Framing the news – Pavilion updates

The Columbia Farmers Market Pavilion campaign has made the news lately, specifically because the project has been recommended by the Missouri Department of Agriculture as a priority for funding under the Federal stimulus package. This has generated a variety of news coverage, which has in turn demonstrated the ability of media to shape or frame an issue.

The coverage began with this article in the Columbia Daily Tribune, with the title
Farmers Want Pavilion Built With Stimulus“. The piece seems to have generated strong reactions from pretty much everyone, with supporters of the project arguing that the piece and its headline falsely represented the nature of the project, implying that the market and local farmers were just looking for a handout without accurately referencing the years of work and fundraising that have gotten the project far enough to even be considered for outside support. Meanwhile a slew of mostly anonymous opponents posted all sorts of vitriol in the resulting comment threads. Read through to the end if you have a strong stomach.

Several supporters of the project later weighed in, including well-known local economist and author John Ikerd’s opinion piece in the Tribune, and Scott Rowson’s latest column for the Tribune’s food section. Scott notes on his blog that the published piece bore little resemblance to the text he submitted, and posts the real version here.

I could spend far more time than I have analyzing and discussing this chain of events, but I need to restrict it to a few main points.

I’ve never been particuarly impressed with the quality of journalism in Columbia, whether University or professional, and this latest chain of events hasn’t changed that. Living in this area has helped teach me how careful one has to be when working with journalists, and how easy it is for editorial decisions or journalistic biases (even latent ones) to shape coverage. It’s something to keep in mind all throughout media consumption in our lives.

It’s one of the reasons why, despite being a staunch believer in traditional media outlets like newspapers, I’ve gravitated toward the blogging world. While there are even more concerns about integrity and accuracy among blogs, it’s also a freer market for folks to choose the sources they trust.

I see the two systems as roughly comparable to the farmers market and supermarket systems. Supermarkets and print newspapers are the large, stable, wide-ranging sources of everything. At their best, they’re reliable, effective, convenient, and stable. On the other hand, the nature of their business also makes their contents somewhat restricted; using either one as your primary source of product (news or food) will only give you the variety the editor/manager feels necessary. Blogs and farmers markets, on the other hand, take more active consumer research and intelligent decision making. There is much more variety, and more likelihood of a source that’s really tailored to whatever specific item you want, but these sources also place more responsibility on the consumer to do some research and make an educated decision on where/how to choose the product.

This is especially true for folks like myself who advocate for a freer market for farmers and food, giving more responsibility back to the consumer instead of the traditional arbiters of quality and value like government agencies and corporate chains. Blogs, too, do not operate under the shackles/guiding hands of professional editors, and suffer or benefit depending on their writer and readers.

At this point I’m rambling and need to get outside. What is a blog if it can’t unleash a semi-coherent ramble now and then, for consumers to read or dismiss as needed? After all, I’m not getting paid for this.

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