Headline news: New headlines
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CTA. 2002. Headline news: New headlines. Spore 100. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47600
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore100.pdf
Agriculture is climbing back on to the world s major agenda, after a sad, bad absence. Some even ask, did it fall, or was it pushed? This time, we are here to stay.In the endless bustle of the streets around the central post office in Kinshasa,...
Agriculture is climbing back on to the world s major agenda, after a sad, bad absence. Some even ask, did it fall, or was it pushed? This time, we are here to stay. In the endless bustle of the streets around the central post office in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the vendors will sell you anything, and everything even the latest copy of Spore. Walk around, and amidst the cacophony of colours and noise you will notice Spore s familiar cover, in the kiosks and on the arms of those high-pressure salesmen-cum-street-children. Our correspondent says the going price downtown is up to 2 dollars a copy but he has a tip: go to the student area, you ll pay no more than a dollar or its equivalent. Until he arranged a mail subscription early in 2002, he bought a copy for the NGO information centre he works with, where it is used by more than 200 readers (10 times more than the average copy with only an estimated 20-odd readers). This tell-tale sign of market forces at work is a tiny reflection of the supply-and-demand economics of the media. Demand for Spore has built up steadily since it was launched 100 issues ago in 1985, or our Portuguese edition Esporo 50 issues ago. Officially, the magazine is sent only to registered or paying subscribers, and is not available for sale in kiosks and shops. But these are merely the rules of the publisher and its funders; in reality, the market place has discovered that other people will pay for Spore. Whether that is right, we shall leave to others to debate and decide. If Spore s amazing readership of one million is typical of the demand for agricultural information in popular scientific language, why is it, some may ask, that agriculture is not daily headline news in local, national and international media? The simple answer is that we are dealing with two worlds. One is the local, rural world, with its own pace and priorities, in which there are many undervalued initiatives in communication as recorded in the book Information Revolutions (see end of article). The other is a world where tastes are dictated by urban preferences, where the thoughts of policy makers and media operators are strongly defined by the horizons of the city. In the words of the song, we all belong to one world, but live in different ones. The strength and quality of the link between these two worlds depends on their mutual awareness and understanding. This in turn requires well-managed and, especially, well-communicated information. In short, the media have a crucial role to play. Back to the limelight As the world becomes more urban, every rural person becomes more important. The Gibson Institute for Land, Food and Environment, an international think-tank based in Northern Ireland, explains this paradox thus: 'By the year 2005, for the first time in global history, the majority of the world s population will be classified as urban. (Already, an average of 40% of an ACP country s people live in urban areas.) Rural issues will become ever more important. That moment will mark a historic watershed in the complex relationship between rural and urban. It will also call for renewed and radical attention on how these two sectors separate and interact.' The agricultural sector in any economy, and especially ACP agriculture, in all its complex entirety, has to fight its corner with many competitors. And in a corner it seems to be. In the past few years, few meetings of agricultural practitioners or policy makers have gone by without the remark 'we need to get agriculture back on to the agenda'. It does not matter who you are. Take your pick: you are the leader of a farmer s organisation struggling to get attention for the pain of fatally low commodity prices. Or a trader whose market has been washed away by the effect of Europe s and America s moronic subsidies on agricultural exports. Or a research director fuming at the priorities given by donors to non-agricultural issues. Or a farmer with a sack full of perishable produce who has missed the bus to market because it was commandeered for the funeral of some AIDS victims. Or a Minister for Agriculture emerging bruised, almost literally, from a Cabinet meeting where health, education and defence budgets were hiked at the expense of your own. Whoever you are, and whomever you know who has been there, we have all been scrambling for ways to get our sector back on to the agenda and into the headlines. This has been driven by our belief that there is something fundamental about agriculture. How can a person, a culture, a civilisation grow and feed its mind and its body without food? How can agriculture win attention, and keep it? The signs are that the return to the top agenda is happening. In May 2002, Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, heaved agriculture fairly and squarely back up on to the top agenda of the UN s World Summit on Sustainable Development, alongside health, water and environment. At the Summit, being held in August in South Africa, there will be sessions on Agriculture and the Media . There, practitioners will develop action plans to ensure that agricultural and rural issues are properly covered in the media, and thus command the respect of policy makers, stakeholders and external partners. A for Agriculture For the media ranging from daily newspapers, through national and international television, to Internet magazines to cover agriculture, we have to make sure that the sector is visible, understood, credible and capable of feeding them. For starters, as long as news agencies, Internet sites and other media suppliers classify the sector as some sort of subset of environmental affairs, or science and technology, or economics, we shall never get noticed. Editors please note: just use the A-word. Second, media professionals need to explain why the sector is crucial to food security, environmental management, employment and income generation. Third, they must follow the highest possible journalistic standards: seeking out stories rather than copying press releases; checking stories and then double-checking them; and, even though this is sacrilegious to some in the profession, refusing payment for articles and not demanding incentives such as petrol money and per diems before even talking about covering a story. The crucial point is to ensure high quality of the message. In recent years, much has been invested in helping stakeholders in the agricultural sector to enhance the form of their message. This has ranged from improving skills in public speaking, through design of Web pages, to preparing press releases for journalists. The schools of journalism which have now taken root in Kingston, Suva, Dakar, Nairobi, Maputo, Johannesburg and many more cities have played their role too, even though not always with an adequate eye on agriculture. All well and good. The long haul to successful information impact does not lie, though, in prettying up flimsy messages, however true it may be that a fine orator (which few of us are) can convey a bad message better than a bad orator a good one. It lies in painstaking effort to achieve the optimal quality of the story, for a fine media person will always pick out the fakes and the institutional drone, and choose for the most reliable and newsworthy one. One convincing way to convey the importance of the agricultural sector is to demonstrate its liveliness as well as its livelihoods. The new Spore poster, celebrating 100 issues of the magazine, carries 100 mentions of readers lives and Spore s place therein. We hope that in celebrating the rich diversity and buzz of our readership we have helped to highlight the confidence of the sector, and encouraged our colleagues in the media beyond agriculture to do the same. Just as we have done for 100 issues already, and intend to do for, oooh, many many more. Grabbing a few headlines on the way. [caption to illustration] Have you heard the news today? Or did you read it? Radio and word of mouth still reach more rural people than newspapers. Spore 100 Poster This issue of Spore has a supplement in the form of a wall poster featuring 100 Spore readers and the analysis of the 2001-2002 Uses of Spore Survey. The World of Spore Readers celebrating a magazine s share in the agriculture and rural development of ACP countries CTA, Wageningen, 2002. 54 by 80 cm. ISBN 92 9081 263x CTA publication 1083. 0 credit points Information revolutions: How information and communication management is changing the lives of rural people By P Mundy & J Sultan. CTA. 2001. 241 pp. ISBN 92 9081 2289 CTA number 1037. 40 credit points This publication can also be downloaded in pdf format, free of charge, in chapters, or in a full file of 1.9 Mb from the CTA Website: www.agricta.org/pubs/inforev/index.htm See special announcements on pages 14 and 15 (Section: Between Us) about media use of Spore, and transmission of Spore by satellite. [summary points] For agriculture to capture a leading place in mainstream media, it is necessary to: explain the fundamental importance of agriculture convey the vibrancy of farmers and farming develop media strategies which explain issues, not just praise institutions never err from reliable, credible stories maintain the highest possible professional standards