You may have heard about the demise of many of America’s great daily newspapers. In just the past month the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News stopped the presses. And some other major newspapers are said to be in significant financial trouble, including the Chicago Sun Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and even the storied New York Times.

The demise of newspapers, of course, has been well documented recently. Internet news sites have been draining advertising revenue and readers away from newspapers for a few years and threaten to make newspapers go the way of the horse and buggy.

You might think the demise of America’s newspapers doesn’t affect you much as a beef producer. You’d be wrong.

Newspapers, especially the larger ones, employ large numbers of reporters, editors and columnists. The one constant across all newspapers is that stories are read by at least a few, and maybe many people before they actually go to print. Now you might argue that a lot of those stories end up being rubbish even after they are read and re-read several times, but that’s an argument for another day.

The problem for agriculture when newspapers disappear is that the Internet will become even more valuable to the masses as a source for news and opinion. If you dislike the stories and opinions you get from the New York Times about agriculture now, just spend a few minutes browsing the Internet about agriculture. The problem with Internet reporting about agriculture is not that the reporters or bloggers are largely ignorant of farming and rural issues  —  though most of them are; it’s that a lot of those reporters and bloggers don’t have to report to anybody. There is no string of editors waiting for copy to be read and re-read. There’s no gatekeeper asking the hard questions  —  or any questions. For the most part, these Internet writers are armed without the facts, and they are dangerous to the success of your business.

And that’s why we’re seeing more stories swept up into the news cycle with headlines such as this: “It’s time to take the pharma out of farming.” That headline appeared on HuffingtonPost.com late last month, introducing an opinion by Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle Mexican Grill. The objective of Ells’ column was to encourage Americans to support legislation introduced in Congress last month that would ban the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics by livestock producers. Ells makes a few unsubstantiated claims in the column and a few other claims that are supported with questionable science.

But Ells is hardly alone in his attack on agriculture via the Internet. Hundreds of wannabe experts are flooding the Internet with stories and opinions about the evils of “factory farming,” the plague of livestock production (greenhouse-gas emissions), and the cruelty and health risks of eating red meat. Many of these stories contain inaccuracies and some just plain lies. And much of that shoddy reporting is due to the fact that a majority of these writers answer to no one. Their columns and blogs just fill a hole on a Web site next to that gross ad that promises to help us flatten our stomachs.

Unfortunately, there is little we can do that will save America’s newspapers. But you can help fight the misperceptions about agriculture and beef production that are being cast into cyberspace. I encourage you to check out a new program funded by your Beef Checkoff called the Masters of Beef Advocacy. This program is designed to help beef producers learn how to tell their story  —  in presentations to schools, through local media and even through the Internet.

The MBA program is a self-directed, online training program that will help you become an everyday advocate for the beef industry. MBA candidates are required to complete six courses in beef advocacy, including:

  • Modern beef production: sharing the many benefits of modern, efficient U.S. beef production.
  • Animal care: explaining our commitment to raising healthy animals.
  • Beef safety: communicating why producing safe food for consumers is a top priority.
  • Beef nutrition: explaining how great-tasting beef strengthens and sustains our bodies.
  • Environmental stewardship: sharing how we’re protecting the environment for future generations.
  • The Beef Checkoff: communicating the value of your investment in growing beef demand.

You may not be able to stop the misinformation about beef on the Internet, but it’s time we learned how to tell our story in a way our customers can understand and appreciate. 

To enroll in the program, send an e-mail to MBA@beef.org with the subject line “MBA Enrollment” or call ( 303) 694-0305 and ask for MBA.