From the editor: January 2010
If It’s Yellow, Don’t Be Mellow
By Kristy Nudds
As we welcome the new year, I would like you to think about an issue
that has been bothering me. I am not alone on this one – many of my
farm colleagues are equally disturbed and disappointed.
As we welcome the new year, I would like you to think about an issue that has been bothering me. I am not alone on this one – many of my farm colleagues are equally disturbed and disappointed. We are despairing over something us media folk call “yellow journalism” that seems to be vomited on the pages of urban newspapers, blogs and radio waves with increasing frequency.
One colleague recently said in a Food and Farming Canada blog that “it seems to be popular in the urban media at the moment to bash farmers.” Indeed, I think 2009 was the worst year I have seen for anti-industrial agriculture bias.
Wikipedia defines yellow journalism as “a type of journalism that downplays legitimate news in favor of eye-catching headlines that sell more newspapers. It may feature exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, sensationalism, or unprofessional practices by news media organizations or journalists.”
The term was coined in the latter 19th century when newspapers faced stiff competition, and when winning over readers with sensational headlines and gossip of the day was paramount. Today, yellow journalism is much less obvious. You may simply define it as biased opinion that is presented as objective fact.
With the “eat local” movement gaining momentum, it has become apparent that some media outlets are taking an anti-industrial agriculture stand on this issue. Stories seem almost tailored to their negative outlook. This tailoring treats mass agriculture in the following way: if farming is not done organically, but on a “mass” or “industrial” scale it is inefficient, environmentally degrading, unhealthy, cruel to animals, corporate – pick your negative adjective.
Case in point is a series of articles published in October by the Toronto Star. A journalist who grew up on a farm, and has now determined that our food system is unhealthy, is the author of several articles on food production and obesity.
The principle of the articles is sound – obesity is a growing problem and a drain on our health-care system, and it is increasing. However, simply blaming industrial agriculture for growing “junk food” is not the answer to a very complex problem.
Low nutrient density, high fat, processed foods are inexpensive and easily accessible, but that is not the fault of farmers growing soybeans and corn. Ultimately, consumers are in control of what they put in their mouths and they are the ones driving demand for girth-expanding products.
What bothers me is that the articles highlight organic, small-scale farms and in doing so effectively favour them – “what farms in Ontario used to look like.” Obviously, the author favours this type of farming and there is a definite spin that organic equals healthy and sustainable. But is this the only way to go? If readers knew nothing about agriculture, you could not blame them for thinking so, after reading this series (see www.canadianpoultrymag.com for a link to these and other examples of bias).
Newspapers and media outlets must be aware of their biases and reveal them to their audience. Media is changing rapidly and there is no shortage of people willing to share their opinions. I encourage you to write letters to the editor, or comment on blogs, when you read articles dealing with agriculture that either don’t tell the whole story or seem slanted. I think it is good that food production is gaining more attention, but we need to make sure that consumers are getting the full story.