January 1, 2005
People look at me with suspicion when I share my disdain for contemporary news coverage. As a member of the newsgathering club, I am entitled to my opinion. I think highroad reporting is on its way to becoming a lost art. Today’s approach to news in the general press is akin to what happens to a runaway train.
My main gripe concerning news coverage is that a steady diet of negative, catastrophic, or inhumane events can’t help but bring down even the most optimistic among us. There is no stopping it, until it runs out of gas or else collides with anything in its path.
I know it’s one thing to criticize, and quite another to come up with something better. For the record, I believe in the value of a free press. What is freedom, after all, to an unappreciative recipient? As I said, information is invaluable to a free society. The question is how should that information be delivered for public consumption, and should there be controls and, at best, self policing. I mean was there real value in knowing every detail of how Jeffery Dahmer murdered his victims and the grisly things he did to them in death by reading newspaper accounts?
To repeat, news reports are essential in a free society. That is one reason I mourn the loss of our industry news section, which outgrew its relevance. My lone voice could do nothing to change that. At least I am able to revisit or else report industry news from time to time in this space. I suppose there is a bit of vanity behind my position, as I’m thinking ahead 100 years to this magazine in its archival state. I want to leave comprehensive records of the industry for my successor/successors to use in the same way that I use information I inherited, beginning with the very first edition of April 11, 1891.
In the spirit of yin and yang, I offer this select reference to benefit posterity. If news is honed on disaster and dirty deeds, then it should be grounded in hope and faith.
January 2005 — Ann Veneman, the lame duck Secretary of Agriculture and the first woman to hold the post, gives the USDA a good grade under her leadership. History may well record her four years at the helm of USDA as more crisis-riddled than previous administrations, however, especially concerning food-safety issues— chief among these being the discovery of BSE cases in Canada and the United States. Moreover, the USDA won few friends concerning its handling of the 2002 Farm Bill. Veneman does not leave USDA with her head down, however. She is the recipient of The American Meat Institute’s (AMI) Public Service Award in memory of Richard E. Lyng (1918-2003), former AMI president (1973-79) and Secretary of Agriculture under President Ronald Regan.
If confirmed Veneman’s proposed successor, Mike Johanns, Republican governor from Nebraska, will face a cup filled with unfinished business and new leadership challenges. Although new systems may be in order, they don’t come without pressures brought on by a diverse and complex industry.
As Machiavelli writes in his tome “The Prince” in 1513, there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. This still applies, nearly 500 years later. But that does not mean we should not at least try to change. Does that mean reform for the Fourth Estate? What about the Fifth Estate? We can hope.