As someone who regularly engages in conversations about agriculture and meat production with people who aren’t directly involved in either, I often times find myself just about pulling my hair out over their lack of knowledge. And I am pretty sure at one moment or another I could be found saying “I cannot believe they are bashing something they know nothing about” under my breath as my fingers fly on the keyboard. And it’s no secret that usually the people the most critical of agriculture and the meat industry are indeed people who know little about either as people like me continue to strive to educate and throw water on fiery discussions about agriculture.
But guess what, sometimes life has the ability to make your thoughts come full circle and suddenly, you see the light. That person described above.. that person with little knowledge about something but yet feeling it okay and valid to criticize something… That person was me this weekend.
I got into a discussion about news media. Now if you follow me on social media, it is no secret I am continually critical of them, their biased reporting, their spread of misinformation… All I am asking for is the spirit of true journalism in which individuals uphold these qualities: — truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability. But at the same time I understand they are running a business and guess what, controversy is what sells so that is what they give. And I do understand that yes, we are all human, we all make mistakes, and nobody is perfect.. Now before you go and get all blood boiling on me, I will start out by saying that not all news media is the same, there are some wonderful local stations, newspapers, ag publications, etc that practice GREAT if not WONDERFUL journalism and reporting. They sincerely do look out for the best interests of their readers and fans. However, the mainstream, in your face, non-stop news media that we all know (and love, questionable) is anything but… I think CNN proved that to us last week. I tweeted last week that “Our news media has sacrificed true journalism for being the one to break the story first #checkyourfacts”. With last week being a hyper-news week, I kept seeing again and again posts about the news media. People upset that all they report is depressing news, people upset with the misinformation, and people literally glued to their TVs in fear to find out more.
If you are curious about the discussion, here it is in its entirety.. and it is based upon this article: Looking for Texas fertilizer plant explosion facts. Through my comments and criticisms, I hooked two people who work in the field of media and let me tell you, they don’t like their industry being criticized.. Although neither one of them worked for the publication above, both of them defended it. And yes, I do see this all the time in our ag world, people going around trying to defend agriculture as a whole and taking broad criticisms of agriculture to heart.
Ultimately what this discussion got me thinking about was how we in agriculture fault people who have little knowledge or a lack of knowledge about agriculture for being critical about our industry. I mean it seems valid and it makes sense, but the more I started thinking about it. And the moment I was the one put into that category, the more I realized… Do people really expect me to be an expert on news media in order to voice my criticisms of it…? Do I really expect other people to be an expert on Agriculture in order for them to question or criticize it…? No way.. People don’t need to have knowledge of agriculture because like it or not, agriculture is a part of their lives three times (if not more a day) just like media is in our lives and our faces ALL THE TIME. And just like those people who criticize Ag, I don’t need to have a knowledge about media to be critical of them because guess what, media is a huge part of my life in that it gives me what’s current in our world, it updates me on the important happenings in our daily American life.
In my experiences with social media and social media training (which mostly has been geared towards agriculture), we are taught to have conversations and communicate with the people who criticize us. We are taught that establishing relationships, letting these people talk first while we listen, being aware of their feelings, and seriously taking their criticisms to heart rather than letting them fall on deaf ears is a successful way to break through to someone who may be critical of what it is that you do. In short, it’s all about communication and people skills. On the other hand, we are also taught that telling somebody “you shouldn’t bash/criticize what you don’t know” or telling them flat out “you are wrong” doesn’t work. I mean that’s just common sense right there. People don’t respond well to being told they are wrong (even if they are).
And here is where it has been my experiences that news media fails, time and time again… Many of my friends and folks in agriculture see critical people as a way to start a conversation, as a way to say to that individual, “here, let me show you what I do”, turn it into a conversation, and make that person feel like they genuinely care about their criticisms. Some do fall into the trap of “warrior” and defend their stance relentlessly because after all, that’s what our natural initial response is. I will admit. And like I said, I have been guilty of it many-a-times and probably will continue to stumble with.
One thing can be for sure, I am walking away from all of this with a new perspective. Instead of faulting and focusing on other people and their knowledge, let’s focus on ourselves and what we know. Let’s strive towards establishing those relationships that will eventually lead to us being a trusted resource. Let’s try our best to give people the facts when we speak about our industries. Let’s strive to let those who are the most critical of us know that we do care about their voice and that we are doing our best to continually do our jobs better and better. Let’s admit to failure when it is appropriate, let’s be honest, and let’s not get caught up in the ideology that how we are currently working is “okay” because we can all afford to do better, be better, and be the best person we possibly can.
How do you deal with people who are critical of what you do…? And how is your reaction usually received…?
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
― Winston Churchill