Bryan Walsh, author of TIME Magazine's cover story "The Real Cost of Cheap Food," admitted in an AgriTalk interview Monday morning that the story took the angle he wanted to pursue rather than presenting both sides in a balanced, objective manner. Walsh's article was highly critical of U.S. food produciton. Walsh said it’s been a trend at TIME to have “more stories angled toward the point of view of the writer.”
“Rather than just doing the sort of story where you do 50 percent on one side, 50 percent on the other, you allow the writer to look at it and make some of his own judgments,” Walsh said. Read the full transcript of Walsh’s interview with Agritalk host Mike Adams.
Walsh’s comments should be taken very seriously by those of us involved in agriculture. Such a flippant attitude toward his craft as a reporter and the subjects he is assigned is obviously concerning, but Walsh and TIME are hardly alone in today’s ultra-competitive media industry.
TIME Magazine has a long and storied history in American journalism. Launched in 1923 by two Yale graduates – Briton Hadden and Henry Luce – TIME was the nation’s first weekly newsmagazine. The magazine’s reporters and editors have been well-respected over the past 86 years for their coverage of America’s wars, politics and other issues of national attention.
After Hadden’s sudden death in 1929, Luce became the primary force behind what was to become a publishing empire. He launched other magazines such as Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated. Luce was considered an influential member of the Republican party, and even had ambitions to become Secretary of State in a Republican administration. By the time of his death in 1967, Luce had amassed a personal fortune of $100 million.
Today, TIME is struggling to cope with the changes in readership and advertising that have affected nearly all of print journalism. Just a decade ago, TIME’s circulation was more than 4.2 million. Today the magazine’s paid circulation is down 20 percent to about 3.4 million, and advertising revenue is down considerably.
TIME, and other print and broadcast media organizations, are searching for ways to increase readership and viewership in an effort to boost sagging advertising revenues. One strategy is to become an advocate of a particular point of view, such as what Bryan Walsh did in his story.
But Walsh and TIME are hardly the first to try such a strategy. Rush Limbaugh, for instance, developed one of America’s most listened to radio programs with his conservative political opinions. Just how valuable is Limbaugh? Consider that last year he signed a $400 million dollar contract to keep him on the air for the next eight years.
Limbaugh and others claim that the majority of the national media carry a liberal-slant to their reporting. Such opinions probably helped boost the popularity of Fox News, launched by media mogul Rupert Murdoch in 1996. Fox is often criticized as providing a conservative-slant to its news reporting.
Whether or not the rest of the national media is liberal-leaning may be arguable. But the strategy at MSNBC, a cable news channel that is a partnership between Microsoft and General Electric’s NBC unit, is obvious – produce a decidedly liberal-leaning lineup of programs each weekday night. Prime-time hosts Keith Olbermann and Rachael Maddow have rapidly become lightning rods for critics from the right – much as Limbaugh has been for critics from the left.
So there appears to be plenty of evidence that ignoring the views of one group, while playing to the emotions of another group, is a strategy to gain an audience and increase revenue. That appears to be TIME’s strategy. And they obviously see a greater advantage in courting an organic food-loving audience than an audience made up of people who make their living producing the bulk of America’s food. After all, because of the efficiencies that modern technology has provided farmers that audience is shrinking daily.
TIME’s article is not the first, nor will it be the last to attack your business. And apparently we should not expect future writers or broadcasters of such stories to even ask for input from agricultural experts. After all, as Walsh said this week, some journalists are now given the freedom to produce stories with the angles they prefer, rather than provide objective and balanced reporting. – Greg Henderson, Drovers editor.