OCAMM Seminar Series
Public Relations

 

        Click on title to view the summary.  Presentation date in parenthesis.

Media Relations or "How to handle a microphone in your face"
Panel discussion  (1999)

Social benefits and costs of livestock waste management
Dr. Frederick Hitzhusen, Ohio State University (2000)
Manure management and Ohio's changing rural landscape
Dr. Randall James, Ohio State University (2000)
Ohioan views of livestock: Data from a statewide survey
Dr. Jeffrey Sharp, Ohio State University (2003)

 

Media Relations or "How to handle a microphone in your face"
Joe Case, News Director, Ohio News Network;Bill Clutter, Legislative Affiars Chair, Lawn Care Association;
Randy Edwards, Environmental Editor, The Columbus Dispatch; and Tom McNutt, Channel 4, Columbus

Rob McCartney with Kurtz Brothers, Inc. hosted a panel of four speakers who provided valuable information in using the media as an effective tool for communicating with the general public.   Below is a summary of each panelist’s presentation and the discussion that followed.

Joe Case, News Director, Ohio Radio News Network, noted that the media provides everyone the “ power to spin your story.”  Because radio broadcasts are limited by time and determined by listener’s interest, the focus is primarily on crises.  Case provided five tips for being interviewed for a radio broadcast:
1)    Keep it simple.  Do not use jargon or details that require extensive knowledge.
2)    Make it relate to the listener.  The public wants to know how their lives will be effected.
3)    Put a “human face” on your story.  A “testimonial” by someone involved is more effective than a spokesperson.
4)    Keep it short.  The broadcast will be less than one minute so stay focused.
5)    Show confidence.  Anticipate questions and prepare answers.  A nervous tone (“umm”) affects your credibility.

Tom McNutt, Channel 4, Columbus is also a retired Extension Agent from Franklin County.   McNutt noted that the top agricultural concerns are odor, food safety, and aesthetics.   He stressed that it is the interviewee’s responsibility to present his/her side of the story and educate the media.  To maximize the time (usually 90 seconds) given to television broadcasts, he suggested being prepared so that you can ask and answer your own questions.   Other tips include:  never keep a reporter waiting; relax, ad lib and be yourself; talk to the camera, it is the other person; avoid unnecessary movement; and use visual props if at all possible. Top on the list of what not to do is lying and refusing an interview.  These responses only send a message that you have something to hide.

Randy Edwards, Environmental Editor, Columbus Dispatch, reported that a newspaper provides more opportunities for in-depth reporting and is more likely to cover a story that is not a crisis situation.  Edwards reiterated the need to develop a relationship with reporters, to be open and up front with information, and to not be defensive.  It is important to understand the media and type of story being produced and to know the audience.  The Columbus Dispatch audience is primarily urban and needs to be educated about how changes in the economy, regulations and increased land costs are impacting farmers.  “You want to eat don’t you” is not the response that will further your cause.  It is an overused cliché.  Edwards also suggested using the interview time wisely.  Attacking the reporter waste valuable time that should be used to present your story.  Finally, know what point you want to get across and stick with it even though the reporter might have his/her own agenda.

Bill Clutter, Legislative Affairs Chair, Lawn Care Association, presented a view as an interviewee.  He noted that his experience is that reporters are looking for a balanced story but it is the interviewee’s responsibility to take the opportunity to present his/her story.  Clutter suggested that affiliated organizations such as producer groups are good resources for preparing a response or in acting as a spokesperson.  In responding to a reporter always maintain a professional, calm demeanor and listen to the questions so that you can adequately address concerns.  Also, if you don’t know the answer, admit it.

Rob McCartney, Kurtz Brothers emphasized that the consistent message from each speaker’s presentation was the emphasis on developing a relationship with your paper, radio or TV station now – before any crisis occurs.  Once a relationship is built, they will look to you as a resource when relevant issues arise, instead of a target. 

For those who find this a difficult task, help is available from producer organizations, OSU staff and extension personnel.  Ken Kulka (kulka.1@osu.edu or 614-292-9675) and Suzanne Steel (steel.7@osu.edu or 614-292-9673) with OSU Communications and Technology have volunteered their assistance to anyone needing help to bridge the gap and make media connection.

