Pamela Henderson: Recognized for Service Journalism
Pamela Henderson, the crops and issues editor of Farm Journal,
won this year’s Grand Neal Award for editorial achievement. She is the
first agricultural journalist to win a Grand Neal Award and beat out 32
other category winners for the honor.
Henderson’s nine-article series entitled "Asian Soybean Rust Takes Root
in the U.S.," which won Best Subject-Related Series of Articles for
magazines with more than $7 million in revenue, was published between
January and May 2005. The series is an "educational sourcebook for
farmers that can be referenced for many years to come." In researching
the series of articles, Henderson traveled to many places in the
U.S.;and all the way to Brazil – to speak with farmers affected by the
disease and find out how it affected their businesses.
Farm Journal, a 128-year old publication, is published by Philadelphia-based Farm Journal Media.
FOLIO: As the first agriculture journalist to ever win, do you feel like a pioneer?
Henderson: Whoa…a pioneer. Not really. I think it shows you
don’t need a big team of people to do a good job. It also validates the
fact that we are serious journalists that deal with important business
topics. Some might think a soybean disease is not a big deal, but
soybeans are an $18 billion industry. We eat them. Things we eat, eat
them. Soybeans are in pastas, plastics and pesticides. A devastating
disease with no known cure threatened. I simply went back to my roots
of service journalism to help farmers figure out how to survive the
FOLIO: What does winning mean to you personally?
Henderson: I see it as confirmation that I took an important
topic and covered it well enough to make other people notice. I knew
when soybean rust hit that many others would be writing about this
subject. So I looked for other ways to present the information that
would be both compelling and helpful. The series was also recognized
last year as the top story of the year by the American Agricultural
Editors Association (AAEA). To have it recognized across other business
segments is a little like winning the World Series after having won the
FOLIO: How did you start on the series of articles?
Henderson: I actually started
tracking the problem before it became big enough to write about. I
attended a meeting of the American Phytopathological Society and heard
a plant pathology researcher talk about Asian soybean rust. I
recognized that should this disease ever reach the U.S., it would be
huge to the agriculture industry. When the disease showed up in Brazil,
things started heating up and people started getting scared. When
soybean rust hit the U.S. in November 2004, I was ready. I had been
working with the major researchers and they knew me and trusted me. I
went to Brazil and visited with farmers who had lived through it;good
because I could reassure American farmers that there was hope beyond
the disease. It was service journalism at a time when it was needed.
There were a lot of other articles being written about Asian soybean
rust, but most of those were "the sky is falling" kind of approaches
and didn’t address the practical aspects of what to do on the farm
level. Also, we had a story waiting when the disease hit. I was able to
tweak it to hit the highlights of what had happened and combine it with
what farmers needed to know almost immediately.
FOLIO: Now that you’re a Grand Neal recipient, will this change the way you report and write stories in the future?
Henderson: I think we have to
continually think of ways to look beyond the obvious ways of presenting
information. We may love words, but readers are very visual. For one of
the articles in this series, I worked with an artist to illustrate how
the disease works through the soybean plant. That was very well
FOLIO: Is there anything you’d like people to know about yourself and/or Farm Journal?
Henderson: I have four
generations on my family farm in Illinois. I constantly ask myself what
it is they need to know and then write about it. Farm Journal
afforded me a wonderful opportunity with this series because my editors
gave me the space I needed to tell the story. This may be our first
Grand Neal winning entry, but many other Farm Journal efforts have been
just as deserving over the magazine’s 128-year history.