In the dairy industry we are all too familiar with the activists that take undercover video at dairy farms and splash them all over the internet. Those are the activists we can see and we understand their motives—to make money and end all animal agriculture.
But there are activists out there that we can’t see that can have an equally devastating impact on the dairy industry. These are media activists.
Now, I’m not calling out my dairy media brethren. I have too much respect for their ability to represent dairy producers and the industry in a fair light. I’m talking about the some of the reporters in consumer media.
As a media person myself, I long for the days gone by when the media just shared the facts and let readers form their own opinions. Today, consumer media is ultra-competitive and only the outlandish news and scandals catch the attention of readers.
An example of this presented itself recently when a news reporter from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote a story that exposed salary levels for executives at Dairy Management Incorporated (DMI). That story was later picked up by the USA Today. The article posted salary levels for CEO Tom Gallagher and several other executives and made reference to how those salaries were way higher than people in the same positions at similar organizations. The article also noted how dairy producers contribute an inordinate amount of money into the checkoff organization, significantly more than what beef and pork producers contribute.
I’m not disparaging the executive salary data, but I wish the folks at DMI would have had a chance to defend themselves. When I spoke with Gallagher he said DMI answered several of the reporter’s questions, but none of those answers made it into the story. As my colleague Jim Dickrell points out, DMI may have noted that not all of the $420 million collected by the checkoff program is farmer dollars. The MILK Pep checkoff is added onto the Class I price, so consumers actually pay that. They also may have said that farmers actually voted in the checkoff and 15-cent deduction in 1983, when the milk prices was $13/cwt. Plus, the percentage of the dairy producer milk check paid to the checkoff is completely market driven. When milk was $25/cwt, the dairy checkoff's 15 cents might have been the lowest per $100 of market value of any of the checkoffs.
Instead the reporter was picking and choosing his information from a dairy media person who has opposed the checkoff for decades and a dairy producer who is a former DMI board member and now an employee of HSUS.
Obviously that reporter had an agenda, and it was an easy story to write. Dairy executives fill their pockets while dairy producers struggle to survive. It created an uproar across the dairy community, judging by the posts on social media.
We decided to do the right thing. We posted the information contained in the article, but we also let Gallagher explain his position. Then we let you decide how you felt about the issue. That’s what ethical journalism is all about.