The important cause of Washington reporting on agriculture and rural issues is taking a major blow with this week's revelation that the 700 layoffs by Gannett Co. Inc. include Philip Brasher, left, the correspondent for The Des Moines Register.
"It has become increasingly rare for a Midwestern paper to keep an agriculture reporter in Washington, and in fact he was one of the last reporters left reporting solely on national food and agriculture policy for a major media outlet," Paula Crossfield notes on Civil Eats, a blog that says it "promotes critical thought about sustainable agriculture and food systems as part of building economically and socially just communities."
Crossfield writes, "Brasher was one of the only reporters who was not working for agriculture industry-sponsored outlets in the room at Senate and House Agriculture Committee hearings, and played a key role in informing the public about these as well as the inner workings of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. For the most part, the agriculture industry will now have a free reign over coverage of national food policy issues in the Midwest."
Perhaps Crossfield meant "free rein," a common mistake, but in this case she might be accurate, for the lobbying interests do often reign over Washington. There are still several reporters for agricultural trade publications in the capital, but few focus on food or take the independent, incisive tack that we could always expect from Phil Brasher, who has been in the Register bureau since 2002. That's why his name is familiar to readers of The Rural Blog.
Brasher told Crossfield, “This is a critical time for food and agricultural policy because of the deep budget cuts that are coming and the choices that Congress is going to have to make … about what money there is available. It’s vital that the public understands the impact of those policy choices and the tradeoffs they involve.”
We will keep trying to do that, and help rural journalists do that. But it will be more difficult without Phil Brasher.