Every year, right around this same time, it happens. Beginning with community newspapers and small-market>"/>
Every year, right around this same time, it happens. Beginning with community newspapers and small-market dailies, gradually filtering up to radio stations, and ending with television news broadcasts and the weekend edition of major metro papers; there are the perennial rent-a-goat stories.
Here's the thumbnail.
A city or municipality has a piece of property, usually a vacant lot of some sort, covered with weeds, brush or blackberries. Rather than using traditional means to clear the vegetation like mowers, herbicides and power equipment, goats are brought in to deal with the problem. The insatiable herbivores make short work of any plants growing. Their droppings make good fertilizer. And they're much safer and less harmful to the environment.
Add the ubiquitous quote from the city's public works director, a word from the goat herder, insert a baaaad pun in the lede and - shake and bake - a reporter can turn this into a fifteen or twenty column-inch article.
It seems that nearly every newspaper in the country has done it. Or at least some variant. Like clockwork, The Seattle Times (via their Issaquah Press tributary) has a story on their website about goats being used to clear land in the Issaquah Highlands. Blackberries and Scotch broom, you've met your match.
It surely won't be the last story either. PEMCO Insurance, which has gained a bit of notoriety with it's humorous "Northwest Profile" television commercials, released a recent ad titled "Goat Renter Guy".
With senior reporters on vacation, and newsrooms occupied by googly-eyed college interns, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to send the cub reporter down to cover the local herd whenever a rent-a-goat press release crosses the city editor's desk.
You're telling me there's goats... at the city park... eating brush? Holy schnikes! That's a unique story idea! Let's run with it.
The only trouble is, the story is not unique.
One can go on to other follow-the-herd newspapers across the country who have done the stereotypical rent-a-goat piece. The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle and L.A. Times all have run stories focusing on nah-ing little weed munchers who dutifully keep cities free of invasive plants and noxious weeds.
Eventually one has to ask, though, when does the rent-a-goat story stop being news? It's not like there's an infinite amount of space in the paper. Surely the novelty must have worn out by now. More importantly, if newsrooms fall into the rut of covering the same story, the same way that's been written a thousand times before, what other news (or non-news) is being treated the same way?
Extra: Maybe it is because this hicktown reporter has had to cover more than his fair share of goat herds that it sticks out. And perhaps I share some of the blame, being probably one of the first to actually write about the phenomenon (at least locally) while working for The Leavenworth Echo in the summer of 2002. A herd of Boer goats were brought in to clear some land near the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery. The herd was a safer alternative to using powered, gas-driven mowers in wildfire country.