Jeannie Houchins

In an age where people are primarily getting their news online, it’s more important than ever to stay abreast of what food information is being disseminated by the media. Most folks will agree that some news organizations can be sensationalistic and often embellish the facts to sell a story. This is especially true when it comes to reporting science news. We’ve increasingly seen these actions against the food industry in various popular media stories.

Luckily, we live in a digital world, one in which we don’t have to wait to respond to an article or have our voice heard. The Center for Digital Democracy says it best: “Today’s media system is not a top-down environment, but a ‘Web 2.0’ world where each of us can create the content and tell our own story.”

People are indeed telling a story. According to a Nielsen report from February 2009, social network and blogging sites account for one in every 11 minutes spent online by Internet users around the world. Nielsen also found that the biggest increase in visitors to “Member Community” Web sites globally during 2008 came from among those ages 35–49.

Another proof point that voices are being read, and heard, comes from the 2009 Women in Social Media Study by BlogHer, iVillage, and Compass Partners, which found that “64 percent of women are nearly twice as likely to use blogs than social networking sites as a source of information, 43 percent for advice and recommendations, and 55 percent for opinion-sharing.”

These findings are compelling and provide a good base for food education. While everyone may have an opinion on food, IFT members are the real experts who need to participate in the online dialogue with members of the media and the public.

Not so long ago, if there was an article that you agreed or disagreed with, you sent a letter to the editor, via snail mail or e-mail. Now, most articles online have a comment section, thanks to the blog-style page format. The New York Times online site is a great example where readers can immediately type their thoughts to the world and the paper almost instantaneously. If you peruse the site, you will see that certain articles have pages upon pages of comments.

Several news organizations choose not to have reader interaction and disable comments on articles. A good example is Time magazine’s time.com news site, which does not have a comment section and forces readers to submit letters to the editor via e-mail or snail mail—or just not be heard. There will be other instances like this, when a voice simply cannot be heard post-article. In that case, there are options such as the following for readers to take.

• Blog it. If you see a blog post that could use your editorial insight, include a comment at the end of the post. Alternatively, send a note directly to the blogger with your thoughts. If you have a blog and wish to add your perspective to an article, you might blog about it, providing correct information or facts to support a more balanced story. Draw readers to your blog so that your voice is heard by publicizing your new post with a Twitter update.

If you see a blog post that could use your editorial insight, include a comment at the end of the post. Alternatively, send a note directly to the blogger with your thoughts. If you have a blog and wish to add your perspective to an article, you might blog about it, providing correct information or facts to support a more balanced story. Draw readers to your blog so that your voice is heard by publicizing your new post with a Twitter update.

• Social network it. Don’t have a blog? There’s another option—LinkedIn. You may think it is only a networking site, but it’s so much more. Post the link to the article you’d like to comment on in a selected LinkedIn group, provide your thoughts, and encourage others to join in the online discussion.

If you’re on Facebook, you can post your thoughts on your wall for others to see, too. People in your network will see your post if they subscribe to your updates.

Lastly, consider expressing yourself via IFT’s ePerspective. E-mail your ideas to Food Technology Editor-in-Chief Bob Swientek (bswi[email protected]) or Digital Media Editor Kelly Frederick ([email protected].) ePerspective welcomes thoughts and opinions from members of the food science community.

A recent blog post by IFT Past President John Floros (http://foodtecheperspective.wordpress.com/2009/09/01/getting-real-about-our-modern-food-system/) covers the modern food system and addresses many issues. Thanks to his blog, Floros’s views are now widely available to those using Internet search engines. It’s a good example of how IFT members can participate in an online discussion.

IFT members have the ability to take part in the reputation management of food science and technology. So, experts, go ahead, keep those media folks honest and help educate consumers. Challenge them with your thoughts and arm them with the right information by getting on the digital record.