The VegNews Clusterfuck

QuarryGirl dropped a bombshell last night: for more than two years, VegNews has been routinely running photos containing animal products in its magazine and on its website, and passing these photos off as vegan. They’ve run photos of everything from chicken tacos to hot dogs to hamburgers to mayonnaise-loaded potato salad.

In the most outrageous example uncovered so far, QuarryGirl pinpointed a photo of spare ribs—in which the bones were photoshopped out—while the accompanying text asserted the photo depicted a vegan recipe.

QuarryGirl also reported that, yesterday at the VegNews website, the magazine was deleting reader comments that pointed out the non-vegan content of its photos.

I should offer some analysis: with the exception of The New Yorker, the Economist, and a handful of other periodicals, most magazines suck. It’s a business model that involves editors who work for peanuts and against constant deadlines, as they churn out lowest-common-denominator dreck for their idiot readers. Magazines are a revolving door business with high turnover and unpaid writers and interns doing the shit work.

But what happened at VegNews is not an isolated incident brought on by deadline pressure. The revelations represent a pattern of deliberate and systematic deceit, and a clear contempt for the magazine’s readers surely entered into the mix. This is not a case of some editor cutting corners on a one-time basis and hoping nobody would notice. And this goes well beyond somebody on staff simply not giving a fuck. No, this was a completely pathological and self-destructive act, carried out on an ongoing basis for more than two years. The person or people responsible simply had to know that the deception would ultimately be revealed. The only surprise is that that it went undetected for as long as it did. It’s the same kind of sociopathic know-you’re-gonna-get-caught-but-do-it-anyway behavior you would expect from a Ted Haggard, a Larry Craig, or a Bernie Madoff.

The whole thing is a sickening betrayal of VegNews’ readers, and is vastly more damaging to the magazine’s credibility than the Jayson Blair story was to the New York Times.

Unless this moment is handled quickly and with great integrity, the magazine’s reputation won’t recover. Here’s how they must act.

  • The person or people responsible for this mess need to be identified and promptly fired, with the dates of employment made public.
  • The person or people deleting posts that sought to call attention to this issue should be identified.
  • Given the commodity stock photo sources of these photos, how could the publisher not have suspected something was amiss? An explanation is needed.
  • The entire VegNews site should immediately be taken offline. All articles featuring food photos that were posted during the period when the guilty party was employed by VegNews need to be removed.
  • Did any staff members who weren’t responsible for these photos know about the situation? A response is required.
  • An apology from the publisher needs to prominently appear on the website and in the magazine, outlining exactly what happened. The New York Times’ response to the Jayson Blair story should serve as VegNews’ model. Coming clean is the only way out of this mess.
  • When in doubt, VegNews must err on the side of acting too aggressively.

But enough about VegNews. Niche lifestyle magazines are for chumps who still think it’s the 1990s. They’re filled with ads for overpriced supplements and yuppie doohickeys, and the editorial content is typically assembled by short-timers who don’t give a shit.

VegNews has always had the chance to leverage strong editorial judgment to bring you the very best of the vegan world, but they consistently squander that opportunity and instead give you lowest-common denominator crap like wedding issues, celebrity fluff, and popularity contest awards. Far better to seek out the best online writing on veganism written by the best bloggers. You’ll find a thousand times more passion, integrity, and professionalism than you could get from a magazine—with zero selling out.

Disclosure: I’ve been on VegNews’ (unpaid) advisory board since the magazine’s founding more than a decade ago. In all that time, I was consulted only once for my opinion. I’ve never found the magazine worth reading, so I should have shown more integrity and stepped down years ago. I’ve resigned this morning. Link.