Anna Jones - Help or Hinder? Coverage of Farming Issues in the News Media.
I come from an upland farm on the beautiful Welsh-Shropshire border and a long line of farmers - at least five generations. We have 300 breeding ewes and a small suckler herd on about 200 acres, which is part-owned and part-tenanted. I very much belong to the borderlands, with the Shropshire plains to the east and the Berwyn Mountains to our west. Despite living on the English side of the border, I went to school in Wales and joined Montgomeryshire Young Farmers.
My childhood memories are of bottle feeding lambs, pushing sheep down the race, riding in the stock lorry with Dad and getting told off for climbing on the bales. Family life revolved around farming but I never considered it as a career. From a very young age, probably around 13 or 14, I knew I wanted to be a journalist.
I did a degree in Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire in 2002, producing a documentary about Foot and Mouth for my final assignment. It was an early indication that farming would feature heavily in my career.
I was a newspaper reporter in North Wales and the West Midlands before joining the BBC as a researcher on Countryfile in 2006. I’m now a director on the programme and mainly work on the investigative items, with presenter Tom Heap.
My career at the BBC has allowed me to specialise in rural affairs. In 2013 I left television for a while to join Radio 4, as a producer on Farming Today. It was here that my interest in farming deepened, as I grew to understand the ins and outs of the industry and my place within in it. I felt drawn back to my roots and started taking a keener interest in the business at home. My Nuffield Scholarship is aimed at bridging my two worlds – farming and journalism.
When I’m not focusing on either of those things, you’ll most likely find me outdoors. I enjoy long walks in the countryside and (not so long) runs in the city of Bristol, where I live and work. I’m building up to my first 10k! I’m a sociable soul and my favourite way to relax is simply spending time with friends and family.
I feel very honoured to have two sponsors which will make my Nuffield Scholarship possible – The Royal Welsh Agricultural Society and The Trehane Trust. I am incredibly grateful to them, and the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust, for this life-changing opportunity.
There is a saying that goes: “There is no such thing as bad publicity," but I wonder how many farmers would agree with it. Here in the UK, there seems to be a feeling that farming is somehow ‘disconnected’ from a largely urban population and, therefore, a largely urban media. It is a criticism I have heard from people I’ve interviewed, and even my own family.
But I also see the pressures on the other side of the fence. If our duty as journalists is to serve our audiences, it could be argued that news headlines should be relevant, and of interest, to the largest section of the population. We are an urbanised nation and most people are 'townies'. How much, then, does that influence the media's approach to farming? And would it make any difference if the industry carried more clout, politically and economically, or if the rural audience was larger?
My Nuffield is aimed at answering those questions. I am planning visits to the US, India, New Zealand, France, Belgium and Ireland. These are a diverse mix of countries with varying cultural and political attitudes towards farming and food production.
I’ll visit farms and newsrooms, talking to those who produce the food and those who report the news. And by examining the coverage of major agricultural stories, across newspapers, radio and television, I hope to build a picture of the relationship between agri-business and the news media in each country. First, to see how they compare and, secondly, whether lessons can be learned from how farmers interact with journalists, and vice versa, elsewhere in the world.