“Don’t Hog My View”: A tourist hot spot turns into the stomping ground for 2,500 hogs on their way to the slaughterhouse

John Eligon, a writer for the NYT, writes about a controversial hog farm in Mount Judea, Arkansas ( http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/28/us/2500-pigs-join-debate-over-farms-vs-scenery.html?_r=1 ) that has rocked its community ever since. Eligon includes many different perspectives and opinions from the community regarding its new “neighbors.” The environmental and economical repercussions of such a farm are the major issues being discussed in this article, but what the author doesn’t include are issues pertaining to the moral or societal implications at large that such a farm could produce.

In your opinion, does the journalist do a good job at exposing the most crucial elements of this story? With regard to the content of the material, what should we as journalists be focusing on when it comes to the agricultural food industry? Is it the environment, the moral implications of these farms, or the community aspects?

What is the most “newsy” story that can be told from corporate farming? Is the viewpoint of the farmer, the corporate head of operations, the neighbor, or the hog? Which perspective is the most crucial for a given story in your opinion? Which perspectives does this journalist fail to mention, if any, and who should he have included in his investigation? Moreover, how does he represent some of the key players in this story? Does he represent them all in equal light, or are these some characters in his story that play out their roles differently than others?

As is mentioned by one person in the story, what sets this hog operation apart from other operations the area has seen before is the sheer size of it. According to the article, more than “2,500 sows” will be present in the area, thus being larger than all the surrounding areas hog farms combined. The size of this operation is a huge problem. How does the author prove that this observation is significant?

What do you think went into producing a story such as this? What various activities did the journalist need to do in order to research this topic sufficiently? Do you think the agricultural food industry is more difficult to write about and research for than other topics such as climate change, or do you think it is easier? Describe why you think reporting on food is harder or easier than other topics. Moreover, why is food such a controversial topic for people? As can be seen in this article, there are many opinions of people within the community, along with outside sources. Do you think it would be difficult for the author to infiltrate such an operation seeing as though he did not include quotes from the farm owners and operators? Why did he not enter the hog farm itself? Do you think he tried, or is more likely that he tried to gain entrance and was refused? Is this just? Should agricultural food companies be able to hide what they are doing if it affects the surrounding areas and community members, or should they be forced to show what their operations are undertaking? Is it our job as journalists to uncover this truth at whatever cost, or are there certain rules that we must obey as journalists when writing about a topic such as food production?


5 Responses to ““Don’t Hog My View”: A tourist hot spot turns into the stomping ground for 2,500 hogs on their way to the slaughterhouse”

  1. I think that the author of this article did a good job of providing an overview of the issue. However, I did not feel a sense of urgency towards the issue until the end of the article, when the author quoted hydrogeologist who said that there was a greater than 95% that the hog farm would negatively impact the environment and water quality in the area. That quote really piqued my interest, and I wish that it had been introduced earlier in the article in order to keep the reader engaged. I was not very interested in the topic until that quote, which completely surprised me.
    This article would have been improved by adding an economic perspective. The author briefly touched on this issue: the farm is a bright spot in an area with high poverty. Will this farm have a large impact on the economy of the region? Will it create many much-needed jobs? These questions are not answered in the article, and I am curious about them.
    I think that food is definitely a controversial topic! People do not want to know that the origins of their food are problematic. This is easy to ignore, since the issues are not apparent once the food reaches supermarket shelves. It can be difficult to avoid problematic food, so even if people want to change what they eat there is little they can do!
    I agree that the article is definitely lacking an opinion from the farm owner. I am interested to know how they would defend their operation. I think that the author must have attempted to contact them, as it is such as integral part of the article. Despite the fact that this perspective is missing, the author did a good job of providing a variety of other perspectives.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts on this article! In my opinion, the journalist does a good job at exposing crucial elements of the story. I think the journalist was able to do this because he brought in all of the different factors of the environment, moral implications, and community opinions surrounding this story that you mentioned. All of these factors are important.

    I think all of the perspectives presented in the story were very important as well, because it allowed for the reader to think about the different sides and considerations that were taken into account (or not taken into account) when the pig farm was built. I would say in this story the viewpoint of “the hog” you mention is missing, and I would imagine that there could be information on how the pigs themselves are treated at the farm.

    I liked that the journalist presented differing viewpoints of the citizens in Mount Judea. Starting with a picture of Charles Campbell, who was fine with the farm’s operations contrasted the initial viewpoint introduced in the story. I think the journalist also did a good job presenting these differing viewpoints in equal light.