Discussion:

Ted Short (OARDC, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering) noted the importance of electronic media as a communication tool for OCAMM.  He questioned whether reporters use the internet to research stories.  Randy Edwards responded that while the internet is a good source of background information, users must be careful of misinformation.  He finds government sources and related stories in other publications most useful.

Short asked whether interviews are conducted via e-mail.  Edwards stated that he preferred an in-person interview but that he had once interviewed via-email when a breaking story and an inaccessible interviewee made other modes of communication too slow.

Joe Case agreed that he uses the internet as a resource.  He noted that the internet provides an opportunity to “spin yourself,” presenting your identity, mission and services and providing a means to disseminate news releases.  However, internet news releases do not give a reporter the opportunity to ask questions and “look you in the eye.”

A participant from Lima asked how reporters verify the validity of the information used from the internet.  Case replied that good information has a source attached that can be verified.

Steve Loerch (OARDC, Animal Sciences) questioned how information presented in a newscast could be verified.  While personal testimony may be important, it may also be biased.  Edwards responded that, while the “human face” in a report is necessary, reporters do not rely on these individuals for their sole source of information.  He noted the importance of developing relationships with individuals who are reliable.  Peer-reviewed research and academic sources also good resources.  However, time is not always available to research the story so both sides are presented and the reader needs to evaluate the validity of each side’s explanation.

Case noted that eventually the truth comes out and that it is in your best interest to tell the truth, otherwise you destroy your credibility.  If you do not know an answer admit it, agree to find the answer and then do it.  By following through, you improve your credibility.

Kevin Elder (ODNR) mentioned the use of “recycled” stories.  It may appear that the story is current but no changes have been made since it was first presented.  Case noted that it is important to deal with the problem well the first time, but if interviewed again, there is no problem with repeating your answers.

Tom McNutt noted the importance of positioning yourself as a credible source.  The agricultural industry needs to take more time to position agriculture with the media.  The issues need to be addressed instead of relying on the old line, “We feed the world.”

Case observed that big businesses have become media savvy and many have crisis management departments.  These departments take a proactive approach to media relations by evaluating the day-to-day business and planning for possible crisis situations.

Loerch commented that he had the sense that the media relationship with the agricultural industry is not that good.  Edwards noted that, in general, relationships are positive.  However, individuals may become hostile in an emotional situation and that the agricultural industry tends to be defensive if it perceives the industry is under attack.  While other industries are more accustomed to attacks by activists, farmers have relied on the romantic image often presented in the media, so tend to be offended easily if under attack.

McNutt observed that the agricultural industry is large and diversified so there is not a single spokesperson.  There is a need for advocates for the industry as a whole as well as its individual segments.  Case stated that with the proliferation of the media, every individual becomes a potential spokesperson.  Therefore, everyone needs to be taught how to interact with the media.  Also, it’s important to remember that when you get angry or defensive, a reporter gets interested.

A participant in Lima remarked that the Alar scare that resulted in a lot of orchards being put out of business indicates that there is good reason to be cautious.  How can such stories be verified?  Edwards noted that the time devoted to researching a story often depends on whether the reporter covers a variety of topics or can focus on a particular area.  McNutt noted that the media did not cause the Alar scare.  It is the media’s responsibility to report information and agriculture needs to be proactive instead of reactive in telling their story.

Case encouraged the agricultural industry to be active in correcting inaccuracies and demanding corrections where necessary.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, if both sides are presented, the truth will eventually emerge.  Edwards observed that when the debate is between extremists on each side, the truth or middle ground may get lost.  Case agreed, but noted that the truth will not come out unless all sides are presented.  McNutt reiterated that it is important to become acquainted with all forms of media to establish credibility.

Bill Clutter stated that in the Alar scare, the agricultural industry waited so long to respond that it was hard to contain the damage.  If is important to be prepared before the crisis occurs.   In a follow up study to the Alar scare, the public ranked the credibility of sources of information.  The top 5 (of 10 sources) in order of credibility were self, personal physician, highly visible scientists, Meryl Steep (spokesperson against the use of Alar), Greenpeace and university professionals.  At the bottom of the “credibility list” were farmers (#9) and public relations spokespersons for the agricultural industry (#10).


