A proto of ribs with the rib-bones rubbed out, as highlighted by QuarryGirl.
My SuperVegan colleague Samantha Cohen is ready to forgive and move on, and whistleblower QuarryGirl is giving them a second chance, but VegNews‘s recent apology over the non-vegan photos kerfuffle just makes them look worse in my eyes.
The only problem the letter acknowledges is the one QuarryGirl made it impossible for them to ignore or deny–that they used photos of non-vegan food to illustrate vegan food in a vegan magazine. (Aside: This is the same QuarryGirl who won VegNews‘s Scandal Breaker of the Year award in 2009, for outing other folks lying about what was vegan. She deserves to win it again this year! But of course VegNews awards are for ad-hoc whatever-they-feel-like-promoting achievements, rather than consistent categories of achievement like the Nobels, Oscars, or Pulitzers.)
I’m glad to see that this second response uses apologetic language, and is signed by actual people (rather than the amorphous “VegNews Team” who signed their first response), publishers Joseph Connelly and Colleen Holland, managing editor Elizabeth Castoria, and art director Sutton Long. I’m also pleased by the active, positive commitment to “build and host a vegan photo bank to assure the availability of vegan stock images.” That’s awesome! If done well, this will be a great resource for photographers and all publishers (both print and online).
But let’s pick apart the other commitments:
“We assure you that we will never again use non-vegan photographs in VegNews” and “All stock images used in the magazine and website will be vegan. We will make sure so that you can be sure.” This is meaningless. What the hell is a “vegan photograph,” aside from one that isn’t on gelatin film? Does this mean all their photographers will be vegan and they will never run a picture of a non-vegan animal (human or otherwise) or animal product? Of course not. It means absolutely nothing.
“Recipes in VegNews will be represented only by custom vegan photography. Count on it.” Good. I think it’s safe to assume here that “vegan photography” means photographs of vegan food, kitchen tools, and serving apparatuses. But note that they’re still not saying you’ll get a picture of the dish the recipe is for!
And now for the most important issues:
This new letter does not acknowledge their ongoing efforts to cover up the situation. The deleted comments. The claims by former VegNews staffers that they were not, in fact, given a say in whether photos of non-vegan food were used to represent vegan food.
Nor does it address these other shortcomings of the initial response:
- pretending that using photos of non-vegan food to represent vegan food is a non-issue to a vegan readership
- stating that the use of such images is unavoidable from a practical perspective
- bragging about their high readership while simultaneously bemoaning their lack of money
- bragging about succeeding in an industry stacked against them while simultaneously blaming their screw-ups on a need to hew to the industry standard
- the editors’ and publishers’ failure to sign the letter by name, instead passing it off as a collective response
This new letter is a little bit of apology and a whole lot of half-assed avoidance. They’re still dodging acknowledgement, let alone responsibility, for their biggest ethical gaffes. The first response only served to dig a deeper hole than Quarrygirl had already tossed them in, and now they’ve completely squandered the moment in the spotlight the scandal afforded them (seriously, when next do you think VegNews will land mainstream attention from such sources as the New York Times, the Oregonian, the Washington Post, and NPR?).
Does it matter? I don’t know. I suspect that people who care about the issues I’ve highlighted here don’t read VegNews anyway. Like Erik Marcus (who recently resigned from their advisory board), I consider VegNews a fluffy lifestyle magazine which caters to the lowest-common denominator. And I stand by my comment last week that “VegNews is correctly gauging their readership in assuming that a shiny, well-styled picture is preferable to an accurate one.” Sure, over the years, an article or two has been interesting to me, and I appreciate that VegNews has been helpful and enjoyable to many vegans and aspiring vegans, but I’ve never been a regular reader. (Another aside: I’d read them more if they posted their content on the web; more importantly, this would both spread the word further and save paper and shipping … but at this rate I may as well wish for better content, too!)
So you could argue that what I think of VegNews is about as important as what I think of People or, heck, Field and Stream. It’s not a magazine written for me to read. But VegNews matters to all vegans, at least in the U.S., even those of us who don’t really read it. Their distribution, branding, and market-penetration is impressive and laudable, as are their production standards (just not what they sacrifice in service to those production standards). It’s because of the magazine’s role as the preeminent vegan press organ that so many vegans with their heads otherwise screwed on straight are ready to forgive and move on, or assert that nothing bad happened in the first place. When VegNews looks bad, we all look bad; we don’t want to look bad, so it’s tempting to act like VegNews is doing the right thing.
Sorry, but they’re not. I don’t want VegNews to shrivel up and die, nor am I hoping for any self-flagellation on their part. But I do find their attempt at apology inconsiderate and patronizing. They have yet to take full responsibility for their ethical and editorial errors, or to make a real commitment to not fucking up like this in the future. Ultimately, this is the responsibility of VegNews publishers Joseph Connelly and Colleen Holland (who I’ve met and enjoyed spending time with!). They can and should do better than this.
Update: Erik Marcus’s post-mortem went up right around the same time I put my post up. It’s well worth reading.
Update 2: Added the NPR link.