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When the BSE news broke on Dec. 23, the beef industry was not the only one shaken up. Agricultural news media were left scrambling for information, as many publications had put their January issues to bed and broadcasters were heading out for the holidays. But the media responded quickly. Vacations were interrupted, front pages were pulled, and Web sites were updated. To get a clearer picture, Agri Marketing conducted a survey of some of the key ag media players to find out how they handled the crisis.

"After an editorial conference call, a team of editors and artists stayed late on Christmas Eve to rip apart some previously written stories to be as current as possible," says Sonja Hillgren of Farm Journal Media. This was a common refrain among print publications as staff worked to keep the coverage current, a difficult task in monthly and even weekly issues. Even among broadcasters used to constant change, it was challenging to keep up.

Many companies produced special issues or reports outside of those regularly planned. "Today's Ag," a weekly magazine program, produced a half-hour special that aired on commercial TV stations and RFD-TV. The special, "The Science and Facts about Mad Cow Disease," featured university and industry experts, with sponsor support from state beef councils. "The Cattle Show" also produced a one-hour program designed to educate the viewer on BSE and highlight the work of cattle producers. High Plains Journal created a special section of the paper for all stories pertaining to BSE.

Most media outlets relied heavily on online coverage. "BSE news contributed to a surge in Web traffic that led Agriculture Online to a record 7.9 million page views in December," notes Loren Kruse of Successful Farming. BEEF magazine produced four special editions of the weekly e-newsletter. Vance Publishing's Web sites featured targeted BSE news, along with links to information from the USDA and NCBA.

Even amidst the chaos, some media found time to reach out to consumers and producers. "In the community where the infamous BSE infected cow was discovered, we sponsored a beef barbeque," says Susan Allen of the Northwest Ag Information Network. The event drew more than 2,500 people, with numerous public officials on hand to answer questions.

As the immediacy of the crisis slows down, many media are turning to more in-depth coverage of the topics involved, such as downer cattle or an animal identification system. "We're working now on creating a section of our sites devoted to BSE due to new issues that have come up in the wake of the crisis," says Willie Vogt of Farm Progress Companies.

While everyone in the industry hopes this will be the only crisis of its kind, the situation did give the ag media a chance to do what it does best - inform and educate. "This crisis gave us the opportunity to show how effective farm broadcasting can be," says Cyndi Young of the Brownfield Network. "It was great to see my team working hand-in-hand to cover this issue."


Brownfield Network
Daily e-mail newsletter with breaking news on BSE; interviews with top industry officials, veterinarians and producers; provided market updates on economic impact

The Cattle Show/Hot Shots Video Productions
One-hour educational special featuring BSE and animal nutrition experts, with additional ones planned

Farm Journal Media
Replaced some of January editorial with BSE coverage; special issue of Pro Farmer newsletter; comprehensive coverage on

Farm Progress Companies
Up-to-the-minute information on Web sites; wrap-up of USDA technical briefings online; local response and coverage of issue in each of the regional publications

High Plains Journal
Pulled front page to run latest BSE info; special area of paper & logo relating to BSE

Hoard's Dairyman
Feature article and editorials; online article on downer cows

Northwest Ag Information Network
Targeted special programming for various audience groups; sponsored a beef barbeque in community where the BSE-infected cow was discovered - event drew 2,500+ people and media; distributed columns on the topic to news media

PRIMEDIA Business Magazines
16-page section on BSE in February issue of BEEF; special editions of e-newsletters; conducted a reader survey that was picked up by Dow Jones newswire

Red River Farm Network
In-depth coverage during daily newscasts; daily updates online and special coverage in e-mail newsletter

Carried all USDA press conferences; produced and aired two 90-minute programs from NCBA/CBB, with call-ins from viewers

Successful Farming/Agriculture Online
BSE news on Agriculture Online led to record views in December; February issue on animal health; special report that the Ag Online staff produced for was the most viewed story in January

Today's Ag
Half-hour television special on BSE with university and industry experts; online coverage

U.S. Farm Report/WGN
Featured conversations with cattlemen; market reports providing interpretation of cattle futures

Vance Publishing
Weekly e-mail newsletters to provide BSE information; special feature in February issue of Drovers; addressed animal ID system and downer cows in Dairy Herd Management AM

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