Your survival is our business. Without a successful and vibrant beef industry in America, Drovers and other partners in your business are toast. We know the past two years have been extremely difficult for many of you, and that’s why we’ve devoted this entire issue to exploring ways you can adjust your management or modify your business to cope with these uncertain times.
To capture your attention about this special issue, we’ve emblazoned the words “SURVIVAL GUIDE” across the cover. The stories we’ve written deal specifically with subjects related to ranch planning, marketing and management. But as I sat down to write this column, an event occurred that brings full attention to the fact that our survival — yours and Drovers — is not just tied to raising cows and caring for the land. It’s about consumers, and increasingly, it’s about winning the minds of consumers.
By now you’ve probably heard or read about the TIME magazine article that thoroughly trashed your business and your way of life. In “The Real Cost of Cheap Food,” TIME, Aug. 31, author Bryan Walsh attacked American agriculture and modern production practices as hard as anyone can with paper and ink.
Drovers and other agricultural news sources denounced the TIME article through posts on various ag Web sites. And we all agree that what TIME published was a completely one-sided swipe at modern agriculture that attempts to scare consumers into believing that America has a food crisis. And that this food crisis can be solved if we would all just switch to eating organic foods.
Though it appears that he is a gifted writer, Walsh also shows through his reporting that his knowledge of agriculture is fairly thin. And because of that, it seems, Walsh was easily led astray by some activists who are well-known as anti-modern agriculture.
While it’s important for us to call TIME out for the poor, unbalanced reporting that needlessly misled consumers, it’s also important for those of us in agriculture to understand why these stories keep happening. It’s because they work.
TIME’s cover on Aug. 31 was a photo of a package of hamburger with a warning label that told consumers: “This hamburger may be hazardous to your health. Why the American food system is bad for our bodies, our economy and our environment — and what some visionaries are trying to do about it.” You can’t get much more inflammatory than that, but right or wrong, that photo and those words helped TIME stand out at news stands all over America.
Consider, for instance, the four previous TIME covers: Aug. 24, “Las Vegas: The Casino Town Bets on a Comeback”; Aug. 17, “The Myth About Exercise”; Aug. 10, “Health Care Special Report: Paging Dr. Obama”; and Aug.3, “The Final Days of Bush and Cheney.”
The common thread among those cover stories is their effort to grab the attention of readers. Certainly, Walsh’s story, “The Real Cost of Cheap Food,” grabbed my attention, but it was the shoddy reporting that concerns me, and the gross misrepresentation of your business should concern us all.
Which leads to the ultimate question: Does TIME place more emphasis on selling magazines or on accurate, thorough reporting? I’ve been a TIME reader for many years, and I have often viewed the reporting as insightful and top-notch. TIME’s coverage of major issues such as war, politics and the economy has added to our national debate in a positive way.
But now I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical because if TIME could get a story so wrong about a subject I understand — agriculture — why should I believe TIME is publishing credible reporting on subjects outside of my expertise?
More importantly, how could TIME devote such resources to a story and get it so wrong?
The answer, it seems, is because those who believe America’s food system is in crisis are better at communicating with TIME and other national media than we are. Their story is more convincing, and it can be packaged in a way that grabs the attention of a world with a short attention span. In short, it’s sensational and it sells magazines.
Your survival is our business, but we need your help. It’s time to stop ignoring these blatant at-tempts to scare our customers. It’s time we started fighting back. Let’s start by writing to Bryan Walsh at TIME magazine and letting him know you produce safe, wholesome food and that you care for your animals and your land. Send letters to: TIME magazine letters, Time & Life Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, N.Y. 10020. Or you can send an e-mail to email@example.com.