VegNews, Apologies, and the Fine Art of Growing Up

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Let me talk to you about sincere apologies. Real apologies, the heartfelt kind, aren’t defensive. Even if they do try to provide explanations for bad behaviour, they never try to provide excuses. They admit to wrongdoing, and profess regret for the harm that wrongdoing has caused. VegNews’ response to the photo scandal? Not an apology.

The publishing world is a ruthless one. No one is denying that. I agree that it’s great that VegNews is able to reach an audience that may otherwise not have access to vegan materials… As one of the commentors on Quarry Girl’s recent exposé remarked, VegNews is available to people shopping at Safeway in Nebraska – T.O.F.U. Magazine and the vegan blogosphere isn’t so immediately visible. It’s great that we have a vegan-run publication that is so prevalent among mainstream media. I agree with VegNews about these things.

But you know what? That doesn’t negate what they did wrong, and their response did nothing to assuage my newfound unease with their publication. Nowhere in that letter did they even acknowledge their readers’ concern with anything but accusations. You know what they did instead of saying “we fucked up”? They accused us of being the assholes. They were “deeply saddened with the dialogues that [had] transpired over the last 12 hours.” Meaning: “we’re upset that you caught us.” Anyone can see how that is not an appropriate response here. VegNews wants you to believe that your feelings of betrayal (if you have them) are illegitimate. The thing is, they’re not, and here’s why:

  1. They Photoshopped images of actual meat to look like vegan dishes. This is straight-up deceit. If it isn’t, I don’t know what is.
  2. They used stock photos to illustrate recipes. Have they even tested the recipes they publish? What are they meant to look like? No wonder my quiche didn’t work as well as theirs did – mine didn’t involve any egg!
  3. They tried to cover up the truth. This is the worst part. When word got out, VegNews’ first response was to try and hide what they did. If they really think that using stock images is acceptable, and , then why did they try to hide it? Why didn’t they just explain themselves right away? Answer: because they knew their readers would be upset. So, instead, they lied to us some more.


So, now we have a list of sins that VegNews simply did not account for in their (long overdue) response, and a reply that essentially tells us to STFU and praise them for everything else they do well. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way in the grown-up world. There are three steps to repairing damaged relationships: i) take responsibility for your mistakes, ii) apologise for them, iii) try to make up for your misbehaviour. VegNews has done none of these things. At this point, their reaction has consisted entirely of “This is everybody’s fault but mine!” and “You should be grateful we even publish this magazine!” VegNews does not deserve your forgiveness because they haven’t even asked for it. And, until they do, they will not get it. At least, not from me.


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  1. Kira wrote: Apr. 16, 2011

    Hi Emily,

    Yes, my thoughts exactly!

  2. Emily wrote: Apr. 16, 2011

    Thank you for this, it’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. At best what VegNews wrote wasn’t an apology and at worst it was a hidden, half-assed humble brag in the guise of an “apology.”

  3. Kira wrote: Apr. 15, 2011

    Exvnstaffer – I know next to nothing about copyright and iStock’s policies, so thanks for the info!

    Bitch Sessio – I’m assuming your name was meant to be “bitch session.” Very clever.

    You’re right. Not everyone knows the answer to everything… But part of being an adult means admitting when you don’t know the answer, and when you’ve messed up. If VegNews had straight away admitted to the stock photo thing (which they would have, if they legitimately thought it was a totally acceptable practice) I may still have been disappointed, but would I have been angry? No. I do understand why they did it, and how harsh the realties of publishing can be (and I stated so in this post). What I don’t understand is VegNews’ refusal to accept any blame for this incident, or to even acknowledge readers’ feelings as legitimate.

    You asked if VegNews really deceived me. Well, yes. Of course they did. When they illustrate their recipes with images, they are tacitly implying that these images are a) of the recipe in question and b) vegan. They were neither. In what world is that not deceit? It’s a lie, plain and simple, and I bought it. You’ve set up a false dichotomy when you state that it must either be a lie or an “industry standard.” This is not the case. Ends do not always justify means. There were other, more ethical, and just as financially viable, options that VegNews chose not to explore. “Industry standard” is not good enough. It’s dangerous to argue that just because everyone else does something it must be morally right. This could be used to defend numerous heinous things… Plus, if it was really true, we wouldn’t be vegan, would we?

