This is only the third letter I’ve written in this space. (Well, fourth, if you count the letter I wrote to President Bill Clinton as he was inaugurated. I don’t remember what I told him, and I’m pretty sure he never read it, although a kind Farm and Dairy reader called me at the time to encourage me to mail it to Washington.)
I kind of feel like I’m at that point again — imparting wisdom as you start the next, exciting stage in your life as Farm and Dairy editor-in-chief. And you can do exactly what my kids did with their missives: a) read it and chuck it in File 13; b) tear it out to read later and promptly forget where you put it; or c) read it, and ponder all these things in your heart. Or whatever.
I’m being flip, but this is kind of a big deal. And here’s why: Farm and Dairy’s readers are the best. They are hard-working, smart and kind. They are the neighbors you want to have. They care.
You’ve earned their respect just by being affiliated with Farm and Dairy. Don’t screw that up. Earn their trust weekly. Daily. They need the information you are providing. You owe them the very best ag journalism you can corral. You need to give them information to grow, to learn, to think. That, and a little fun now and again.
Speaking of fun, don’t mess with the crossword puzzle. You’ll get letters.
You’ll also get letters or emails or phone calls when someone doesn’t like something you’ve published. You’ll get more of those than accolades for a job well done. But those are important conversations. Heed them. I always think that if someone took the time to write or call, it mattered a lot to them, and it’s important for me to listen and know why. You won’t necessarily agree, but that’s what makes the world go ’round.
In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Sometimes I purposefully publish information that I know goes against the grain of the majority of our readers. I figured that was my job, too — to share information that might broaden someone’s perspective, or make them think.
We in agriculture can be tucked in our own little silos sometimes. We like it there in our own little world. It’s safe.
But it’s not the whole world, and sometimes we can learn new things and, yes, even change our minds (gasp!) when we venture outside our comfort zone. I love our readers, but I also want them to grow, so I tried to bring the world to them. I hope you do, too.
On Monday, you came to my desk, excited to show me a handwritten note from a subscriber that read simply, “To the owners and staff: I believe you have one of the finest papers anywhere.” When we’re grinding out another issue and juggling assignments and stories and social media and deadlines and legislation and court cases (and you have a bazillion things to do on your own sheep farm), it’s often difficult to see the big picture and remember the importance of what we do. Keep that reader in your mind each week. We have one of the finest papers anywhere.
Everywhere I go, people ask me how I do it — and my answer has always been, “I’m surrounded by good people. They make me look good.” Any success I’ve had has not been solely of my own accord. There’s been a newsroom team that has been beside me, sometimes leading me. Surround yourself with good people.
“If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a terrible warning.” (OK, so that’s not the best advice, but it always made me laugh.)
But the other little illustration by Mary Engelbreit shares perhaps the best inspiration: To thine own self be true.
(Susan Crowell is wrapping up 34 years with Farm and Dairy, the last 30 as editor, at the end of June. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-837-3419.)
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