The recent deal reached in which Continental Grain and Cargill plan to acquire Sanderson Farms caught the attention of the mainstream media, including the Associated Press (AP).

But it is a shame that the production practices of Sanderson Farms apparently never caught the AP’s attention.

When the AP distributed the story to all of its member news outlets, it also distributed a photo of an egg laying operation, rather than one of a broiler operation such as Sanderson Farms, or Wayne Farms, with which Sanderson Farms will merge.

And that layer operation photo was published on the websites of some of the nation’s major news outlets, such as USA Today, Financial Times, U.S. News and World Report, Boston Globe, and many others. Considering USA Today is part of the Gannett network, which owns over 100 daily newspapers and 1,000 weekly newspapers, its hard to tell how many readers saw this.

But the simple fact is that way too many people did. And my guess would be most of those people don’t understand that broilers and layers are totally different breeds of chicken and the operations are completely different.

Chickens are chickens, in their minds.

How did this happen?

As a former managing editor of a daily newspaper that was an AP member, I kind of understand how this process works, or at least how it worked a decade ago.

The story was being broken, and when it came time to distribute the story, photos would need to correspond with it. Whoever was on the photo desk simply looked for a file photo, and saw chickens and decided to use that. Perhaps there were no photos of Sanderson Farms or Wayne Farms operations or products on file, so what you saw is what you got.

Was that lazy? Maybe.

But in this day and age when it seems trendy to dislike and distrust the media, there are instances in which you must remember that journalists are people, too, and they will make mistakes.

An old journalism school professor of mine would often say “it helps to know a little about a lot.” And it is quite evident that this particular photo desk employee knew a little too little about poultry production, and didn’t take the effort to get educated before moving the news.

And that is sad that more effort wasn’t taken because I can say from experience that Sanderson Farms, Wayne Farms and Cargill are companies I can always depend on if I need more information.

Why this is important

As I already noted, most people do not know the difference between a broiler and a layer, and the aforementioned photo will not help that situation.

Most readers already cringe when they hear advertisements that promote cage-free chicken meat, because we know that all U.S. broilers are raised cage-free. But when readers see this photo of a hen in a cage, it won’t be easy to convince them what broiler production really looks like.

While AP isn’t obligated to run any photos included with the press release, I did notice the only images included the press release I received were only logos of Cargill, Sanderson Farms and Continental Grain. This was an opportunity lost.

I often preach transparency with the consumer and fostering relationships with the media, and this is a prime example of how the broiler industry and the layer industry must do this. Because if the nation’s largest news organization and largest newspapers aren’t paying attention to production practices, we can deduce that others aren’t paying much attention, either.