    I earnestly believe that VegNews should apologise, because I also believe that owning up to mistakes (or at least the consequences of your actions) is something that any truly ethical person or business should be ready and willing to do. By taking the course of action that they did, VegNews have proved themselves to be profoundly unethical. I am prepared to offer forgiveness (as I expect most reasonable people are), but only if they actually want it.

  4. exvnstaffer wrote: Apr. 15, 2011

    Just incase you weren’t aware, istock is a place where you purchase images legally to use as your own. You don’t credit the photographer. Other than that I totally agree with everything you said!

  5. bitch sessio wrote: Apr. 15, 2011

    Please. Everyone knows the answer to everything. Right? You’re the gospel on righteousness. Scrutinize everything everyone does and that will leave you little time to have a meaningful impact on those ssues that really matter. Photoshopped photos or real fur being sold at urban outfitters as faux? What’s the real priority here? Is it just to be the puritanical police? Or do you really care about a just and ethical environment. Did vn really deceive you? Or did they just practice industry standards in order to have a positive impact on our community? If the fact that they use stock photos and chopped out the chicken bones (obviously, who the hell wants to see that) had not “broke” (seriously, is this breaking news?) Would our planet be worse off? And is it better off now? Or is just quarrygirl’s and the dedicated vegan haters that follow her’s agendas that are better off. These are all valid questions, as valid as asking why vn used stock photos and why they haven’t apologized. Should they though really?

    • Ryan wrote: Apr. 15, 2011

      Perfection is not something we’re trying to obtain, and I’d like to think the majority of people who are upset about this feel the same way. I have yet to meet a vegan, or anyone else for that matter, who was able to completely adhere to their values in everything they do. Personally, and Kira may think differently, the major issue I have with the vn thing is that they seem to suggest it was not possible to use anything but the meat dish stock photos, and I find this incredibly hard to swallow. We’ve been running great quality photos, submitted by contributors, for several years now. Industry standard or not, I’d like to think we’ve been putting out a rather good publication without having to resort to false advertising, which is part of the problem here.

      Before this whole thing popped-up, I think VegNews was doing a great job of promoting veganism, and I hope they can learn from this mistake and get back to doing what they do best. However, the effect of having such a large vegan-friendly publication admit to using non-vegan foods has certainly been negative for veganism in the public eye. There are plenty of articles covering this story now from National Public Radio to the New York Times, and lots of them are taking the chance to suggest the idea that if such a prominent publication can not find great photos of vegan food, maybe it’s because vegan food is just plain bad.

      I’m not looking for people to jump ship on a publication that has spent eleven years building itself up large enough to have the reach it has, I’m just hoping that VegNews will realize there are other options out there, and they come from the same people who have been helping the magazine get to where it is today.

  6. Kira wrote: Apr. 15, 2011

    Hi Dave! Thanks for the comment – yeah, I totally forgot about the photographers! You’re right, that’s a huge legal issue too… Unless they were credited at some point in the front or back matter of the magazine? Not cool, either way.

    Megan: thanks!

  7. Dave Shishkoff wrote: Apr. 14, 2011

    Well said!

    It’s laughable (in a very sad way) that they call themselves an ‘ethical vegan’ publication. They’ve become neither.

    Further from this deception is the disrespect to the photographers themselves, who VegNews are contractually obligated to credit (from the stock photo companies), but didn’t (as this would lead a trail…) I would not be surprised if VegNews were to find themselves amidst a lawsuit or two.

    I comment further on VegNewsGate (as Sarah Kramer has coined it) here:

    (PS – there’s a new vegan cycling website! 😉

  8. Pingback: Veggies Have A Heart » VegNews Responds to Accusations

  9. Megan wrote: Apr. 14, 2011

    SPOT ON!

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