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Best of NAMA 2023

Three years ago the Farmers' Independent Weekly didn't exist. Today it is a media force to be reckoned with in Western Canada due to the leadership and entrepreneurial spirit of John Morriss, the 2005 CAMA Agri-Marketer of the Year.

John Morriss
Morriss spent most of his career in agricultural journalism and communications, including two years as field editor of Grainews, 12 years with the Canadian Wheat Board where he rose to the position of director of communications, 12 years as publisher and editor of the Manitoba Co-operator and three years as publisher and editor of the Farmers' Independent Weekly (FIW).

After being let go by Manitoba Co-operator as a result of downsizing, Morriss and five other staffers took control of the situation by launching the Farmers' Independent Weekly in June 2002. With a mission to provide information to Manitoba farmers and gain their trust and confidence, the fledgling newspaper relied on Morriss' publishing experience, his reputation in the industry and his boundless energy to get the FIW off the ground.

Focusing on a niche market - Manitoba farmers - the FIW staff took a gamble that the industry was looking for ways to connect with this market, and both farmers and advertisers would support a publication that focused on high standards of editorial quality and journalistic excellence.

An article in the Winnipeg Free Press states that as FIW celebrated its third year of business in 2005, it also experienced a substantial profit, although this journey is about more than money.

This journey began by taking a chance and rallying loyal people around a common goal. Morriss leveraged the relationships he had forged during his 20-plus years in agriculture to build a foundation for FIW. His good relationships with employees, advertisers, readers and suppliers paid dividends during this new chapter. For example, Morriss convinced former colleagues to buy into a new company and defer their wages until the company had success, including two former production staffers. Morriss' high standard of business ethics motivates colleagues to willingly give their loyalty and respect.

He also was instrumental in convincing national advertising consultant James Shaw that based on past working relationships he should take a leap of faith to work with FIW. Many advertisers were willing to take a chance on the new publication based on prior relationships and the potential for editorial quality.

In addition, the Farmers' Independent Weekly had the backing of a printer who knew the publication had no income but was willing to commit to a printing contract based on his past dealings with the staff - an unusual endorsement in any industry.

Not only did the publication have the backing of many staffers, advertisers and suppliers, but it also managed to gain the attention of 1,000 Manitoba farmers who signed up for an FIW subscription before they even saw an issue, based on the proven track record of Morriss and his staff.

In the Winnipeg Free Press article, Ian Forrester, who farms near Letellier, Manitoba, says, "I think many people don't realize how important independence is to us. (FIW) writers have strong ag backgrounds and are unbiased, or at least less biased."

It is the independent spirit of Manitoba farmers that Morriss and his staff have embraced. "We're entrepreneurs, like farmers," Morriss says in the Free Press. "They're independent business people. Now we've started our own business too."

In starting a publication from scratch, Morriss and the FIW team overcame huge challenges on all fronts and used innovative ability to develop and then maintain production consistency, stretch limited financial resources, operate a virtual office and maintain good morale during a highly stressful time.

In addition, Manitoba farmer readers know they can trust Morriss for insightful, relevant information that helps them farm. Advertisers trust him to provide a highly credible publication for their message. His staff and business colleagues turn to him for consistent leadership.

John Morriss is widely respected as a voice of reason, critical analysis and balanced commentary. His commitment to agriculture spans his career. His contribution is that of a thoughtful, caring observer - one who isn't afraid to offend if the truth he speaks will contribute to a higher good.

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