Blogs bring news to agriculture audience
By Kristi Block
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Next spring marks the 10th anniversary of ZimmComm New Media LLC, the company that coined and developed the terms “agriblogging,” “farm podcasting” and “event blogging.” Founded by Chuck and Cathy Zimmerman in April 2004, ZimmComm has become an industry leader in using Internet-based communication tools to distribute agricultural news. ZimmComm specializes in blogging, podcasting and managing RSS feeds for their clients within the agriculture and renewable energy industries.
Chuck Zimmerman developed an interest in agriculture after visiting his grandfather’s dairy farm. He attended the University of Florida and graduated with a bachelor of science in telecommunications. His first jobs were in television and radio broadcasting.
Zimmerman and his wife used their previous journalism experiences to found ZimmComm. Zimmerman was one of the first to pioneer the use of social media and social networking to create a profitable business. He applied his journalism experiences to the Web, creating an agricultural news website.
ZimmComm is comprised of several blogs: Domestic Journal, World Dairy Diary, AgWired, Domestic Fuel, Precision Pay and AgNewsWired. Zimmerman and his wife are the only two employees. The company hires freelance writers to post on its behalf. Last year, Zimmerman attended 67 meetings such as farm progress shows, conferences and commodity classics. During the year, he travels across the Midwest and Southeast to attend numerous meetings on behalf of clients.
AgWired, a blog covering the latest news in the agricultural industry, is Zimmerman’s main focus. Subscribing to numerous news feeds helps him find new story ideas, information and sources to use in the stories he publishes. A significant portion of his job involves traveling to different agricultural events. At each event, he interviews participants, takes photographs, films video, records audio clips and posts social media updates.
His biggest challenge and proudest accomplishment was pioneering the use of new media 10 years ago into a working business model. The challenge he faced was convincing agricultural companies and organizations to sponsor the blogs. He had to convince potential clients that farmers and the public would use the information he publishes and that they would reach an audience “that they needed to be in front of.” New media grew rapidly and he sees no slowing down. His clients also realized the benefits that AgWired can provide them. Now his clients are interested in measurements — knowing how many customers read or listen to posts.
The job allows Zimmerman to travel and develop personal relationships with the people he meets. That, he said in a phone interview, is the best part of the job. “I love the agriculture industry. I am not only a journalist but also an advocate for the industry.”
He has traveled to other countries, such as Morocco and Egypt, on clients’ behalf. Social media allow him to stay in touch with the people he’s met along the way. But traveling is also one of his least favorite parts of the job. He dislikes flying because of all the security procedures that have been put in place since 9/11. “It’s highly unenjoyable. I hate dealing with it.”
Another hassle is all the paperwork and regulations required of small business owners. Luckily for him, his wife deals with most of the paperwork.
His advice for those carving a career out of new media:
- Use social media. Potential employers view your media presence before looking at your resume to see what you are doing right and wrong.
- Look at how you’re writing and interacting with people. “Writing skills are so important. I can’t emphasize that enough. I had to do some additional training with people over the years.”
- Start a blog. Blogs are a great way to showcase talent.
- Learn to use WordPress.
The biggest changes facing the communication industry are the number of citizen journalists, the availability of Internet access almost anywhere and mobile technology.
Zimmerman’s suggestion: Turn those changes into benefits.