Social benefits and costs of livestock waste management
Dr. Fred Hitzhusen, Ohio State University

From an economist’s perspective, social costs and benefits are a comprehensive measure of the willingness to pay and to accept compensation and they may or may not be expressed in current market prices.  In analyzing social costs and benefits, impacts to natural life support systems are evaluated along with the more typical production and consumption considerations.  These impacts include extraction of resources such as feed stocks or minerals and assimilation of residuals.  Social costs and benefits are taken into account for longer periods of time and over larger geographic areas compared to private production costs and returns. Another factor that is important in evaluating social costs and benfits is the concept of property rights.  These rights include simple ownership, state and open access rights and all have value, as individuals are willing to pay for them and to accept compensation for them. 

The social costs of livestock production can be minimized through technical options that control pollution, such as recycling residuals or treating wastes.  Alternatives to managing waste include regulations that allow or disallow specific practices as well as economic incentives and choices.  An economist’s goal is not a pristine environment, but an equilibrium where marginal pollution abatement costs equal marginal pollution abatement benefits.  Current work indicates that the social costs of livestock production increase as the density and proximity of the non-farm population increases and as the density of livestock production increases. There is a need better determine the magnitude of these costs, then decide which regulations and/or incentives will achieve the best results. 

Discussion:

Tom Price (Price-Barnes Organics) questioned the impact of agricultural imports from countries with little or no environmental regulations.  Hitzhusen responded that, increasingly, global trade agreements seem to require minimum environmental standards.  He noted the public’s concern for residuals on fruit that is grown in South American countries.  Price commented that consumers need to be made aware of the differences in environmental practices when purchasing agricultural products.  Hitzhusen responded that producers should be proactive in quantifying this information and providing it to the consumer.

Steve Baertsche (OSU) noted that a study (based on 1997 data) that compared Ohio’s population density to six other livestock producing states indicated that Ohio has a density of 171 people per square mile while the other states average 38 people per square mile. The higher density puts Ohio was at a disadvantage as it faces higher social costs.  Hitzhusen agreed if social costs are defined as the proximity to the density of non-farm, residential property.  The challenge is not how to ignore these costs but determining the most cost effective method to address them.  Hitzhusen also suggested the need to decide the advantages that Ohio has compared to other states. 

Ted Short (OSU) noted that lawyers and insurance companies seem to be an added cost that result from these social costs.  Hitzhusen commented that if the insurance if efficient it is okay.  However, if development proceeds without looking at the potential impacts up front, insurance premiums will increase as unanticipated problems arise.  Short questioned whether insurance is a legitimate economic activity or a drain.  Hitzhusen responded that it is a rational response to decrease risk.  However, if producers are not working to solve the problems, insurance could become their biggest cost.

Steve Loerch (OSU) noted that the target keeps moving.  A common situation is an existing operation that may or may not be expanding.  Urban expansion often encroaches on these operations as individuals look for sources of cheaper property.  After settling an area, there is often a move to force the livestock operation out so that property values will increase.  In this situation, it is difficult for the producer to estimate costs up front.  Hitzhusen agreed that this is a problem and has resulted in the emergence of right-to-farm statutes.  He suggested that these could be in jeopardy as the residential population density increases.

Richard Moore (OSU) noted that according to data released by Al Gore, Ohio ranks high in farmland lost as a proportion of total area.  Hitzhusen responded that this might be the result of residential expansion.  Moore commented that data from the Wayne County auditor’s office indicates that there are approximately 3,000 parcels split per year.

Jay Dorsey (OSU) commented on the efficiency of incorporating social costs and benefits.  He noted that social costs in Europe appear to be more institutionalized while in the U.S., which has more capacity of residuals and excess resources, they are not.  Hitzhusen noted that the higher concentration of people and animals in Europe might have an effect.  Good environmental work is in progress in the U.K., Germany and Scandinavian countries but it is after the fact.  He observed that while a different culture with higher population density may permit institutionalization of social costs, there are still many instances of protests by farmers.  Hitzhusen noted that more empirical work on costs and benefits is needed for making policy decisions.

