January 2008 - Posts
One of the nasty bits about my job is having to make tough decisions about what we should stop doing to give us room to develop new initiatives. Jenny from Sussex is absolutely right - it is sad that we decided to stop running the Farm Women's Club at the end of 2007. We agonised over this for some time. FWC organiser Jean Howells, who for 14 years has been the inspiration behind the Club at a national level, is retiring this March so we felt it was the best time to take this difficult decision. FW and its parent Reed Business Information have enjoyed a long connection with the Club and its members but our business is changing fast. It became apparent, that if we are to give farmers the best service possible we really must put all our efforts into our core areas - business information through our website and magazines. These are challenging times and it's vital we concentrate on farmer needs first and foremost.
For many years, the majority of FWC groups have been operating on their own organising lively meetings and growing their membership up and down the country. So I'm hopeful that many groups will continue to have strong membership support regardless of FW's involvement. Indeed, Jenny from Sussex is a prime example as she is optimistic that her group will go on.
While not all FWC members are comfortable with using websites, I would encourage all those that are to take a look at the discussion area fwispace on www.fwi.co.uk and use this to publicise your meetings, trips and regional events. You can add your own photographs and share comments on the forums. It's a great way to stay in touch with friends and let others know what's going on. Promoting your club in this way may also help recruit new members.
So, it's been a difficult but necessary decision to withdraw from the FWC. Best wishes for the future to all members.
FW certainly works hard to be a powerful ally for farmers but it's apparent that there's still a lot of reticence about the wider media. I was speaking at a meeting of the Norfolk Mardlers last night in Hethersett and there were a few growers who were still angry about last week's tv coverage of the poultry sector and the slaughter of livestock. Several Mardlers commented that they felt the majority of farmers did not trust the general media or journalists one jot. They argued that they were too cynical and wary about their messages getting twisted to ever get engaged with tv, radio or press interviews.
I think this is a real pity. As an industry, the way forward has to be to learn to manage the media and not be afraid of them. We have to put agriculture back on the front foot and be confidence about the messages we relay. WE should grab every opportunity that comes our way - I know the NFU do. The public are interested in what farmers have to say and are not as duped as you might think by media spin. Whenever we see farmers participating in broadcasts, it's usually impressive, informative and entertaining. We should have nothing to hide and nothing to run away from.
There's lots the industry and FW can do to put farming on the front foot with the media and in the eyes of the public.
I really liked the way poultry producer and NFU sector spokesman Charles Bourns wrote a confident piece for The Mail on Sunday yesterday challenging Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. This is exactly what we should be doing - coming forward, talking positively and openly, informing consumers. LEAF's Farm Sunday initiative is another great way of educating and enthusing the public, and school visits on farm are to be encouraged. We know there are an awful lot of businesses out there keen to open their gates and be subjected to public scrutiny. The Farmers Weekly Kids Connect Campaign prompted another 1200 farms to sign up to school visits last year, which is a great start for this Year of Food and Farming.
And there's more we can do at Farmers Weekly. The team has been working hard in the last couple of years sending out press releases on key themes that impact farmers and commentating to the national papers, radio and television. I recently took part in a Sky tv debate with Jonathan Dimbleby on the issues for farmers in 2008 and our livestock editor, Jonathan Long, has been particularly active on tv with blue tongue and foot and mouth.
We will be using the magazine and website to give practical advice to farmers when dealing with the media and there will be more campaigns, like Food Miles and Kids Connect, to link the industry with consumers more. I try to be quite hands on in this respect when presenting to local farmer groups. Tomorrow night, I've been invited to speak at a meeting of The Mardlers, near Wymondham, Norfolk and will partly use the occasion to encourage farmers to raise their profile and project more optimism.
I believe that as farmers if we do not show we have confidence in ourselves and our future, then why should we expect the public to believe in us. This means accepting that the way we communicate as an industry needs a massive overhaul. What do you think?
It's been a funny old week..... firstly getting back into the swing of things after 2 Christmas weeks of laying on a sofa eating chocolate and then all the media furore over tv programmes about chickens and farming. It's certainly kept the team on their toes. There's been no less than 9 tv programmes, endless hours of radio debate and pages and pages in print about Hugh's Chicken Run, Kill It, Cook It, Eat It and Jamie's Fowl Dinners.
We've been really perked up and impressed by the courage of the farmers who have gone out of their way to go on air and show the masses what they do. But we've also been frustrated by the cautiousness of the poultry industry and retailers. If we've got nothing to hide, why be so wary about coming forward? Changing public perceptions will be a big challenge and we really must start making the most of these opportunities and tackling the scrutiny and criticism head on.
Readers were certainly not wary of coming forward when answering the last www.fwi.co.uk poll on how they rated DEFRA's performance. We had one of our biggest ever turnouts for this one (some 2508 votes) and, surprise surprise, no less than 93% of them rated DEFRA as "rubbish". Not the most deep and meaningful surveys we've ever done but it made a lot of people feel better to get it off their chest!
Happy New Year and welcome to my first blog as editor of Farmers Weekly.
In a spirit of openness, we're trying to find ways to help our magazine readers and users of the website to understand better how we operate within the Farmers Weekly Group and to get a dialogue going to inform editorial decisions. We want to explain what we do, why we do it and hear your views and perspectives. Hopefully, this will help us get closer to farmers and help you influence future content.
One thing you can be sure of in farming is that everyone has an opinion. So I'm hoping you won't be shy in coming forward. In return, my mission is to be candid when replying and in explaining the challenges we face together in farming. Anything goes, talk about anything you like.
I may not be able to reply to all comments and ideas but will certainly try to read all postings to this blog. Where there are common themes, criticisms or questions, I will try to respond to them. With this in mind, I thought I would kick off by talking about a couple of the comments made about Farmers Weekly's Christmas issues.
There were a mixed bag of views about our Christmas magazines with most criticism about the size of the issues being too thin. December 21 was 116 pages, December 28 was 76 pages and January 4 was 100 pages. Some of you liked the approach we took with more reviews and reflection and looking to the year ahead. The exclusive interview with Prince Charles (December 28) was mentioned by one or two as a good read but the main query was whether 76 pages represented good value for money.
Christmas publishing is always a bit of a balancing act in terms of managing the volume of advertising versus editorial and the need for my team to get a much earned holiday. I'll admit that 76 pages for the issue between Christmas and New Year was on the thin side but reflected less classified and display advertising, which affected all publications across all industries. The news agenda was also incredibly slow that week, which is why we went ahead with the message from Prince Charles and the round up of 2007.
We always make a big effort at this time of year mindful that the Christmas issues get thoroughly read by farmers who have more time on their hands. Copy sales in the newstrade have held up extremely well, which bears this out. We are now getting back to our usual editorial pagination, which I think offers something for everyone and is pretty good value for money. I always say that at £2.15 Farmers Weekly magazine is still cheaper than a pint of beer and just as enjoyable. So don't just judge us on thickness and volume with one or two issues, judge us on the overall quality and usefulness of what's packed inside.
Looking forward to hearing from you....
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