Share Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest By Emily Beal, writer for The Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental SciencesThis time of year, Ohio State University fans around the world are getting ready to watch a Buckeye team make a run for a National Championship. Many, though, many not realize that there are already some 2019 champion Buckeyes that compete in a different type of venue. The Ohio State Dairy Judging Team proved it was the cream of the crop, placing first at the National Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis. this fall. The last time Ohio State won the contest was in 1986.The Dairy Judging Team placed first among 18 schools in the National Intercollegiate Dairy Judging Contest on Sept. 30. Coached by Bonnie Ayars, The Ohio State University team placed seventh for reasons with a score of 788. The team consists of fourth-place overall individual Billy Smith and ninth-place overall individual Lauren Almasy along with Sarah Lehner and Ian Lokai. Almasy is a junior majoring in animal sciences and Lehner is a sophomore majoring in agribusiness and applied economics. Lokai is a junior majoring in animal sciences and Smith is a senior majoring in animal sciences.The team carried 10 pennies and a buckeye in their pockets in honor of former Dairy Judging Team Coach Pete Spike who owned a dairy farm named Ten Penny Holsteins.Ohio State’s team had already proven itself a force to be reckoned with, but no one knew if it would be able to capture the first-place prize. While the van trip to the event might have been entertaining, once the team reached Madison, it was show time. The members of the team were anxious. The day started at 6:30 a.m. with breakfast, and ended at 4:30 p.m.“They had bottles of Tylenol in the rooms because they knew exactly how we would be feeling,” Lehner said.Team members had to judge one class of dairy cattle at a time. Each class represented a specific breed, with four heifers, calves, or milk cows in the class itself. The students looked at each cow’s overall physical appearance. Did it have a good udder, a clean cut, a straight line, and functional feet and legs?The most stressful part of this process was the reasoning portion of the competition. During the reasoning section, competitors gave detailed descriptions as to why they placed a class the way they did. This required the individuals to hone in, focus, and stand by their selections.“Judging 12 classes and then going to give six sets of reasons requires a lot of brain power and definitely calls for a long day,” Almasy said.The reasoning process made the team members’ hearts beat a little faster. It filled their bodies with pent-up nerves and their brains with racing thoughts. After the reasoning portion of the contest, the teammates could all heave sighs of relief.While the competition results were full of suspense, the team, in the end, was victorious, beating The Pennsylvania State University’s team by a single exhilarating point. Finally, after the 33-year dry spell, the team brought home gold to the Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) Department of Animal Sciences.When it came down to who would seize first and second place, all the team members could do was wait. Thoughts of winning the expo swirled in their heads, while thoughts of coming in second crept in, too. The team members were clinging to each other while anxiously waiting to hear those magical words: “In first place, Ohio State!”After the agonizing wait, they hollered, they hugged. Some cried.While dairy judging is not a typical extracurricular activity, the team and coach Bonnie Ayars worked long, diligent hours with the team getting ready for the contest.“It’s just like coaching any other sports team. We have a playing field; we have an arena. Ours is just made of sawdust, not turf,” said Ayars, who is also a program specialist in the CFAES Department of Animal Sciences. “On this team, all four were steeped in the dairy industry and had a real passion for it.”Ayars herself is no stranger to the dairy industry. Coaching Ohio State’s Dairy Judging Team for the past 14 years, she has been a staple of its success. She and her husband, both dairy show judges, run their own dairy farm.“It all came natural — my kids judged, I judged. There was no choice in the household, really,”Billy Smith, a member of The Ohio State University Dairy Judging Team. Photo provided by OSU CFAES.Ayars said.The team members’ crazy schedule and weekend trips have allowed them to form special bonds with one another. Explaining cattle isn’t all they talk about; they share life experiences with each other as well.“I can sincerely say my teammates are some of my best friends,” Almasy said.Taking a van to contests hours away has been a primary force of this bond that’s been created. The teammates have eaten together, stayed in hotels together, laughed together, and shared some secrets in the van.“Let’s just say what happens in the van, stays in the van,” Smith explained with a smile on his face.While the team attributes the endless hours of cattle-evaluation practice to their success, they also believe luck was on their side while standing on those green shavings.“I always say, ‘Luck is what happens when skill runs out,’” Ayars said.Before the team’s victory, the members struck a deal with Ayars — one she did not think she would have to honor. As the team discussed the possibility of winning, they also began talking about Switzerland, the home of the Brown Swiss cattle breed.“Well, one thing led to another, and soon enough Bonnie was telling us that if we won the Expo, she would take us to Switzerland,” Smith said.A deal is a deal, and on Nov. 26, the team left to see those special Brown Swiss cows in Switzerland.Watching the team talk about Ayars, it is clear to see that the team looks up to her and regards her as a mentor.“Bonnie is very well respected by the industry and knows her cows. For her to coach a team to win, that says something,” Lokai said.As for Ayars, she is confident that no matter where life might take these four individuals, they will have wild success. That’s the thing about cream — it always rises to the top.