    I think the agricultural food industry may be more difficult to write about, as I’m guessing most people don’t know the exact mechanics and practices that are behind the food industry compared to the more publicized climate change. As past examples of journalism and storytelling have shown – such as The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – I think it is important that journalists uncover truths about food production. They lead to changes in regulation and expectations of food safety. To what extent a journalist should go to uncover these truths, however, would probably be up to the journalist.

  3. I think you ask a lot of good questions. I don’t think I can provide adequate answers for all of them, so I am going to focus on two in particular.

    I think the journalist did an excellent job in exposing the most crucial elements of the story. When you discuss a community issue such as a large company putting ground down in a meaningful area to a nearby people, the issue can seemingly be put into the context of a two-sided story, where there is a community vs. the corporate company. However, one thing that Eligon does very well is to capture the different voices in the community, and illustrate not just the passion that the community holds, but also the indifference as well. In community vs. corporation conflicts, it can be easy to assume that all of the community is united, and outraged. However, we get a sense in this piece that not all of the town is completely concerned about the development- which adds a sense of the laissez-faire attitude that residents hold towards issues outside of their own concern.

    Eligon does a fantastic job as well at incorporating the science into this piece. When I was reading this piece, I was thinking in my head: “Okay, so this is a classic case of a company using the natural resources and claiming nothing bad will happen. How likely is this, really? Is this environmentally significant in terms of danger?” I thought that Eligon did a great job at bringing in Harvard scientist research and explaining the extremely complicated dynamics of ecosystem science in a way that allows the reader to conclude that it is indeed not good for the land, although it is not the next BP oil spill. The details and writing allow the reader to conclude “hmm. Okay, not good at all, but not the worst thing to ever happen”.

  4. I think a topic like this is tough to report on, because enough reporting has been done to create what one might call a generally informed environment, but clearly factory farming is still an unresolved issue. In other words, I highly doubt that most Americans think factory farming is humane or safe, but something is missing in either the journalism or the response to it that prevents major political and social action. So while I agree that this article is missing an “ethical” perspective, I hate to say it, but that perspective is a bit redundant at this point. You can go on youtube and watch videos of unbelievable animal cruelty, but it’s far too easy for the viewer to absolve themselves of any involvement. What this article does well, then, is personalize it. It shows you how a factory farm can affect one community — economically, environmentally, aesthetically — and localizes what is usually a large philosophical argument over animal welfare. And while one could argue that this article’s specificity will render it useless on a national audience, I think the Mount Judea functions like the main character in any piece of good journalism: it’s specific, it’s unique, but it reveals larger issues at stake.

  5. I found the opening of this article to be insubstantial and weak. I’m hoping the journalist wasn’t responsible for it, but the title itself positions scenery as the focus of the article, creating a mawkish downplay on the situation’s environmental impact.

    The author covered an impressive amount of engaging, interesting and important information, however, if I hadn’t been assigned the article I’m not sure I would have reached these points. The beginning is slow and builds on what seem to me to be petty points about tourism, reducing pristine ecosystems to a visual and monetary feature. It’s not until more than half way through the article that the importance of any of this is properly conveyed.

    I appreciated hearing the perspectives from neighbors, I think it is insightful to have a snapshot of what opinions float around with people that are peripherally involved in an issue.
    The perspective given by “supporters” seemed odd to me. What is a supporter in this instance? Is this a political alignment, a neutral stance, people who benefit, people who are paying for them to be there? I think the role was poorly established, and hearing a statement from them that they trust that they will do “all they can to make sure that the farm does not hurt the ecosystem” should be more substantiated.

    Further, I think that if you’re going to give a perspective such as the one that the spokesperson for Cargill gives about “what if scenarios” I think it would only be fair to include an environmental rebuttal explaining how many of these operations do cause measurable problems in other scenarios.

    To answer some of your questions, from my perspective, yes, they expose the most crucial elements, but they wait to long to do it. I may be overly biased as a student in environmental science, but I find that the most crucial issue here is the environmental destruction, and I think that most people studying or well exposed environmental science would take this further to say that many environmental issues are inherently also community and moral issues.

    As far as which is easier to report on between food topics and climate change, I would make a strong case for agriculture and farming. These are more personal and relatable, and I think you are bound to end up with a better story. People are often very far removed from broad scale environmental topics- we live in very conditioned habitats and see relatively little of the world. I believe that this is why tactics such as using a climate change ‘poster child’ become so popular— because it is a struggle to get people to relate to temporally broad trends and global issues. Food on the other hand, that we have to interact with daily.

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