Dorsey questioned whether there is a greater consensus for using hedonic pricing methods to determine social costs because they reflect actual behavior and markets.  Hitzhusen noted that the hedonic method does reflect actual behavior and uses statistics to decompose the costs into attributes that contribute to environmental costs.

Short questioned whether economists can justify the costs of parasitic industries such as insurance companies and lawyers.  Hitzhusen suggested that they are not parasitic but are market mechanisms that can be efficient and rational.  However, if their proportion of the total cost increases, alternatives should be evaluated.  If problems can be anticipated and dealt with up front, it will minimize insurance and legal costs.


Manure Management and Ohio’s Changing Rural Landscape
Dr. Randall James, Ohio State University Extension

As Ohio’s livestock industry moves into the 21st century, it will be impacted by changes in nutrient management as well as population shifts.  The trend toward the use of the P-Index rather than crop removal rates to determine phosphorus loading rates, raises concerns of maintaining a sustainable system.  Potash, which is not considered an environmental pollutant, can affect animal health and the impact of heavily amended soils needs to be addressed.  As livestock becomes more concentrated, manure management systems will be modified.  Current liquid systems are relatively inexpensive to install but produce high volumes of material that are expensive to transport or utilize and can negatively impact the environment.

In Ohio, the livestock industry faces both urbanization and “ruralization.”  The challenges facing livestock operators in areas of population growth include high land prices, more neighbors, less isolation and decreased crop land for manure application.  However, these areas have a large customer base and land can be considered an investment.  In areas where population is decreasing, which is more common in Ohio, land is a poor investment and stable communities may not favor new livestock operations.  However, these “ruralizing” areas have the advantage of fewer neighbors, more cropland, and underused infrastructure.  New or expanding operations can take advantage of roads, water, electric and sewer systems already in place.  The success of Ohio’s livestock industry will require the ability to take advantage of opportunities and to develop solutions to challenges.

Discussion:
James discussed a study from Geauga County (10-15 miles east of Cleveland) in which an increase in the number of farms correlated with a higher population density and higher land prices.  Evaluation of the data indicated that the farms that are increasing in number are primarily horse and horticultural whereas those decreasing are primarily Amish farms.  James also noted that while a medium-sized stable produces approximately 1,000 cubic yards of manure and bedding yearly, there are very few complaints from nearby neighbors.

John Smith (OSUE) asked what the stable owners are doing with the manure/bedding.  James responded that some has been spread locally, but, because sawdust and woodchips are used as bedding, the manure is deficient in nitrogen and has caused stunted, yellow crops.  The solution is to add ammonium nitrate to the manure.  A change to straw bedding is not favored by operators and would result in the need to dispose of the wood by-products.  James noted that other manure management approaches include disposing in landfils, filling in wetlands and storing in piles.

Tom Zimmerman (ATI) commented that complaints may be minimal because people view horses as pets or hobbies.  Also, horse stables have a higher profit margin and can afford a more options.  Smith suggested that some neighbors may have horses stabled so will not complain.  James agreed and mentioned that operators are careful to keep manure off roads and that flies are minimal.

Mike Lilburn (OSU) noted that the lower moisture content of horse manure (as compared to dairy manure) is significant in lessening the fly impact.  James responded that proper management is needed.  Lilburn also commented that the horse itself is the product so there is a different mindset among operators.  James agreed but noted that horse stable owners cite manure management as their #1 problem.

Maurice Watson (OSU) questioned how farms were identified.  James responded that the census definition of a farm was used.  However, horse stables were included as farms although the census only includes them when other animals are present.  In such cases, they are considered an indication of the degree of mechanization.



Smith asked about a 600-cow facility proposed for a municipality in northeast Ohio.  James commented that this particular municipality is interested.  The city is going downhill and the proposed site is surrounded by industry rather than homes.  It is a unique situation that may result in similar proposals for other cities.

