“Be sure you have a firm foundation in writing, and you can do about anything.”
This is advice from Joyce Cutright, a per course faculty in the Darr School of Agriculture. Her career has put her in various roles that impacted people all over the state. From interviewing Dolly Parton to founding the Missouri FFA State Convention media room, Cutright has worn many hats during her career in agricultural communications.
Cutright began her career as a farm broadcaster for a regional station in Danville, Illinois. Her regular responsibilities included an early morning broadcast, a broadcast at noon and market broadcasts on the hour. Cutright also did a lot of interviews with farmers, as well as popular entertainers like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson.
“They [small stations] can’t always afford to send somebody to interview the entertainment and cover the livestock or the agriculture events,” Cutright explained. “So I got to also do the entertainment, and some of my fondest memories are some of the entertainers that I actually interviewed.”
Cutright also served as a marketing director for Farm Credit Services in the western association. Her responsibilities included making market plans, helping loan officers advertise with customers and planning annual meetings. Cutright also corresponded with the branch offices in her region.
After her time as a marketing director, Cutright became a freelancer, and she used her experiences from broadcasting and marketing to take on a variety of contracts. Cutright ran the media room for the Ozark Empire Fair and was also an info education specialist for the Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District. She would visit 20 to 30 schools a year teaching students about soil and water conservation. Cutright even earned the nickname “soil lady,” which she still proudly wears.
When asked about her nickname, Cutright explained, “When you work with young people, you make it fun and funny sometimes so that they remember you and remember what you are saying. She would tell the kids, “A lot of people wouldn’t want to be called the ‘soil lady,’ that sounds dirty, but you know soil is a precious natural resource and I think I’m precious.” This would always get a few laughs and help students open up to learning about conservation.
During this time, Cutright was also teaching the class agricultural communications at Missouri State University. Cutright initially helped to improve and produce department newsletters, but she would soon take on a much larger role in becoming the founder of the Missouri State FFA Convention news room.
During that time, the state department was looking at ways to improve the FFA convention. One of the things they looked at was improving coverage of the event and letting local communities in the state know what was happening.
Jim Bellis, assistant to the director of the Darr School of Agriculture and former agricultural education supervisor for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, recalled, “We talked and said we needed someone like Joyce Cutright. Someone who understands agriculture, understands the media and could help us figure out how to do all this.”
Bellis’ response was, “Well why not get Joyce Cutright?”
Cutright accepted the offer and went on to build the new room from the ground up. Cutright also enlisted the help of Missouri State students, as well as students from the University of Missouri-Columbia, to produce and distribute the news releases.
Initially, the newsroom was responsible for over 200 news releases that covered things like proficiency award winners, chapter activities, Star Farmer awards and Star Agribusiness awards. The news room was also responsible for supplying photo captions for photos and mailing everything to the correct publisher.
There were difficulties Cutright faced when starting the news room. The biggest problem was the sheer volume of material and the processes necessary to complete the projects. Between typing, printing, copying, photographing, captioning and mailing, everyone had their hands full getting everything where it needed to go.
Bellis recalled, “On Saturday morning, after the FFA convention those first years, I would be carrying boxes of envelopes.”
One way Cutright has worked to overcome these obstacles is through actively working with students. Students have been involved in the news room from the beginning. They collaborate to help with all aspects of news room production, and Cutright always works to encourage and motivate the students.
A way Cutright motivates students is through building connections with students and helping them share her vision. Cutright explained, “It’s kind of building a trusting relationship, but I have to be sure that students who work in the media room have the right kind of heart.”
To help build these relationships, Cutright also established news room traditions to help the team bond and get to know each other. For example, the night before convention starts, Cutright takes the news team to Shakespeare’s Pizza so they can relax and talk before everything gets busy.
Cutright’s work to build relationships and share her vision has made her the glue that holds the news room together. Amanda Stapp, news room lead copy editor and former student worker, considers Cutright to be “the heart of the news room.”
“I can’t imagine working for anyone else in the news room,” Stapp said. “Joyce really does an awesome job making it fun, but also keeping everyone organized and on track so that we can accomplish the goal.”
Another way Cutright has overcome obstacles in the news room is continually integrating technology into the process. A lot of the technological aspects of the news room are now handled by Jeremy Whistance, technology coordinator and former student worker. Whistance borrows computers and does the setup necessary for the press room to function.
The integration of technology has streamlined the entire process used in the newsroom. Instead of having to print, copy and mail everything, all of the articles, with their photos and captions, are posted online for news outlets to access. Technology integration has also allowed the news room to produce more content than before. According to Whistance, the news room now produces two to three times more content than it did in the beginning.
When she is not running the press room, Cutright stays involved with agriculture. She teaches event communications at Missouri State, helps with FFA and still does a little contract work. Cutright also has an antique art business with her husband, and they enjoy traveling throughout the year.
“I own a little farm in Illinois, and we go there in the spring, summer and fall if we can,” Cutright said. “Colorado is probably our favorite place, and anywhere warm in the winter is good.”
Cutright’s career in agricultural communications has taken her many different places, and let her do many different things. Regardless of where she is, or what she is doing, Cutright has always had one constant: sharing her passion for agriculture. Even now, Cutright shares her passion wherever she goes, and encourages students to do the same.
“We want to represent our industry the proper way,” Cutright explained in her advice to people in agriculture. “Not only as we communicate within our own industry, but as the rest of society sees us. We want to be professional and we want to do it right.”