My Generation

Good Farmer Interviews, Part 2

What should you do when the farm media calls? Here's advice from the folks who've spent their entire careers interviewing farmers.

Earlier this week, I shared my tale of woe as a TV interviewee with too many words, revealing that I did exactly what NCGA's Mark Lambert says farmers shouldn't do when talking to the non-ag press.

Sigh. The more you know.

Today, however, the topic is decidedly friendlier. Today, we're talking about what to do when the farm media calls. Or more specifically, an agricultural editor, perhaps at your favorite farm publication. Like Prairie Farmer! Wink, wink.

The odds are good when one of us calls, we're looking for information on a particular production technique that you've implemented, or we're wondering about land trends or your marketing techniques, or perhaps how you're managing nutrients. In general, our aim is to share stories that might help our farmer readers improve either farm or home. And we love it when you're a great interview.

So with no further ado, here are tips from a group of editors who've spent their entire careers interviewing farmers. Plus, I got several of them to share their favorite farmer interview story. Promise me you'll read to the end for the kitten story?

What makes a great farmer interview?

·         Ask for a list of questions ahead of time. As a farmer myself who has actually been interviewed in a previous life, if I knew that ahead of time, I could prepare my answers and give a better interview.

·         Ask to review the article (even though we'll usually offer first).  

·         Lean in – be interested in, not offended by, what you are being asked.

·         Think first, talk second.

·         Don’t bore people with the facts first – they won’t listen to you if they don’t like you. They want to know you care about animals, clean water, other people before they hear about your problems.

·         If photos are being taken, don’t forget the cosmetic things: shave, take off your sunglasses, put on a clean shirt (unless the story is about how hard you're working to plant or harvest the crop!)

·         Also for photos: for the love of all things holy, if you wear glasses that get darker in the sunlight but you have another pair that don't…wear the ones that don't change! Photos will be 100% better if you don't look like you're wearing dark sunglasses.

·         More photo tips: wear a bright-colored shirt, if possible. Avoid white, or light gray, especially on a dreary day.

·         Consider whether you have copies of maps, paperwork, plans, etc., to share. Those sorts of things can become graphics that will enhance the story.

·         Do you know someone else who might add more to the story? Give their name to the editor.

·         Speak in English! (Says the editor responding from Ghana..rimshot!)

·         When you answer a question, finish your thought. Answer the question. There’s nothing more frustrating than asking a question, leaning in with great expectation, start taking notes on the response, then they head off on a new topic. And then you have to redirect the person back to the first topic and scratch through all the stuff that you were writing until you realized it wasn’t answering your question.

·         If you're given a chance to review the story, respond quickly. Please. Editors live by deadlines.

·         Be sure of yourself. Don't use weasel words. If you say it, mean it and stand by it.


What's your best farmer interview?

Mike at Farm Futures: "We love farmers who interview like they are telling a story, because that is what we are doing with what they tell us. We don’t have to ask for anecdotes, they just share them. Those interviews turn into stories that write themselves, and that makes me happy."

Curt at Nebraska Farmer: "Last spring with the President of Nebraska’s Dairy Association. The farmer gave me an extensive tour of his facilities, explained everything in great detail and was patient with me for photos. I was able to be in the loafing shed and get photos of the cows just after they had been fed. Also got lots of photos of the family putting up rye silage. Then, to top it off, we went to the silage field and got a four-generation photo of the family, from Grandma down to the three-week-old great-granddaughter. You can’t beat that kind of stuff. What made it great was that the farmer was used to the media. He was extremely well spoken and gave such a detailed tour. It was a great day in the field."

Jennifer at Michigan Farmer: "My best interview: That’s a tough one. I don’t know if I have a single one that I can pick out, but I will say that the best ones are when I’m right in the thick of whatever they are doing… riding in the combine, in the tractor or in the barns. I’ve been dressed up in a bee keeper suit, on top of a million bushel grain bin (in the snow) and riding in a tandem next to the sugar beet harvester. Taking notes can get a bit tricky, but it’s still way better than sitting behind a desk or conducting a phone interview. There’s something about farming while explaining farming that just works."

Josh at Prairie Farmer: "My best interviews are the ones where the story writes itself. Those are rare. I find they typically feature a farmer source that sticks to the topic and doesn't wander off on tangents. Plus, they have a few good stories/lessons mixed in along with memorable quotes." 

Paula at The Farmer: "Some of my favorite interviews involve a farm tour by the farmer. We jump in his/her truck and I get to see what this person was talking about. I always hear pride coming through in the farmer’s voice as s/he shares what is happening on the farm. This also gives me a great opportunity to take more photos. Yes, we can get the story at the kitchen table or in the farm office. However, it all comes alive when I get to see the farm."

Lon at Dakota Farmer: "Probably the best interview I had goes back to when I was just getting started in the business and I interviewed a big farm operator about some huge planter he was using. As we were standing in the shop, a kitten comes across the floor. He picks it up and holds it for the rest of the interview. I figured anybody who would take time out to hold a kitten was a pretty good guy."

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