Editorial Independence

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I’m going to expand here on an exchange that was sparked in the comments section of the online version of a WDJ article that was posted recently. The article described each of the most effective pesticides and oral medications for dogs that either repel or kill fleas and ticks. One reader wanted to know whether we receive any compensation from pharmaceutical companies in exchange for consideration of their products.

I replied, a bit defensively (due to the use of the word “kickbacks”), that, no, we don’t receive anything in exchange for editorial consideration. The reader wrote back to clarify that he was just trying to determine whether there was any sort of financial consideration or relationship between our publisher or editorial department and the companies whose products we write about. I appreciated his clarification. My short answer is “No!” – and if you’ll forgive me, here’s a longer answer:

Neither the publisher nor I accept any sort of incentives to write about any company or its products.

Very recently, the folks at our publishing headquarters in Connecticut made the decision to offer affiliate links to products that appear in our “Approved Foods” lists or product reviews, as a way to both make it easier for our readers to find and purchase those products if they wish, and to help defray the cost of building and maintaining our new searchable database of approved foods. “Network ads,” which are generated by something to do with Google, may also appear on this website. I’m not sure there are any publishers still in business who are not taking these tacks today, in order to help offset postal and print-industry cost increases. But as WDJ’s editor, working from my home in California, I have no involvement with any of that. Those efforts are siloed far from me.

WDJ’s publisher was founded more than 40 years ago with first one, than an increasing number, of consumer-supported periodicals that eschewed advertising. Founded on the Consumer Reports model, the idea behind each publication was to give readers independent reviews of products and services and technical information from experts in the field, free of any advertising considerations whatsoever. The publisher felt that readers would find enough value in publications that “tell it like it is” – not hedging or holding back in reviews out of concern of losing a chunk of advertising income – that they would gladly pay subscription fees for those publications on an ongoing basis.

When I was hired to edit the inaugural issue of Whole Dog Journal more than 25 years ago, I couldn’t be more excited. I had worked part-time for a predecessor, Whole Horse Journal, which had been purchased by Belvoir from a friend. I was aware of Belvoir’s consumer-oriented approach and was thrilled for an opportunity to shine a light on products and practices that are demonstrably in the best interests of dogs – as opposed to anyone with a dog-related business who will give us advertising money. There can be no more fulfilling job for a journalist than to be allowed to research and write articles without ever having to “pull a punch” out of concern that one of our advertisers might withdraw their support and threaten our ability to continue publication. None of that has changed. I still feel honored to enjoy complete editorial independence from the constraints of influence of advertisers.

Over the years, in order to learn more about the production of dog food, I’ve asked various dog food makers whether I could come see their manufacturing facilities and talk to their formulators. In this way, I’ve been able to tour food production plants operated by WellPet, Hill’s, Diamond, The Honest Kitchen, Champion, Breeder’s Choice, Lotus, and a few more (including some that are no longer in business or that were purchased by other companies, including Iams/Eukanuba and Natura). Some of those companies offered to fly me to their manufacturing cities, pay for my hotel, and more. But Belvoir would never allow such a thing; the most I could (or would) accept on these trips is a meal or two.

Sometimes, pet product manufacturers send products to me, unsolicited and unannounced (ask me sometime about the box of frozen dog food that was sent to me lacking ANY labels that identified it as needing refrigeration or even being food –the one that sat in a pile of other mail and unsolicited stuff for over a month, until I noticed the box was bulging in a way I hadn’t noticed previously! OMG!). If the product is one that I find I really like and think would be a useful product for other dog owners, it might find its way into a review or article at some point. If I find the product to be without value or use, I tend to not respond to the sender. Either way, all products eventually get donated to my local shelter or given to friends or family who might be able to use them.

I’ve never received products from any of the big pharmaceutical companies – and come to think of it, I don’t receive even unsolicited literature from them. I suspect they don’t think they need our support or interest.

32 COMMENTS

  1. Nancy,
    Thank you so much for this heartfelt explanation! Thank you more for all the work you do for our pets.

  2. I can vouch for the WDJ including products without financial gain. Many years ago I made a product called “Bella’s Hot/Cold Pain Relief Pack” which was non-toxic and could attach to any part of your dog to sooth hips, shoulders, etc….I was never contacted by WDJ that they were including my product in a pain relief editorial and found out by chance through my own personal WDJ subscription. To say I was elated was an understatement, because I knew that WDJ only recommended products they find useful, not because they were paid to include the product. WDJ has been a go-to resource for many years and I am grateful for what Nancy and the team have built over years!

  3. Great explanation, Nancy. I’ve always admired and appreciated how WDJ runs its business and editorial and happy you’ll continue to do so!

  4. This is why I have been a subscriber for well over 10 years. My wife once asked me if I didn’t have enough Whole Dog Journals that I could stop subscribing. I told her I didn’t subscribe just for the journal, but to also support something I believe in.

  5. I love the WDJ and had subscribed to the Whole Horse Journal too. I miss that publication greatly.

    Why was it discontinued?

    • Thanks for asking! I loved Whole Horse Journal, too, and still treasure my binder of all its copies. At that point in time, almost all of the promotion our publisher did to try to grow its publications was to buy mailing lists and send direct mail to potentially subscribers. There was always a shortage of horse-related lists to buy, and they were never able to grow the publication to profitability. After five years, they shut it down.

