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Nuffield Scholar on communication challenges

Published on 24th October 2011

Caroline StocksIn a summary of her 2011 Nuffield Scholar report, Guild member Caroline Stocks highlights the challenges facing the agricultural media and other organisations wanting to convey information to farmers.

There are opportunities for presenting material in an accessible way through websites and social media channels, she notes. But the near-instant news and information demanded by these channels contrasts with the detail and depth of coverage expected of print media.

It presents particular challenges to journalists and other communication professionals.

“Gone are daily or weekly deadlines and the idea that journalists can spend days researching and writing articles,” Caroline observes. “Budgets have been cut, journalist numbers have reduced but the workload has continued to grow and readers expect the same high standards of content.”

At the same time, there are concerns – as expressed by some ‘information consumers’ during her international study tour – that farmers are being overloaded with information, which does not necessarily help meet their needs.

“A sheep farmer in Australia told me he doesn’t want more information, he’s already swamped in it,” says Caroline. “He said he needs accuracy and he needs information to be concise.”

Among the recommendations arising from the study, she suggests using social media to learn more about readers and their requirements, and to find ways of simplifying content so that key information finds its way to farmers. At the same time, the importance of traditional journalism skills, such as building contacts, should be recognised, and time found for writers to talk to people in the industry.

Caroline also believes journalists and publishers could form better links with farming media and agricultural organisations in other countries to share information, as well as to discover best-practice methods of getting information to farmers.

The Guild’s affiliation to the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) provides a route for those two suggestions, through contact with other IFAJ member organisations and the face-to-face opportunities provided by the annual Congress attended by more than 200 agricultural writers and broadcasters from around the World.

The full summary document is available to download here and copies of Caroline’s report are vailable from the Nuffield Scholarships Trust. She is also keen to talk to any groups interested in her study, which took her to India, Australia, Canada and the United States.

As for the Nuffield experience itself? “Easily the best thing I've ever done,” says Caroline.

“I was getting a bit frustrated with the job I was doing and had no idea about how to take my agricultural journalism career forward,” she adds. “Getting to meet so many amazing farmers, as well as politicians, media types, farming organizations, etc really opened my eyes to the sorts of things I could be doing and the industry should be doing.”

While recommending anyone to have a go, she warns it requires a big investment in time and money: “I don't have a family so I didn't mind giving my life to it for a year. Also, I spent more than double my £4000 bursary – although I did go to Australia for three months, which some might deem an excessive luxury!”

Successful scholars need to be focused on the subject of their study and Caroline suggests looking at past reports to see if there are any ideas that could be taken forward or subjects that need investigation. Talking to past scholars for their thoughts would also be helpful, she suggests.

“Embarking on a Nuffield study is also an opportunity to really push yourself; I went to India, by myself, and spent most of the time feeling utterly terrified,” says Caroline. “But now I'm so proud I did it and I got some of my best ideas out there.”

Some of Caroline’s Nuffield exploits and experiences are recorded in her blog and she is willing to offer further tips and advice to any Guild member contemplating an application.

While the principle aim of the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust is to encourage applications from farmers and growers, several Guild members have successfully applied for one of the awards.

Applications for 2012 close on November 15; visit the trust’s website for details.

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