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Paid news is deceit. A publication that offers editorial space for sale in a manner that it is meant to look exactly like a news story is not just putting a “For Sale” sign on the sanctum sanctorum of editorial space, but is also peddling our trust.Think about it: the reason any advertiser would want to buy “paid news”, is that there is little that differentiates it as an advertisement from legitimate content. The latter is what we read and trust as an independent effort of a correspondent, and an editor taking a judgment call on what is to be communicated to us, the readers.Paid news, on the other hand, gives you no indication that what you are reading is sponsored content. In newspapers, there is no difference in typeface or background colour to differentiate it from regular news. On television, we rarely see the word “advertisement” on the screen whenever there is a sponsored show that looks like a regular news show.Large media houses have also begun taking equity in firms that don’t want to pay by cash – a business model known as “private treaties”. These deals are usually advertising- space-for-equity barters. As media houses are in the business of news, it becomes an open case of conflict of interest when newspapers and television channels become investors in companies that they might report on.Faith:Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the stock markets regulator, wants all media houses to disclose their private treaties investments in companies that are listed or are in the process of being listed.advertisementThis is a welcome move. If implemented earnestly, it will protect investors and readers. The reader and the investor have every right to know about these private arrangements so that they are not fooled by media reports.In paid news, the advertiser fundamentally wants to overcome “banner blindness”, the changing of channels during ads, and indeed a certain degree of defensive scepticism that one associates with the pitch that an advertisement makes. Print sells text, television sells sponsored shows and radio, even though it doesn’t broadcast news, sells what is euphemistically termed “anchor mentions”.We may bemoan the quality of news being delivered to us but as readers, we don’t just buy a publication, or just watch a channel. Consciously or subconsciously, we put our faith in the notion that the intent behind information and opinion being served hasn’t been prostituted.But what if the advertisers are individuals or even firms who merely want to insure themselves against unfavourable news in the future? We don’t expect the publication to be up for sale or for negative coverage to be a precursor to extortion from an election candidate; the words “caveat emptor” (Latin for “let the buyer beware”) probably don’t even occur to us.As any public relations executive will testify, they’re in the business of managing perception, and a key part of that is to manage the perception of our gatekeepers – the journalists. This is not new: journalists are wined and dined, taken on international “junkets”, gifted “demo” products that are never taken back; as a result, some of them are more favourably inclined. But it can become ugly.There is, for instance, a well-documented investigation by SEBI highlighting collusion between a major business publication’s journalist, a PR agency and significant shareholder of the Pyramid Saimira stock to manipulate its share price, by forging a SEBI letter, and then making public announcements to mislead investors, which were reported in the publication.For some journalists, it’s about favour and trust; for some, it is about the lure of power and a Rajya Sabha membership. But we don’t know what happens behind the scenes, do we? What we perceive as readers or viewers is often our reality. This is the corruption of our beliefs at its subtlest, on par with the practice of rewriting history books.Some media publications audaciously have rate cards, with the rationale: why not just do away with the middlemen – the journalists.Politics:According to a report submitted to the Press Council of India ( PCI) by a task force assigned to investigate this malaise (a copy is available at http:// presstalk. blogspot. com), it’s not that many media organisations are selling just your trust: during the 2009 general elections, many of them resorted to extortion.The report mentions allegations of publications denying coverage to politicians unless money was paid and even publishing negative coverage. Some news entities are upfront about their political or ideological leaning; paid news, on the other hand, is about putting these leanings up for sale. Funnily enough, the PCI report cites instances of specific newspapers carrying reports of two opposing candidates being likely to win the same elections.advertisementWhat this amounts to is indirect mass rigging of elections, and strikes at the very core of our democracy.Private treaties, however, are even more dangerous. Times Private Treaties, from the Times of India Group, won an award in 2009 in the “Innovative Business Models Contest” organised by the PubliGroupe and International Newsmedia Marketing Association.HT Media does both ads for equity and property deals; Network18 has Synergy18 for such deals. Business Standard had reported in 2008 that Dainik Bhaskar and Jagran Prakashan were also considering this model.At its core, private treaties is much more than just a business model. While it is legitimate for media businesses to take a stake in any company, it creates a financial bond between the two, and the linkages are far deeper than those between advertisers and publications.It is a marriage of their risks and growth. For its own financial growth, it is in the publication’s interest to further the cause of the company it has invested in, since the value of its investment is directly dependent on the growth or decline of the value of the company.An example of how a private treaty model works is available as a part of a draft red herring prospectus filing from Planet41, a mobile value added services company. The filing (at http:// www. sebi. gov. in/ dp/ planet4 1. pdf ) indicates that Brand Equity Treaties Limited (BETL) bought 2.88 per cent, by investing Rs 2.54 crore in Planet41, allowing the company to place advertising worth Rs 4.8 crore, of which Rs 80 lakh will be paid until the IPO.The company would have to pay BETL 33 per cent of the value of the advertising in cash, back, and post listing, 50 per cent. Once listed, depending on how investors perceive the company, the value of the 2.88 per cent stake will change. There is no mention of coverage, but favourable news coverage does tend to push up stock prices, and unfavourable reports can pull it down.While this merely suggests that media companies are corruptible, and not necessarily corrupt, let’s ask a simple question: over 200 companies having done such deals, most of them covered by publications that have invested in them, when was the last time you read disclosure from the news publication, accompanying the story? Now take into account the scale of operations – media companies have cross holdings across platforms – Print, Internet, Radio, DTH and Mobile.Accountability:To be sure, no amount of government or regulatory threats to censure will work because the advertisers pay for your eyeballs.You can never tell if media houses haven’t been promised bribes as full page advertisements, in order to go soft on an upcoming, disastrous and corrupt international sports event.Readers must therefore demand accountability from their publications, and choose those which disclose their interests.advertisementAdvertisers need to be told that readers are more than just a constituent of a circulation figure or a TRP. We also have much greater access to content from various global sources. Twitter and Facebook are fast becoming key sources of news, with people who we trust recommending news articles.Online, there’s always someone lurking to correct, critique or criticise coverage in the comments, holding the publication accountable. Sources that flaunt their disclosures and are open about their mistakes are those that value your trust as a reader. That’s an opportunity in trust for media businesses to pursue: to aggressively use disclosures as a differentiator; else, the readers will make their own choices. And advertising will follow the reader, as it has done in the west.The writer is the Editor of MediaNama ( www. medianama. com), an online publication