Date of Award

5-1-2013

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Mass Communication and Media Arts

First Advisor

Babcock, William

Abstract

Agriculture is one of the largest industries in the world. Rural communities in the U.S., and specifically in Southern Illinois, have significant cultural and economic ties to agriculture. Since the 1950s, information about agriculture topics and issues decreased in mainstream media, while niche agriculture and trade publications have become more prevalent. Mainstream media portray agriculture producers as either bucolic, passive people not able to manage their own affairs, or as evil capitalists out to make a profit at any cost. The classic center-periphery model of Johan Galtung (1971) illustrates how economic and political centers benefit by restricting information flow out of, and among industrial and geographic peripheries. The center-periphery model has been used in recent sociology and communication studies to explicate how urban media frame and present rural areas. This study examines agriculture coverage in Southern Illinois newspapers. Agriculture news is evaluated to determine what topics are covered and what perspective is being advanced. Agriculture coverage in 30 newspapers was compared to general news content. In-depth interviews were conducted with editors of four rural newspapers to determine the decision-making process for covering agriculture news. Agriculture news was primarily national in perspective, while general news content was mostly local in perspective. Agriculture commodity markets, youth organization news, and weather related articles were the most common topics in agriculture articles. Front page agriculture stories ranked seventh out of 10 topics in both frequencies and prominence. Editors claim to make local news a priority, but feel they are not qualified to write about most agriculture issues due to the increasing technical nature of the industry.

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