Young Farmers, ages 18-35, are an ever-growing, important segment of the agriculture industry in Michigan, as the average age of a farmer hovers near 60. Just as important are the next generation of journalists who’ll be responsible for telling the stories of ag. One group actively reporting while learning are those enrolled in the Michigan State University School of Journalism.
Students contribute as correspondents to what’s known as the Capital News Service (CNS), covering all aspects of state government, individuals, businesses and even agriculture. Their stories are shared with 29 subscribing newspaper and online publications, from every corner of Michigan. The circulation of the combined member papers is one of the largest in the state.
One student, a senior this year, is Kaley Fech, from Wisconsin. Kaley is currently senior correspondent and assistant bureau chief with CNS, having contributed to the Traverse City Record Eagle, Cadillac News, Leelanau Enterprise, Lansing City Pulse, Oceana Herald-Journal, Harbor Light, and Alcona County Review. She’s recently written about efforts to attract the songbird known as the Kirtland’s warbler back to Wisconsin, about Michigan’s management of salmon and the surplus they sell to the public, and over the past year, she’s taken it upon herself to write about agriculture.
“For me, journalism is about more than just hard news and current events,” Kaley said. “It's about the people who are impacted by those events and the struggles they face. It's about giving a voice to the voiceless. That's why I love writing agriculture-based stories. Farmers are dealing with some of the biggest challenges they've ever faced, and for the most part, no one wants to talk about it. I want to share their stories."
Though from Wisconsin, Kaley had never been on a dairy farm until recently, when she visited K&K Dairy in Westphalia MI, a fourth-generation family farm, operated by Matthew and Kristi Keilen. They milk 450 cows, and grow corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat.
“It was great having Kaley on our family farm,” said Keilen. “She asked all the right questions, such as how many calves can a cow have in her lifetime, how much milk do we ship on a daily basis, what do we do with all the nutrients that come from our cows, and how do we deal with the language barrier with our employees? I just think it’s great a young journalist has taken an interest in our industry.”
CNS alumni have landed jobs at the Tampa Tribune, Pittsburgh Press, Grand Rapids Press, Holland Sentinel, and Petoskey News-Review, to name a few. One graduate became the bureau chief of the Rapid City Journal’s state Capitol bureau and another went to the Associated Press Washington Bureau. Two served as assistant press secretaries in Michigan’s governor’s office. Another in Dow Chemical’s corporate communications division. Others have worked for General Dynamics in California, for the Michigan Education Association, the Michigan Democratic Party and the Republican State House Press Office. Former CNS correspondents also have won numerous awards for their later work — including the Pulitzer Prize. See the entire list of subscribing newspapers here.