TWIN FALLS, Idaho — A big part of our job as journalists is asking questions. Most of the time, we ask people about agriculture-related trends, events, research and other newsworthy items.
Last week, we switched gears and asked some of our readers about the Capital Press. We wanted to know what they think about the newspaper and its website and what we could do better.
Our goal was to get a reality check and determine how well we serve our readers and advertisers, and what we could do to attract more of both.
The answers we got were encouraging, helpful and more than a little flattering.
The first question we asked was what the most pressing issue is in agriculture.
“Water,” was the immediate answer. In Idaho, and across the West, water is the key for any farm or ranch.
“Labor,” said another, adding that a lot of ag sectors rely on foreign-born workers.
“Commodity prices,” said a third, referring to the slide in many prices.
Other answers included the conversion of ag land to other uses, the GMO debate, the public’s lack of knowledge about agriculture and animal care, and the impression that Boise “drives the bus” on many issues in the state Capitol.
When we asked about our coverage, we were told that the regional approach we take to agriculture is appreciated. We have three reporters in Idaho, three in Washington state, two in Oregon — plus four sister newspapers in Eastern Oregon that supply us with ag coverage — and one reporter in Northern California.
Our panel was composed of six farmers involved in a range of agriculture that includes dairy, hay and forage production, research, cattle and general farming.
“We need to know what’s going on in those others states,” one of the panelists said.
And, according to another panelist, farmers and regulators in others states could benefit from Idaho’s experience, especially when it comes to managing wolves.
“Washington should have read what Idaho went through five or 10 years ago,” he said, referring to the missteps Washington’s wildlife managers have made.
Sometimes, the conversation took an unexpected turn. Agriculture is more than just another industry, one panelist said. “Agriculture is a part of our national security.”
He not only mentioned the importance of agriculture in feeding the world, but that most farms are vulnerable.
“All it takes is someone with a drone and bacteria flying over our farms,” he said.
Besides printing a newspaper once a week, we also have a robust website that is updated daily and can be viewed on any computer or smart phone.
During our conversation we found a direct correlation between age and how much readers use our online edition: the older the reader, the less the online edition was viewed.
The youngest person in the room read the Capital Press online exclusively. She even suggested we expand our presence on social media such as Facebook.
The oldest panelist didn’t read the Capital Press online at all. Those whose ages were in the middle said their online use was also in the middle.
Other parts of the Capital Press that were singled out were the Opinion page — “a good voice for ag” — and the Western Innovator features that anchor Page 2 each week.
Readers also suggested areas for improvement. Mentioned were more coverage of wheat and barley variety trials, including more forage and milk prices on the Markets page, which they described as the “only place to find regional prices.” Auctions are also a high-interest item.
One area on which all the panelists agreed was how much of what passes for “news” online really isn’t news at all. It’s either inaccurate, one-sided or just plain wrong, especially when it targets agriculture.
One exception, they said, was the Capital Press.
Carl Sampson is managing editor of the Capital Press and www.capitalpress.com.