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Farm community’s efforts on water quality attract attention
By Joe Cornely, Ohio Farm Bureau senior director, corporate communications
After 20 years as a reporter and another 15 doing media relations, I can usually sense whether a news story is going to be a big deal or not. This one surprised me a little.
Coworker Larry Antosch, our water quality specialist, and I initiated a visit with Spencer Hunt, The Columbus Dispatch’s environmental reporter. Hunt’s written a lot about farm nutrients causing harmful algal blooms. We met to make the pitch that farmers are aware and engaged.
As evidence, we showed him the letter that Farm Bureau and 19 other farm organizations are circulating. The letter is blunt, saying farmers need to act voluntarily or government will write rules farmers may not like.
We weren’t expecting the meeting to result in a story. But we did believe that 20 diverse farm groups taking this unprecedented step was a significant event and it was important for an influential journalist to at least be aware of it.Hunt decided the letter was newsworthy. A story ran in the Dispatch. It got the attention of a Toledo Blade reporter who wrote a similar story. As did Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer, Gannett’s Media Group, other Ohio papers and The Associated Press, whose version cleared on numerous sites including the San Francisco Chronicle.
Most surprising, the media coverage spurred a flattering news release from an environmental organization that normally is critical of agriculture’s impact on water quality.
The story resonated, I believe, for a simple reason: Farm organizations said publicly: “We know there’s a problem and we intend to do something about it.” In a world in which dodge and deny is the formula for dealing with difficult issues, the farm community affirmed that it remembers what the word “responsibility” means. Sadly, that’s a stance that’s rare enough to be considered news.