      The promotion model has changed a LOT. Direct mail is the most costly way to promote now, and there are fewer mailing lists available. Email promotion has “won.” But the efforts to keep maintaining or grow the publications are endless. We appreciate it every time you buy a subscription for a friend, or introduce someone to the publication!

  6. This reminds me of a time when I was an in-store rep for a dog food company (who these days is owned by one of the large conglomerate companies). I fed my dogs this company’s products and was proud to talk to other people about it. They always made the list of approved foods. Untill one year when they weren’t on it. I reached out to my district manager and asked why this had happened. They came back with, they are just trying to get advertising money out of us and we don’t do that. I was able to tell them that I knew that was not the case because WDJ has no advertisements other than their own products and would never accept advertising. For this and a number of other reasons I ended up leaving that job because I just couldn’t trust what they were telling me. Thank you for doing what you do.

    • Wow! Weird! I wonder if they had us mixed up with someone else, or what?

      I’ll be the first to admit that, over the years, we’ve made mistakes and accidentally omitted companies that had previously been on our lists. We’ve always tried to fix it — add them back, made a correction — when someone asked why. I hope it wasn’t just that!

  7. Thank you for this very clear explanation! I avidly read the WDJ articles and rely on them for practices, products, and advice. Trust from your readers is well earned!

  8. I also remember Whole Horse Journal – good magazine & I got lots of information out of it. I dont subscribe to the print copy of WDJ – still trying to find homes for many of my Equus magazines from years ago! Really dont have room for more paper! But I sure do enjoy the email version of WDJ and learn from it just like I did from the Whole Horse Journal.
    Frankly I cringed when I read the email from the person who questioned the ethics (sort of) of this magazine. Very very good reply, Nancy.
    Keep up the great work
    Maggie

  9. WDJ has been a mainstay since adopting my Inca almost 16 yrs ago. It seems each edition addresses some concern or another including, more recently, integrating two new kitties with our dogs after losing our three elder kitties last year. I have given WDJ as a gift to new dog owners that I know are serious about their dog’s health and wellbeing and look forward to each new article. I love the sneak peek section telling us what’s coming up.

    Thank you for all you do for we consumers and our pets. And thanks for sharing the story about the frozen dog food samples. I’m still chuckling because it’s exactly something I would do in my busy life!

  10. So true: “WDJ’s publisher..felt that readers would find enough value..that they would gladly pay subscription fees…on an ongoing basis.” I haven’t had dogs for over 10 years, and I continue to subscribe to the Whole Dog Journal!

  11. I’ve been a subscriber for at least 20 years. I also remember the Whole Horse Journal back in my dressage/jumping days. I value WDJ for myself and my clients. I often recommend that they subscribe to it! Keep up the great work. BTW, I see that we both graduated from SF State!

  12. Your simple given response ‘No’ was enough for me but I did read through your explanation and description. Thank you for your honesty, trustworthiness, and transparency. It is wonderful to have such great, needed, information. A little felony dog adopter, now without my last Golden since 21 summer, I too continue to subscribe as your updated research, best practices, funny , real-life experiences are a gift to your readers.
    Thank you so much.🐾🐾❤️
    Sharon Callahan

  13. This is the best dog magazine. Having German Shepherds for the last 30 years and running a business there level of reporting has always been A Plus.
    It helps to have the Best information
    Available for non animal professionals. Keep reporting….
    Big German Shepherd Kisses
    Aileen

  14. Thank you for the article. You help so many dogs and their people. Bless you. By the way, I love the photo of the boy and collie!

    • Sorry, I said “I Love the photo of the cutie and collie.”
      But good old “auto correct” corrected it for me.❤️

  15. I have appreciated WDJ for many, many years. You’ve done a great job and this question never even entered my mind. Thank you for everything! WDJ really is one of the few publications I trust. You’ve guided us through MANY challenges with our doggos and we are grateful for that. Looking forward to more!

  16. This is why I read and trust The Whole Dog Journal. Consumer Reports for Dogs. I like that.

    Rupert looks like he had a wonderful life and wouldn’t have changed a thing. If Rupert is the first Dog Face of WDJ and Otto is the current, was there one in between? How about a blog post on the many faces that have represented WDJ and a little bio about them?

  17. The articles in WDJ are in-depth, scientifically or practically based,and VERY informative, always! ABSOLUTELY similar to Consumer Reports, especially the non-biased philosophy. (Just wish there was a similar publication for my friends who love cats……..) Keep up the good work!

  18. Subscriber since 2005. Love WDJ and rely on it for guidance and so many decisions. If I have a question, somewhere in the archives I know it has been discussed. Think of the time it has saved me, mindlessly searching the internet and then trying to evaluate articles and wade through advertising. Such a great balance of health, nutrition, training, behavior and gear. My go to. And love your strong voice, Nancy!

  19. Nancy, thank you for all you do. I rely on the information you provide and point my clients toward the journal all the time! Really appreciate the unadulterated view on the important feeing and training issues we all face!

  20. I am a new subscriber to WDJ and this is exactly why. I love how this publication is independent. I am telling everybody about it! I think it should be a required reading for all dog owners. Keep up the good work!

  21. Thank you for all you do. I think I have been subscribing to Whole Dog for over 20 years as I remember your dog, Rupert! I have learned so much from your publication over the years. I really enjoy reading everything you write, as well as everything from Pat Miller. I feel like I know both of you personally.

  22. Hi Nancy, this makes sense. Thank you for informing readers. Great site by the way! I am writing to ask if you know where dog owners interested in holistic approaches can connect with others? Thank you.

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