I appreciate the interest that’s being generated in this year’s International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ presidium election. The presidium, the four-person body entrusted with the day-to-day operations of the federation, is elected every two years by delegates at the federation’s annual congress.
I’ve been the federation’s secretary general for the past four years; now, I’m running for vice-president, having been nominated by the Canadian Farm Writers Federation, to which I’m very grateful. The election is later this month, at the congress in Sweden. Last year’s congress, which I co-chaired with my CFWF colleague Lilian Schaer, was held in Canada.
Over the past weeks leading up to the election I’ve engaged with several IFAJ members about important issues. These discussions have helped me fashion my platform for the IFAJ vice-presidency, which I’m pleased to bring forward here.
Professional development and education in agricultural journalism have long been my passion. I’ve been fortunate to meld them into a career as an active agricultural journalist and as a communications instructor and administrator at the University of Guelph. I feel this blend has meshed well with the evolving responsibilities of the secretary general, particularly in overseeing the federation’s growing suite of professional development and education opportunities — namely, contests, awards and opportunities.
I’ve been humbled to help develop and work with enthusiastic colleagues and sponsors – as well as recipients — on increasingly popular professional development initiatives such as:
– The IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism award and its associated boot camp, the latter initiated as a suggestion by Slovenia’s Branko Vrabek;
– The Master Class program for journalists from underdeveloped countries, created through the leadership of The Netherlands-based NGO Agriterra and Jose van Gelder;
– The IFAJ-Yara Award for Sustainable Agriculture Reporting, launched through the vision of Denmark’sJorgen Lund Christiansen; and
– The IFAJ broadcast awards, which Liz Harfull of Australia put forward with an eye towards the future of video and electronic communication.
IFAJ members have said through surveys that professional development is a priority, and it’s guided my role as a presidium member. Given that IFAJ is the main professional development bodies for many of our members, it’s imperative that we dedicate our energies to servicing and bolstering professional development initiatives.
So, without further adieu, here is my five-point platform.
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1. Transparency. IFAJ must strive to make sure its operations are transparent. Decisions must be made openly and communicated clearly to all members. This must be an imperative of the presidium, of the executive and of executive committees. There is room for improvement in this area; the application of transparency must keep pace with the many additional responsibilities (particularly in professional development) the all-volunteer federation has assumed. Perhaps IFAJ leaders can learn from member guilds who have likewise addressed this matter and are realizing positive results.
2. Solvency. The federation needs operating capital. Presently, that comes from a healthy mix of sponsorships and memberships. To support the federation, I believe in pursuing additional sponsorship opportunities , rather than increasing the price of dues or subscriptions. We know sponsors are behind us and interested in being part of IFAJ. For them, no other global organization offers exposure to such a breadth of agricultural journalists. Likewise, federation members benefit from the professional development opportunities and services sponsorship makes possible. We must identify and support leadership among IFAJ members committed to helping reinforce and strengthen our sponsorship quotient.
3. Strong guilds. Over the past year the IFAJ strategic committee gathered data for the new strategic plan, and put forward what I consider one of its most important recommendations: that is, the need to support individual guilds. Strong guilds and grassroots vitality is essential for the federation’s health. I believe IFAJ can help by connecting leading guilds with others that could benefit from the wisdom that comes with experience and progressive thought. Best management practices for everything from hosting a congress to attracting new members to can be shared among federation members, on the website, through social media channels, through the newsletter and at congresses. Additionally, the presidium can help strengthen guilds – and maybe even help start new ones — by being open to suggestions and requests for guidance and assistance, such as the way IFAJ and past president David Markey of Ireland supported long-time member Hans Siemes of The Netherlands in overseeing an election for the new agricultural journalism guild in Ukraine.
4. Globalization. IFAJ is a global organization, and has an opportunity to offer guidance to journalists in countries who are not as fortunate to have organized guilds, nor even a democratically based media. Programs such as the Master Class for journalists from underdeveloped countries is a strong start towards building guilds in new regions, as is the federation’s shifting mindset from a federation restricted to members from countries with a free press, to now focusing on countries where agricultural journalists struggle as repressed media. The regional approach put forward by initiatives such as the European Network of Agricultural Journalists and the South American countries involved in the inaugural Master Class programs is a positive step towards keeping IFAJ members connected, and towards nurturing a new legion of IFAJ members who can be guided and assisted in the development of their own constitution and agricultural journalism guild(s).
5. Representation. At the Swedish congress, IFAJ will consider adopting the strategic committee’s recommendation that leadership for various activities (especially new activities) of the federation be shared among a wide group of members. The downside of this approach is that it’s a challenge to manage. The upside is that it has the potential to involve a wider representation of IFAJ members, particularly executive members who have shone as committee leaders or in some other leadership capacity, and now they want to further expand their horizons. This approach will require flexibility from the presidium and close communication with the new leaders, particularly in the areas of finance and policy. However, as this approach has the potential to encourage wider representation and involvement by IFAJ members, it should be encouraged and nurtured. It also has the potential to strengthen committee activities, another area in which there is room for improvement.
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I look forward to your comments and suggestions…and hopefully, your support. Thank you for your interest, and thanks to my colleagues who have mentored me over the years in IFAJ.