use it now, don’t know that the cost will be worth it for biz. Some farmers don’t use computers at all. Seems foreign to me. How can you run a business without a computer in 2009-10?

scrowell: Talked to h.s. jr. at @OhioStateFSR; told me he didn’t realize how imp. computers were until he climbed into equip. hello?

scrowell: @capitalpress Same guys who never know their cost of production (re computer use)

capitalpress: We think it will pay, but if we don’t learn from mainstream media that people will leave if we don’t adapt, then 2bad for us.

scrowell: maybe some of #farm media presence on web is for nonfarm audience (as in print). Web is here to say for #ag media. Period.

capitalpress: I think cell phones will be the digital future. And farmers already have and use those in abundance. Know a farmer without one?

n_web: Q7: OK, let’s talk SM. How are your publications using it?

scrowell: No formal protocol. Enc. reporters to use to Tweet quest. and engage world in conversation. We tout our links, but others’ too. @farmanddairy is on FB, but I’m ashamed to admit we haven’t updated in months. Resources to blame (I can only do so much) :) SM has increased @farmanddairy visibility natl’y; my own #farm and journo network incredibly. SM is becoming a news source all its own. Journos have to be in the arena

capitalpress: We post some of our news headlines on Twitter and Facebook. #agchat has been a good networking opportunity w/ ag folks. I use it to monitor news, ag and otherwise, and get a feel for issues people are discussing. @kmarikos our marketing manager is also pretty active on Twitter and Facebook. Connecting with university students & others. As I mentioned earlier, Susan got me onto Twitter. Didn’t want to do it. Was sold when I learned to use FB & Twitter together

scrowell: @capitalpress Good point about cell phones. Was just talking mobile app with our techie. But resources/priorities, once again.

capitalpress: Exactly: News breaks on SM now. RT @scrowell: Q7 SM is becoming a news source all its own. Journos have to be in the arena #onthefarm
04:12pm Dec. 3 2009 EST

scrowell: @farmanddairy reporter Kristy Foster also Tweets @fosterk96

n_web: Yes, I noticed you each have about 2k followers, that’s about 5% of your circ, right @scrowell? Some who didn’t know about u b4.

capitalpress: We did get some criticism for posting too many headlines. On our publication day we had a big batch going out at once. So we now only post a portion of our headlines, and it’s automated, so it may not always be the biggest or best stories, sadly.

scrowell: But SM also makes it diff to define line betw personal/professional time. I have personal FB, but don’t use professionally.

capitalpress: That line between personal and professional has got blurry. Made me very uncomfortable for a long while. Still does. That’s very tough for a journalist, who is taught to keep personal opinions out of reporting. Us old schoolers need a line!

scrowell: My followers also incl a lot of mainstream journos I follo for journalism sake. @farmanddairy followers prob v. few print readers

n_web: Q8: Big discussion in journ. about paying for content online, whether it’s pay per click os subscr. What are your thoughts?

capitalpress: Our company policy is that we are a subscription site. We make some content free, but we need to pay the bills. Online content must be financed somehow, by ads or by subscribers or both, especially if advertisers abandon print for online. Our Classifieds and display ads are available for free, but news content is restricted. By that I mean classifieds are free to view. Someone pays to run them. The free or paid debate is far from settled or over though. It will continue to evolve. Problem is know one knows what “good” number are online for a publication like ours. We aren’t going to get Google or ebay

scrowell: In 08 we went to all nonpd online (prev. classified/auctions were subscriber-only). Monetizing Web is tough, but get enuf eyes there and adv. want to be there, too. Our banner ads work well. Key is creating niche/community/info presence that keeps ppl returning; adv. aren’t dumb. They want to reach those ppl too. @andyvance & @ABNLindsay at @ABNRadio do great marriage of trad/Web/SM #ag news, too (Ohio #farm media rocks!)

n_web: Q9 from @celestelaurent: “What advice do you have for aspiring ag journalists?”

scrowell: Write. Write and write some more. Whether in Web/SM/p.r./news, you will be writing. Period. Learn Web skills, and SM skills. Audio, video, I want it all. Readers want it all. Web visitors want it all. Get off the #farm. Expose yourself to other viewpoints. We’re not always right. Cheerleading doesn’t always help. Amazing number of “ag comm” majors never work for campus newspaper/radio. Why, oh, why isn’t that required???

capitalpress: My advice to all aspiring journalists is don’t do it. If you R stubborn enough to do it anyway, you may just love it. Ditto @scrowell on the writing and other web-photo skills. And be open to critique so you can improve.

n_web: Getting closer to PR rant time, but first: Q10 @animalag: Do u have tips 2 help individuals/orgs be good sources for stories?

scrowell: Return my frickin’ phone calls a.s.a.p. (oops that was a rant). Don’t push product. Offer generic sources for management tips, etc. Suggest names of farmers who use product/system/whatever.

capitalpress: Getting used to talking to media takes practice. I was very nervous about this interview. I’m not used to answering ??? Don’t make stuff up. If you don’t know answer to a question, tell the reporter than but offer to find out the answer.

capitalpress: And return calls quickly. Our deadlines are real RT @scrowell: Q10. Return my frickin phone calls a.s.a.p. (oops that was a rant)

scrowell: Best p.r. came after Hurricane Katrina. p.r. pro called w cell ph # of 2 dairymen affected, and best times to call.

n_web: Final Q, then rant time: So, what’s the future of ag media? Plenty to cover, but resources are limited. Is online the way to go?

scrowell: don’t have crystal ball. who envisioned breadth of Web even 10 yrs ago. It might be smthing else. We have to be ready

capitalpress: Online is a fact of life now. Just part of the media mix. And it’s great for niches, can be very focused and reach wide area. I hope there is still room for “general” ag publications like Susan’s and ours, but they may be even more niche than our niches. #

n_web: OK, what’s your one PR rant . . . (thankfully, I personally have not pitched Susan or Gary, but I am nervous nonetheless . . .)

scrowell: Bring story idea that’s about something breathing. Not a product, but how a farmer uses product. How mom benefits. News is @ ppl

capitalpress: I think Susan has it covered pretty well! I keep my rants against PR behind my closed office door!

n_web: Thanks so much for you time, @scrowell and @capitalpress. Very informative. Thanks for all you do to report on agriculture!

scrowell: this has been only slightly painful (wrong end of interview). Thanks, @n_web, for opportunity

capitalpress: Yes, thanks @n_web and @scrowell, this has been almost fun! And don’t forget, #gobeavs!

n_web: Hope we can discuss these ag media issues in person one day . . . Have a good day!

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