Yesterday, QuarryGirl.com broke the news after an informal investigation that VegNews -- the world's top vegan magazine -- has been publishing stock photos of real meat alongside vegan recipes and articles (while making slight alterations like changing the coloring and removing bones to make it look more believable).
Needless to say, the vegan community is really pissed off about this, including a few of my die-hard vegan friends. I've been eating vegan since October, but I wouldn't call myself die-hard. As a reader of VegNews, I certainly won't be losing sleep over the issue. But as a community journalism aficionado, I think that the editors of VegNews should be the ones losing sleep for committing the No. 1 sin of niche publications and news organizations in the 21st century: Failing to understand the needs of its community and readers.
After being called out and receiving a huge outcry from its community, VegNews released a letter explaining the situation:
Yes, from time to time, after exhausting all options, we have resorted to using stockphotography that may or may not be vegan. In an ideal world we would use custom-shotphotography for every spread, but it is simply not financially feasible for VegNews at thistime. In those rare times that we use an image that isn’t vegan, our entire (vegan) staffweighs in on whether or not it’s appropriate. It is industry standard to use stockphotography in magazines—and, sadly, there are very few specifically vegan images offeredby stock companies. In addition, it’s exceedingly challenging to find non-stock imagery thatmeets the standard necessary for publication. We would love nothing more than to use onlyvegan photography shot by vegan photographers, and we hope to be there soon.
As someone who lives and breathes news/publishing, I can have sympathy for the financial woes that have forced VegNews to perhaps cut back on staff photographers. As someone who also lives and breathes design, I understand the need to have high-quality art alongside content within the magazine and in the blog.
But even more important than those financial and design restrictions is the commitment VegNews should have to its community. VegNews staffers should know more than anyone that vegans are serious about this shit. Vegans are militant and uncompromising in their beliefs. The vegan community has more passion about their cause than I've seen in many religious and activists groups. Veganism, in a way, is almost like a religion.
VegNews, as a publisher of vegan content and vessel for vegan community, should know that about its readers. And they should have comprised high-quality art as a sign of respect for that community they serve, just as any news organization should. Now that the secret is out, VegNews has undoubtedly lost tons of subscriptions and reader loyalty.
So now that they've fucked up and been called out on it by some of the most passion-filled evangelists out there, here's what I'd do as an editor of VegNews:
- Be very transparent about the mistake they made in deceiving their community. Part of the upside of having an extremely passionate group of readers is that they are also compassionate and forgiving.
- Discontinue the publication of real meat stock photos and establish a policy moving forward that they will not knowingly publish real meat photos and pass it off as vegan meat.
- Create a community-based system for photo submissions of vegan food, clothing, accessories, etc. They can use a service like SubMishMash to manage submissions of recipes and user-taken photos. Again, vegans are extremely passionate about their food and sharing their vegan culture. They (myself included) would gladly submit their favorite recipes alongside photos of their food for the magazine. (Just look at the results for "vegan" on Flickr. Vegans are absolutely obsessed with their food and taking pictures of it).
I hope VegNews learns a valuable lesson in the power of a community and understands that, moving forward, their needs come first and foremost.