What I'm Learning On My Book Non-Tour, Part 1

Although I have no clue how many "parts" there will be. This could a party of one. (Get it?)

So one thing I’ve been doing is talking to agriculture folk who have been kind enough to hire me to talk about what I know. (Insert jokes here.)

In December, for example, a guy with the American Angus Association drove up from St. Joe, Missouri, to record a video interview with me. Then he invited me to visit the Association’s office to talk to his department, which is marketing/PR.

I had a blast. I was also fascinated by the department’s media set-up. The folks there produce a radio program, a show that airs on RFD (a cable network), and a newscast that airs on the web. So their offices included a broadcast studio, cameras, the whole nine yards.

I got to see a preview of a TV program scheduled to air the day after Christmas. High quality all the way around, from script to narration to camera to music. (Here's a link to the closing segment. I love winter --- really, I do --- and I SO wanted to be out there with those "cowboys.") (The narrator is Doug Medlock, who was also on site [he lives outside Kansas City] for the holiday party. The next morning before I drove back to Iowa, I went back to the office and we recorded an interview for the group's radio program.)

(If you're interested, here's the opening segment of that same program, reporting on some South Dakota cattle ranchers hurt by that early season blizzard. Great stuff.)


I should add that in one respect, I wasn’t surprised. The surprise had come earlier in the year, when I researched places to send review copies of the meat book. I discovered that there were dozens upon dozens of agricultural media outlets. They all publish on the web, but some also still do print media. Some, like the Angus group, also do webcasts.

This lively niche market makes sense: These days, “mainstream” news outlets rarely cover agricultural news (except to report on the latest bashing from Pollanites). For example, here in Iowa, a few years back, the local NPR affiliate stopped airing market reports, which had been a feature of Iowa radio for decades. (“Pork bellies, down a quarter. Cattle up five.”)

Folks in agriculture didn’t miss a beat. Whether a specialty group like the American Angus Association, a commodity group, or crop organizations, they seized the opportunity that digital media dropped in their laps. And the opportunity is there: Farmers can “listen in” whenever they want, just by using their phones or tablets or desktops, whether they’re at home or out in the field. And they can focus their listening/viewing on the specialized news that matters most to them.

I hasten to add that agricultural “media” is hardly new. Rural and agricultural interests have had their own media since the late 1700s (maybe even earlier). I read mounds and decades and a couple of centuries worth of it while researching the book.

But this new media is, well, new. The ag folks have latched on to every available tool, from webcasting to low-cost cable networks to blogs and digital magazines. Brilliant!

So there was that. But for me the bonus was actually talking to people who work in agriculturally related enterprises. For the most part, historians don’t spend much time talking to living people, for obvious reasons.

But once we finish a book, depending on its topic, talking about that book to other people is the next important stage in the life cycle of our project.

In this case, I found a group of smart, engaged, curious folks who were passionate about their work. And so talented!


Other random observations: The Angus group is housed in a purpose-built structure that dates to the early 1950s. Lovely, mid-century modern building. The lobby is gorgeous, imposing but scaled to the overall size of the structure.

And in that lobby was a spectacular mid-century light fixture. I’m kicking myself for not grabbing my iPad and taking a photo of it. If the Association ever decides to  sell the building, someone’s gonna get a prize in that fixture. Why didn’t I take a photo? (I’m a nut about light fixtures.)

I also got to meet Dan Green, who does stock show and other reporting for the Association. Man, he rocks that hat. Seriously rocks it. On him, it is indeed a crown! (That's one of my favorites books, by the way.)

Dan Green.jpeg

So. I’m hoping for more hats, more talks, more stuff to learn in the months ahead.