Growing in the agriculture beat

  • June 2, 2022

By Caroline Morgan

Of all of the things I thought about doing in college, interning at an organization about agriculture never once crossed my mind. I am the last person on Earth to know anything about farming. Yet this semester I found myself writing for AgNews at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, or CCE, an organization that is the heartbeat of agriculture on the North Fork. I was lucky to have this experience. 

I hadn’t heard of CCE before I became their intern. I came into this job with knowledge of journalism but very little awareness of agriculture. My bosses at this internship couldn’t have been more helpful, however, all the way from my job interview to my last article. Through CCE, I learned about different aspects of agriculture in Suffolk County. Yet perhaps the largest thing that I took away from my internship was the stylistic differences in writing. Our journalism school prepared me for news writing. I didn’t know how that differs from public relations writing. I learned that skill during my time at CCE. 

I started at CCE in January, a week before the spring semester began. I attended the biggest agricultural event on Long Island, the 41st Annual Long Island Agricultural Forum. Though for most of it I struggled to understand complex agricultural terminology, this was a valuable experience to me. It was the first time that I covered an event in my journalistic career. I listened to an opening address from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, as well as many presentations from farmers all across Long Island over the course of three days. I was asked to attend the whole event and write an article for CCE’s monthly newsletter about it, which was meant for those who could not attend the forum itself. After the event, I compiled all of my notes and created my article, which outlined the main points from the entire forum. It was really interesting for me to write this article because although I covered this event like a journalist, they did not want me to interview anyone. I simply had to use my notes to create an article highlighting notable presentations.  

I was next assigned some ongoing research for the entirety of my internship. Every year CCE awards a variety of plants a special medal for outstanding qualities. My assignment was to research each winner and provide a thorough description of the plant and why it won, intending to inform the agricultural community about exemplary choices for gardens. I was given meeting minutes and links to botanical databases, which I used to research facts about the medal winners. There were about four winners per year, and I wrote up long descriptions about each. This was one of the hardest jobs that I received because of the scientific language that I had to work through in order to produce a piece. I was assigned to finish one year’s selections each month, so by April, I completed descriptions for 2021-2023. 

At the same time, I was given two additional articles to write about special events at CCE. CCE has been around since 1917, and two of its affiliated organizations celebrated an anniversary in 2022. For each milestone anniversary, CCE prints an article in its newsletter, so I wrote about the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center, which was celebrating 100 years, and the Horticulture Lab, which was celebrating 50 years. For my articles, I spoke to people who had worked at these organizations for many years and collected a lot of background information. I wrote about the history of each organization as well as the work done in the local community today. 

Before this internship, I wish that I had known more about the stylistic writing differences between PR and journalism. It took me some time to figure out, and it would have been helpful to have an understanding of it beforehand. Additionally, having some background in science would have helped because it was difficult to simultaneously learn complex scientific terms while also writing. Therefore, to future interns: It may be beneficial to have an understanding of agriculture, so that you don’t spend so much time researching before writing. It’s not an absolute requirement, because I got through it successfully with the help from my superiors, but it might be helpful. Again, I would also take time to read some PR work from local organizations, even from CCE, so that you have an understanding of how it differs from news writing. 

Overall, CCE was a great internship. I am coming away with much more knowledge than I had before, especially in areas that I didn’t know very well. Everyone at CCE was so nice, and I highly recommend this internship, especially to those considering a career in PR.