The British Guild of Agricultural Journalists was formed in 1944 at the suggestion of Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, a former NFU president who served as agriculture minister in the British Government in 1939 and 1940.
Sir Reginald thought it was a good idea to encourage government ministers and the farming press to talk to each other informally through an agricultural reporters’ organisation.
When that vision became reality, the first members of the Guild’s council picked up on the theme – but added a social element. Informal lunches in London became a key feature of Guild activities, largely for the benefit of full-time farming correspondents on national newspapers such as The Times, Daily Express, Daily Mail, and Daily Telegraph.
For the leading politicians invited to attend, including Government agriculture ministers and other influential people, it was an efficient way of giving informal briefings to journalists on policies and priorities.
Early meetings of the Guild’s management council were held in the Farmers Club, located in Whitehall amidst Government buildings and overlooking the River Thames. The club is now the Guild’s registered address and remains the council’s regular meeting place between virtual meetings online.
The news value of food and farming
The 1950s and 60s were a flourishing time for agricultural journalism in Britain, since post-war rationing had opened peoples’ eyes to the importance and news value of food production.
The launch of new national and regional titles, as well as the rise of specialist publications covering mechanisation, arable and dairy farming, and commercial horticulture, brought more people into journalism and into the Guild.
In 1957, the Guild accepted its one hundredth member; 30 years later, membership exceeded 500.
Associate membership was created to accommodate those in commercial communications – press and public relations – who did not earn their livelihood ‘wholly or mainly’ by agricultural journalism, as the rules required.
Associates progressively wielded more influence in the organisation, often being more willing to help run Guild affairs than their journalist counterparts, and as the distinction between the role of journalists (particularly freelancers) and PRs became increasingly blurred, the Guild settled on a single class of membership.
Continuing to adapt
Since then, the Guild has continued to adapt: The number of Council members has been halved and online meetings are used to keep costs in check. Communication with members is now more frequent through our website, monthly e-newsletters, and social media.
There is a popular and effective professional development programme and an increasing number of professional awards.
The Guild is also actively involved in the European agricultural journalists’ organisation, ENAJ, as well as the IFAJ, regularly succeeding in putting forward candidates for the professional development experience for young journalists that is held during the annual worldwide Congress.
Proceeds from IFAJ Congress 2014, organised and hosted by the Guild in Scotland, has resulted in a legacy fund that will also help with journalists’ professional development.
Since 2015, the Guild has offered an unprecedented fully-sponsored study tour to countries including Brazil, China, India and Argentina for journalists to report on agriculture and food marketing topics.
There may no longer be informal lunches with agriculture ministers, but these days the Guild offers more opportunities for members to meet and socialise at agricultural shows and technical meetings – as well as Guild events.
The most notable of these is the annual Harvest Service held every autumn at St Bride’s, the journalists’ church in Fleet Street, followed by a Harvest Lunch of British produce for members and guests in one of London’s magnificent and historic livery halls.
In short, the Guild continues to promote the interests of all involved in telling the many and varied stories of Britain’s great agricultural industry.
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For News and Information published from mid-June 2010 to January 2011 read the Newsletters in the eAlert archive