From the Editor's Notebook: What do you want to be when you grow up?

As I edit the submissions for each month’s installments of NAFB eChats, I find myself pondering the overarching “theme” behind the month’s dispatch. This month, with stories about our Foundation internship program and photos featuring longtime University of Illinois professor Jim Evans, my mind wandered toward one of my favorite self-reflective questions: what do I want to be when I grow up?

For me, I’ve often joked that I want to be an economist when I grow up (I love that joke about “on the one hand,”) but in truth I consider myself a journalist at heart. Perhaps it’s that cynical nature in the pit of my stomach or my love of a putting together a great story, but I consider myself lucky to be a part of our profession.

The problem for you and me, of course, is that society as we know it – and our relationship to that society – is changing. Consider this: According to a Gallup study released earlier this month, Americans’ faith in the news media has hit an all time low. Brace yourself:

Americans’ faith in each of three major news media platforms — television news, newspapers and news on the Internet — is at or tied with record lows in Gallup’s long-standing confidence in institutions trend. This continues a decades-long decline in the share of Americans saying they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers or TV news, while trust in Internet news remains low since the one prior measure in 1999.

Yikes. Granted, the study does not specifically mention radio, and my gut tells me (not to mention past NAFB research on the subject) that our audience finds their NAFB member broadcaster to be extremely trustworthy – our unique relationship with the listener/viewer/reader has long been our calling card, after all.

But what does it say for our future as professionals that the broader community of which we are a part is no longer viewed as the trusted guardian of truth in our society? The Fourth Estate has been a vital part of the American experiment from the get-go, as evidenced by the importance the Founding Fathers placed on freedom of the press in the very document that established our nation and enshrined our basic liberties as a people.

Let’s dig into Gallup’s findings a bit further:

The field of news media has changed dramatically since Gallup first began measuring the confidence the public held in newspapers or TV news decades ago. The circulation of newspapers continues to shrink to the point that University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for the Digital Future estimates that most print newspapers will not exist in five years. Television news continues to see a proliferation of new cable news networks, including the launch of Al-Jazeera America in August 2013. Meanwhile, news from the Internet now figures prominently in the average American’s news diet, whereas not so long ago this mode did not even exist.

As someone who works in broadcast, print and digital media, this news is not entirely surprising to me – the “death of the newspaper” has been a hot topic among media observers for several years. The application to our specific profession, however, is that our audience –  food producers and the rural community – is not getting larger. How then do we best serve that audience amid the changing media landscape?

I don’t have all the answers to that very big question, but I do have a piece of advice: continue to develop your own talents and skills, with an eye toward how you can best serve your audience. How can you extend your relationship with your audience to where they are on a daily basis? If your only contact with the listener is when he’s in the cab of the truck, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to grow.

Consider attending Ag Media Summit in Indianapolis next month, audit a photography class at your local college or bone up on your blogging and Tweeting skills (I can hear some of you scoffing all the way from my office). You may not be able to control the future of media, but you can control your ability to react and adapt to the changes that are coming – because if there has been one constant in our profession over the 70 year history of NAFB, it’s that change is inevitable.

Please, send me ( your photos, stories or news tips – I’ll be eager to hear about what’s happening in your shop or out on the road as fair and show season is upon us. Safe travels, and until next month, all the best from my studio to yours.