Robert Hansen (OSU) noted that the impact of livestock operations is related to nearby land values.  James commented that the proposed site is in an industrial area with very low property values.  Opportunities may by found in many northeastern Ohio cities where economies are depressed and no rebound is predicted.

Watson mentioned that in Rhode Island, a new law requires manure management plans for operations with 8 or more animal units.  He asked if plans are required for horses.  James responded that not necessarily but that almost all cost share dollars are being used for manure storage.

Lilburn asked whether mushroom companies located near horse operations would provide a market for composted manure.  James noted that horses must be bedded on straw to serve the mushroom market.  He also explained that in Geauga County, the nursery industry had been using a manure/sawdust mix in a raw state.  However, the OEPA Division of Solid and Infectious Waste determined that composting was occurring and required registration resulting in a loss of the nursery market.

Fred Michel (OSU) noted that the registration for composting does not require fees, only completion of a form.  James responded that there seemed to be a communication issue and that the situation is currently in a state of flux.


Ohioans Views of Livestock: Studies from a Statewide Survey
Dr. Jeffery Sharp, Ohio State University

A recent survey by the Ohio State University’s Department of Human and Community Resource Development and the OSU Extension assessed a representative cross-section of the population’s opinions regard the impact of agriculture on social issues.  The results indicate that a substantial majority of Ohioans recognize the economic contribution of agriculture to Ohio’s economy and feel that farming contributes positively to quality of life.  In addition, the survey evaluated perceptions of livestock farming, including the respondent’s familiarity and level of concern with the livestock issues in general as well as the threat of large facilities on water and stream quality and animal welfare.  Analyses of the results indicate that concerns about livestock issues vary with region, which may reflect local events that have received media attention.  In general, concerns are diminished where farmers and nonfarmers develop networks that engender trust as well as for those with a family history of farming.  While animal welfare is a concern, especially among women and those with less formal education, the greatest concern noted by respondents is the potential of livestock production to negatively impact the environment.

Discussion:
Constance Jackson (Ohio Farm Bureau) asked if studies conducted by the University of North Carolina and University of Nebraska found similar trends and concerns.  Sharp noted that those studies focus on the attitude of the producer rather than those outside the farming community.

Jackson asked if, in the OSU study, the pro-agrarian view correlated with the age of the respondent.  Sharp responded that there was a correlation.  In general, those born before 1950 indicate a stronger overall support of agriculture although there is concern about recent developments.  Younger respondent’s attitudes tend to be more volatile but that may reflect the mobility of the age group.

Jackson asked if there is a correlation between pro-agricultural views and parents versus grandparents owning a farm.  Sharp replied that such a correlation was not analyzed.

Joe Beiler (OSU Extension) questioned whether the study indicates that a moratorium on new livestock facilities should be implemented as has been done in other states.  North Carolina recently extended its moratorium for hog lagoons another four years.  Sharp indicated that based on the data he could not conclude whether the data supports or does not support a moratorium.  The data does indicate we need to be sensitive to concerns and based on other agricultural research Sharp conducted, he suggested that we need to be sensitive to the viability of Ohio agriculture and the importance of livestock to Ohio's ag economy.  Whether the ultimate outcome should be a moratorium or not is something the data does not provide a definitive answer to.

Sharp commented that while Ohioans do recognize the economic benefit of agriculture to the state, there is polarization on some issues that reflect a need within communities for a better communications process.

A participant in Lima suggested that this survey needed to be conducted 5-6 years ago.  Sharp noted that the study at that time may resulted in the development of models for better conflict resolution which could have benefited those planning expansions and new facilities.  However, as the level of awareness among the general public was not as high at that time, responses may have been significantly different.

A participant in Columbus asked what process of communication is needed.  To date, planning for an expansion or new facility has either been kept secret or very open, but neither approach seems to have worked.  Sharp noted that there is no magic bullet and suggested that once conflict erupts, a mediator is needed.  Current rules do not encourage communication or conflict resolution because farmers are under no obligation to respond to concerns.  He suggested that a broader discussion of agriculture’s role and impact on economic development needs to occur in communities with the local Chamber of Commerce playing a key role.