MU to host agricultural media forum

NPR personality Ira Flatow will be the keynote speaker.

Agricultural issues will take center stage at the Reynolds Journalism Institute on Tuesday, when MU hosts “Food, Fuel and Society: Stories from a Changing Landscape.”

The forum will highlight developments in the food and fuel industries and analyze media coverage of such changes. Ira Flatow, host of Science Friday on National Public Radio, will be the keynote speaker for the event.

The forum will be co-hosted by MU, KBIA/91.3 FM and Harvest Public Media, a multimedia venture funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Harvest Public Media will report about agricultural issues on public radio stations from cities around the Midwest.

From 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., the event will host speakers, panels and breakout sessions to discuss issues ranging from the portrayal of agricultural issues in the press to the economic implications of switching to biofuel.

The event is a part of the Mizzou Advantage program, an initiative to highlight and strengthen some of MU’s unique assets. The goals of the forum match the program’s focus on food and media for the future and sustainable energy.

Forum leaders said they hope to encourage discussion by making the vast scope of the industry more accessible.

“We have farmers, journalists and people who help farmers run their farms coming in,” Harvest Public Media reporter Jessica Naudziunas said. “In that way, we’re bringing together a huge industry and breaking it down by panels. What we’re hoping is to make this less formal and more interactive. By that, we mean more discussion, maybe some planning, collaboration and innovation.”

The event marks the launch of Harvest Public Media, which hopes to bring attention to key agricultural issues across the Midwest.

“On the coasts, where most news writers are, they’re not really concerned with these issues,” Naudziunas said. “What we want to do is provide as much news as the East Coast gets about politics or the West Coast gets about gay marriage or marijuana legalization. We thought bringing everyone together in the industry would help us find the weak points in coverage of these issues.”

The journalistic issues discussed at the forum will tie in with the goals of the new venture.

“Our goals are really to begin to reach out to the community of interest, which is about everyone,” Harvest Public Media editor Donna Vestal said. “Food impacts everyone. We have stakeholders who will be involved and talk about how stories are covered, how they’re not covered, how they leave out details that matter. I think there’s a problem with boiling things down to a talking point. These issues are very complicated.”

With the appearance of Flatow, the conference adds a notable name with 35 years of public radio experience.

“He’s been working on science reporting his entire life, so he has a special view that maybe other journalists don’t,” Naudziunas said. “He’s talked to hundreds of scientists. He has this expansive view of science and everything that comes with it.”

Coordinators said MU is an optimal location for several reasons.

“Columbia is full of people who are super engaged, knowledgeable, curious and passionate about these issues, so it’s a good place to do this,” KBIA anchor and event coordinator Janet Saidi said. “Way more students are into agriculture and energy and food issues.”

The forum will also take advantage of resources offered by MU.

“It’s a good hub because we have this world-class journalism institute here with a great space and experts, and we’re in the middle of farm country,” Naudziunas said.

The event is free and open to the public.

“If a student is at all interested in sustainability, they should come,” Naudziunas said. “It’s pretty all-encompassing, and I think there’s a panel that will be interesting to everyone.”

Vestal said the forum might be valuable to journalism students because it highlights a major area of coverage.

“It’s a story that seeps into every part of understanding our community,” Vestal said. “For any aspiring journalists, it would be particularly helpful to think about these issues and how they fit into our coverage. The overall concern that we feed people in this country and other countries in a way that’s affordable is a crucial concern.”

Harvest Public Media members said they hope the forum will be an appropriate starting point for their long-term plans.

“This is much more than a one-day symposium,” Saidi said. “We hope Harvest Public Media will not just be radio stories about agriculture. We really hope it will create a community where we learn from citizens and farmers and people working in the industry, and it’s a two-way street. Let’s create a discussion forum that connects all of us throughout the nation on this topic."

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