Monday 13 August
I arrive at the office apprehensive. It’s week two of the foot-and-mouth outbreak.
The weekend has been quiet and there have been no suspect cases for a couple of days, but foot-and-mouth is something that no one in the countryside wanted to experience again.
I spend the morning in our weekly diary meeting dissecting our coverage in last week’s magazine as well as online.
The feeling is that we had addressed all the big issues – not least because of the positive feedback we’ve been getting through our new online forums, FWiSpace. They are proving invaluable as a way of getting information out to farmers quickly and also for picking up leads from our readers.
The job of community editor is a new post in the Farmers Weekly Group and a lot of it is about championing the voice of the reader. It really worked in this instance – they’ve asked questions and we’ve used our influence to get them answers.
I dedicate my afternoon to sorting through harvest pictures submitted by readers. We’ve set up an online picture gallery which is proving phenomenally successful – it’s one of several initiatives that have helped boost traffic to the forums area of the website by 500 per cent.
Farmers love looking at pictures of big machines, so I pick a selection to run in the magazine. This will make a few people very happy: there’s a lot of kudos attached to having one of your pictures appear in FW.
Tuesday 14 August
I sub a piece from one of our columnists who farms in the foot-and-mouth outbreak area.
Farmers tend to be quite suspicious of the media, but he argues that there has been some really sympathetic coverage over the past week and they should build on this to get positive press once this crisis has passed.
I have a brief panic when I hear that there are two new suspect cases – is this going to make the column look out of date? But contacts soon tell us that they are sure they are false alarms, so I cross my fingers and pass the page.
I spend the afternoon talking to a few of our bloggers. We’ve started five blogs – some written by farming experts such as David Richardson and Matthew Naylor and others by journalists. Blogging daily can be a challenge – luckily our bloggers seem to have plenty to say and are good at injecting their own personality and humour into their posts.
Wednesday 15 August
I swap a few emails with a farmer from Kansas who recently spent a month in the UK staying with some of the farmers he met on our discussion forums. I’m trying to persuade him to write a piece for the magazine about what the US Farm Bill will mean for his business.
One of the hot topics at the moment in journalism is user-generated content. Some people are suspicious of what it means, but to me, this example highlights its value. I know the guy from Kansas can write – I read his contributions every day – and what he has to say will probably have more impact on readers than if an “observer” wrote it, because he is a farmer himself.
A big sigh of relief in the office as Defra confirms that the two suspect foot-and-mouth cases are clear and announces a timetable for unravelling the livestock movement ban.
Nicely timed, as it is press day for the magazine and this is the sort of detailed information that farmers need but won’t be picked up by other media.
Thursday 16 August
The morning is taken up with a meeting of the entire editorial team to talk about how best to manage the challenges of developing our business online, while maintaining the quality of our market-leading print product. The average age of farmers may be 58, but they aren’t afraid to embrace technology, and many are now seeking information online – we want to stay ahead of the game.
The afternoon is spent sorting through readers letters. We’re lucky: we get a packed postbag on a huge variety of issues. This week’s selection includes one from a Brazilian vet defending production standards in his homeland (UK farmers feel that Brazilian beef is not as safe as British beef and are pushing for a ban) and another from a farmer who has sent in flood pictures dating back to 1937.
The care and attention that goes into some of these letters is amazing – some of them are as well-researched as any story by a professional.
Reading them reminds me that UGC isn’t a new concept in journalism. We’ve always majored on it, but my job is all about trying to capitalise on the opportunities new technology presents us for acquiring it.
Friday 17 August
Battling with software is one of the biggest challenges of this job, and I spend a couple of hours getting to grips with the technology behind the discussion forums.
I end the week in much the same way I started it – checking various websites, including Defra, to ensure that there have been no new foot-and-mouth developments.
Fortunately, all seems quiet, so I seize the opportunity to join a colleague’s leaving party.
The 2007 foot-and-mouth outbreak may have been handled by Government a whole lot better than the one in 2001, but it has still been a long two weeks for me.
Isabel Davies is Community Editor of Farmers Weekly