40 YEARS OF ‘THE FARMER’
A monthly supplement to The Delmarva Farmer
Speaking up for all the ‘skit-kickers’
(Editor’s note: In the very early 1980s, The Delmarva Farmer was one of several newspapers which comprised the Chesapeake Publishing Company, headquarterd in Easton, Md. Chesapeake, itself, was part of the Whitney Communications Co,, publisher of then New York Herald Tribune. Whitney announced that it would hold a conference for all of its Chesapeake newspapers at which each editor would be required to report on present and future plans for his or her publication. The multi-day conference was held in Nassau, in the Bahamas, and key personnel and all the members of the Whitney board, including the late Walter Cronkite, were flown there on five plans — a precaution of course. The Delmarva Farmer was the only non-general news publication in the Whitney chain. It was represented by editor Bruce Hotchkiss, Here are his remarks.)
Dorothy Parker, late of the magazine, once said: “If the British can say shedule, I can say skit.”
With that in mind, I am the editor of the only publication in this group which addresses itself each week to the skit-kickers.
And we do so proudly, with an admitted and unequivocable bias.
I will confess, right off, that The Delmarva Farmer is the most exciting journalistic venture (indeed adventure) in which I have ever been involved.
Substantial and continuing growth, reader and advertiser acceptance and, of course, black ink all play part in that excitement.
But there is so much more to it.
I liken The Delmarva Farmer to a bull – if you don’t lead it, sure as hell it will lead you.
The Delmarva Peninsula, consisting of nine of Maryland’s 23 counties, all of Delaware (a mere three counties) and the two Eastern Shore counties of Virginia, encompasses 5,400 square miles. Eighty-five percent of that land is devoted to agriculture.
Yet, prior to the creation of The Delmarva Farmer, there was no newspaper devoted entirely and exclusively to the farming interests of that tremendously fertile and productive peninsula.
We stepped into a vacuum – and we filled it, into open and eager arms.
I have often looked back and pondered the elements of our success within the agricultural community, if for no other reason than to etch them on my mind and to be sure they’re present as we continue to expand our readership and marketing area.
Out of these factors, I believe, emerges the personality of the newspaper – a combination of the flavor and temper of the words, the kinds of stories which they form, and the nature of the people who write them.
Briefly, I’d like to talk about these things. I’d like to discuss The Farmer’s personality, because I think it’s the key to where we are and where we’re going.
In the beginning The Farmer had a staff of two. Ken Harvey, as advertising director and I as editor.
Our selection for those positions was more appropriate than those who made them might have known. Ken is one of 13 children of a Cecil County, Md., farm family. I had spent most of my youth on a 1,000-acre dairy farm in Northern New Jersey.
We talked the farmer’s language, so to speak, and we shared an appreciation of the land and it’s bounty. Both of us had lived through the hard times and the good times on the farm and we brought those perspectives with us to the paper.
That pattern, to a large extent, had been followed in subsequent appointments to the staff. We have employed – or do now employ – a woman who single-handedly ran the family Holstein dairy operations; another woman who had been a milk tester for the Dairy Herd Improvement Association and more recently an executive secretary for a large feed grain cooperative; a young journalism graduate of Maryland state college who continues to live on her Delaware family farm because she has been blind since birth; and a farmer Navy pilot who turned crop duster and who turned photographer for The Farmer when a wing of his aerial spray plane fell off on a rough landing.
I once had a farmer tell me: “You know what I like about you and your paper, Hotchkiss? You don’t pretend to know everything.”
Well, that is certainly true, and I don’t. But agriculture is a precise science and I realized we could not fly forever by the seat of our pants.
Largely because of the prestige the newspaper had accumulated, we were able to attract two specialists to the news staff. Both young men are recent graduates – one of Penn State and the other of Delaware. Each holds two degrees – one in Journalism or English and the other in agricultural and/or plant science.
They give body to the staff and, as you might imagine, provide me with a great deal of comfort when the stories get agriculturally complex.
Again, the common denominator is there – a passion not only for what we’re doing but for the people whom we’re doing it – the farmer and his family.
Other factors in the equation…
You’ve heard, of course, that farmers are cussedly independent. That’s right, they are. They’re also nosey. They share a constant desire to know what their neighbors – and colleagues – are doing – what they are planting, what new equipment they’re buying, what management systems they’re initiating, how they’re adjusting to soaring fertilizer costs.
We attempt, on a wide variety of fronts, to respond to that nosiness, that curiosity.
But never in a ponderous or super-technical way. We leave that to the specialists in our universities and to agribusiness scientists who also share our columns.
Staff written material is warm, congenial, never pompous, as concerned with who the farmer is as with what he’s doing.
With that tone, that flavor, we developed a home-town image and it persists despite our recent expansion off the Delmarva Peninsula into Western and Central Maryland.
(To buttress that image, we zone three separate editions – one into Delaware, one to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and a third to northern and central Maryland counties across the Chesapeake Bay. This permits tailored home-town farm news coverage in the three areas.)
Obviously, over something like 12,000 square miles we can’t cover everything. We are extremely selective of the major farm events of the week, seeking those with the widest possible potential for interest.
Geography plays a part in our planning, too. We try to put a reporter into each of those 20 counties we now actively cover on some regular basis to maintain visibility.
Members of the news staff are home-based in Easton, Md., on the Eastern Shore; in Ellendale, Del., near the lower portion of the state; in Wilmington, Del., at the very top of the state; and in Frederick, Md., in the heart of the dairy country on the Western Shore.
That is strategic, but still requires a great amount of travel time.
The staff comes together once a week, on Sundays, to put it all together.
On that farm in New Jersey where I grew up, we raised, among other things, Suffolk draft horses. They were the pride and joy of my aunt, whose family wealth was largely responsible for the farm in the first place.
One evening, during a rather elegant dinner party at the main farmhouse, she received a call from the barns that one of the Suffolk mares was having a difficult time giving birth.
She rushed from the party and, with me in tow, sped to the barn.
Only the feet of the foal showed from the mare. She grabbed a rope from the tack room, tied it around the small hocks and digging her gold lame slippers into the bedding and manure, she pulled.
I recall that she thought the slippers were ruined. But it was worth it, she said.
That’s how I feel about The Delmarva Farmer every Sunday night and Monday morning. The birth is difficult, but it’s worth it.