Meet the journalist: Ken Fletcher, editor of Scottish Farmer
As we embark on the month of June, there are three little words that we hear A LOT in our office …. the Royal Highland Show, which takes place every year in June and sees the Country’s finest agri-journalists descend on the Royal Highland Centre for four days to report on the best of food, farming and rural life.
So, who better to speak to for our Meet the Journalist series, than editor of The Scottish Farmer Ken Fletcher!
Ken has been with The Scottish Farmer since 1977 and has seen a lot of change in agriculture and journalism in that time. He is only the sixth editor of The SF and this year it celebrates its 125th birthday.
We wanted to ask him more about how print journalism has evolved, how he sees The Scottish Farmer impacting change in a challenging industry and what it’s like for him working in a digital age…
What do you read/where do you get your news (not your own)?
“This is not the clear-cut answer that it used to be. At one time, it was other newspapers, TV and hard copy press releases, but now there is a veritable deluge of information available via e-mail and, of course, the internet. But what is clear is that the journalists’ role is becoming ever-more challenging in disseminating between the ‘real’ and the ‘fake’ news … or, increasingly and probably more importantly, the ‘slightly true, but essentially fake’ news.”
Did you always know you wanted to be a journalist?
“No. I wanted to milk cows!”
What have been your career highlights?
“I won the Guild of Agricultural Journalist’s Netherthorpe award as ‘Communicator of the Year’ a couple of years back and was involved in the organisation the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists World Congress in Scotland in 2014, which was a hugely successful, but tiring event. However, the big highlight for me – even after 40-odd years as a farming journalist – is to be satisfied with the newspaper that 15,000 farmers read every week. As with everything, some weeks are better than others … but some are great! And I would include our coverage of The Royal Highland Show as one of the great moments each year.”
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
“Love many, trust a few … but always paddle your own canoe.”
What, in your experience, are the advantages of a good journalist/PR relationship?
“What we are involved in is not a game. A good working relationship within the ‘news’ industry, from whichever angle it comes from, is essential. Most of all, this relationship should be built on trust and if you fail to adhere to that – on both sides – then it can break down. We are lucky in the industry to have professionals who understand the business and the frailties within.”
What’s the worst habit of a PR?
“Asking if their press release has been/will be used – and why not if it hasn’t.”
What challenges do journalists face today?
“Sorting out what’s important. The plethora of news available from all sources means that this is sometimes difficult – but ultimately it’s our job to cut out the crap.”
How do you prefer PRs get in touch with you? (e.g. Email/phone/in person/Twitter)
“I don’t mind – it’s always good to talk – however, I am not a Twatter!”
What stories/angles are you looking for?
How are you making the most of your digital and social media platforms? And why do you think these are important for your readership?
“It’s the dilemma for all publishers … that of getting the mix right between online and hard copy sales. The key word here is ‘sales’, as that’s what we all do it for. The world-wide-web has been great for monetising lots of things, but unfortunately publishing isn’t one of them, so far. Until now, we have all been torn between giving it away free and then trying to make it return the same income as hard copy sales. The two do not mix well, that’s why pay walls are popping up for many of the mainstream newspapers. However, the one hope we have is that people are getting fed up with the so-called ‘fake news’ factor and are increasingly showing a willingness to pay for unique and accurate content that the likes of The Scottish Farmer can provide. Facebook and Twitter are great drivers to our website and will continue to be so.”
The Scottish Farmer represents a sector with a wide age range, how do you ensure the content is engaging for all readers?
“It’s been around for 125 years and so it must be doing something right. However, younger people have so many options these days that it’s in our interests to represent them as much as we can. Young people are challenging the ‘it’s aye been’ attitude of their forebears and are increasingly aware of their opportunities. As a newspaper, it’s up to us to report on their fears and wishes on hot topics like succession and new smart farming techniques and that will be evident in the coming months.”
How do the challenges in Scottish agricultural impact The Scottish Farmer and do you see the publication as a lobbying platform?
“We are a pretty good gauge of how well the industry is doing. There’s no doubt the last year was as challenging for service businesses like ours as it has been for farmers. The weather and Brexit have reduced confidence. That is the way it is, but we will always live up to our motto of ‘Supporting farmers in Scotland since 1893’ and that includes doing our bit to influence positive changes for the industry.”
What three things are you championing right now?
“We have had a highly successful campaign highlighting the effects of dog worrying attacks on livestock. This has been raised in Parliament and we are confident that the momentum gained from this joint TSF/NFUS/NSA effort will produce changes.
“It’s always been the case that women in farming have been the unsung heroes. So, we have embarked upon a regular fortnightly ‘Women in Agriculture’ feature and there’s no reason to suggest that we cannot continue this indefinitely.
“Thirdly, we always support the right of farmers to make a living from what they do. We will always challenge daft re-wilding plans and indeed have campaigned hard regarding issues with predators, specifically foxes, sea eagles and ravens, which the real people on the ground see as becoming out of kilter. The rights of those who work on the land are more important to us than the opinions of righteous ‘weekenders’. The two are not incompatible, but only if the balance is right.”
You’ve been working with Represent and the Royal Highland Show for a long time, how would you describe this relationship?
“As I said, respect and trust are the by-words for any relationship between a PR and The Press. In this instance, that is exactly the case – we know and trust each other. And, we should all be grateful that we live, breathe and represent a truly great industry.”