Joe Connelly and Colleen Holland: Publishers of VegNews - North America's Only Vegetarian Newspaper
When and why did you two go vegan?
Interviewed by Doh Driver
CH - I was vegetarian for a long time, beginning in high school. After graduating from college, I spent almost two years in Asia. It was there I realized the Western dependency on meat and dairy. I lived on an Asian (plant-based) diet for most of my travels and never felt better. I did a lot of reading and learned about the negative effects of rich animal products. Upon my return to the States, a Whole Foods Market had opened up about a mile from my parents home in Northern California. This made it very simple to sustain the eating habits I had acquired abroad.
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JC - Colleen's been vegetarian longer than I, but I went vegan first! There is no one reason why I went vegetarian/vegan. It all simply came together for me about 12 or so years ago. I went vegan for the same reasons as I went veg[etarian], as the reasons are identical. I lost a Grandfather I never knew to colon cancer, I've been concerned about the environment for longer than there has been an environmental movement, and in 1984 I was adopted by a cat. It took her a few years to show me that there is no difference between "pet" and "dinner," but eventually all of the evidence pointed in one direction and the decision was relatively easy to make - though it wasn't easy on my relatives.
What brought you together to form VegNews?
JC - I had the idea for VegNews, though on a smaller scale, as far back as 1996. Until I met Colleen the ability to make the project work just wasn't there. So while I had the initial vision for VegNews, what really made the project viable was Colleen's willingness to believe in the it and take a chance on something that had never been attempted before.
CH - When we met, we obviously had a lot in common (both being vegans and active in our respective communities). The concept was entirely Joe's idea. I thought it sounded interesting and agreed to be his business partner. I have a background in marketing and design, so I have been able use these skills to help grow the project.
What challenges have you faced bringing VegNews to life?
CH - As with many new enterprises, challenges we have faced include lack of financial capital, the exorbitant cost of printing and postage, learning the industry through trial and error, and being able to handle the workload with a minimal staff. We're exhausted many days of the month and hope to find more balance in our lives in 2003. It's the only way we'll be able to sustain the paper.
JC - You can tell by Colleen's answer that this interview is being conducted "during production!" To expand a bit on her comments, few people realize that we started VegNews with no funding, no financial backers, and no trust funds. The biggest resource we had was an idea we believed in. The flip side of this dilemma is that there is a misconception that because VegNews accepts advertising revenue that we are different than organizations that are membership based.
Unfortunately, producing, distributing, and marketing a monthly newspaper is far more expensive than running an organization. I can assure you of this, having done both. No newspaper can survive on subscriptions, and our ad revenue isn't large enough to support a staff, so we seem to always be squeezing the stone, so to speak, to see what else we can get out of it! So one big challenge we face is communicating to those interested in the paper and the other projects we coordinate, such as the Bay Area Veg Fair, that we can use their support. Hopefully, once we attain our official non-profit status, this challenge will melt away.
What is the most rewarding aspect of producing your newspaper?
JC - There are so many. Foremost must be loving the work. In our case, this is an absolute necessity since the project requires a tremendous amount of time and effort. We could never put in the hours we do if the job wasn't so rewarding and enjoyable.
CH - We both are in love with what we do and feel we are really making a contribution to the vegetarian movement. The mission of VegNews from the onset has been to unify the movement and promote veg products and services one issue at a time. We're thrilled that in a relatively short amount of time, so many folks know about our little newspaper. We receive wonderful feedback from subscribers every day, and this always keeps us going. In general, it's a beautiful feeling to be able work in an area that is really making a different, to live our values every moment of the day.
JC - A few of the other rewards are interacting with all of the wonderful people we have the opportunity to work with, vegetarians are simply the best; helping to promote conferences, groups, businesses, and products; and Pangea's Vegan donuts.
What's in store for VegNews in the future?
CH - We have so many ideas we can barely contain ourselves! In 2003, each issue of VegNews will be growing in size. We'll have more of a web presence, which is crucial these days. VegNews is also the proud host of the Bay Area Veg Fair, a successful vegetarian food festival that will draw 6,000+ people in February.
JC - If we can continue to expand the paper and reach more people, the future holds many, many wonderful opportunities for VegNews. We would love to move into an office and hire staff, as well as expand the paper. I cherish the day when VegNews can also remunerate contributors; currently, all of our writers volunteer their time and services because they believe in and support the project.
How long does it take to put an issue together?
CH - There are two stages to putting together an issue of VegNews. First is the planning phase, and this can be up to a year or more prior to the publication date. We request articles and reviews from writers, plan the cover story, brainstorm themes, solicit advertising, and file away contributions for the particular issue. The second phase is production, which is when we totally immerse ourselves in the desktop publishing of the issue. We (hopefully!) have all of the pieces to the intricate puzzle, and fit them in one by one to create VegNews. Production usually takes two solid weeks (including weekends) before we go to press.
JC - And those are long, 14-16 hour days. It's not a pretty sight!
How many people does it take to produce a full issue of the paper?
CH - Joe and I are the only two full-time staff working on the newspaper. However, we're able to pull it off because we have dozens of writers, reviewers, chefs, distributors, and volunteers who make contributions to the paper each month. We've always striven to be the community's newspaper, and we feel we are accomplishing that given the number of people involved.
JC - As I mentioned earlier, the long-term success of this project involves expanding to the point where we can include paid staff. The good news is that we are still in our infancy, just two-and-a-half years old. I'm very optimistic about the future.
What has been the general response from the veg community for VegNews?
JC - Excellent. And the best part is that support and recognition have come from both leaders of the movement, such as John Robbins, Howard Lyman, Neal Barnard, Alex Hershaft, Jennifer Raymond, and numerous others, to the many thousands upon thousands of vegans, vegetarians, and others not-quite-there-yet who write, call, or email thanking us for publishing the newspaper.
CH - We promote the paper at a lot of vegetarian events, and we are always well received. Many have subscribed and chosen to support this project. It is such a pleasure to be working in this movement and feel like we're making a difference in our own small way.
If people want to subscribe to VegNews, how should they do that?
CH - How kind of you to ask! Your readers may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll respond with a how-to email. Alternatively, they may call our offices at 415-665-NEWS to subscribe over the phone. Finally, if they have a copy of the paper, they may send in the subscription form to the address on our site, http://www.vegnews.com. We accept all major credit cards, money orders and checks. If any of your readers have not yet seen VegNews, we'll be happy to send them a free sample issue. They can email their mailing address to email@example.com or call our offices at the above number.
What do you most want people to know about VegNews?
JC - What an excellent question! Now if we can only come up with an excellent answer. Colleen?
CH - We want people to know that this is their paper, too. If they enjoy writing and want to share something of interest to the vegetarian community, submit it! We may make it happen, but we want everyone to feel a sense of community and belonging when reading the newspaper. We want to show the strength of our movement with each issue.
JC - The idea of VegNews came to me when I realized that the people in our movement possessed limitless talent, yet we didn't seem to be getting the results or weren't making the progress that we were capable of. VegNews is one small way of hopefully enabling all of that talent and energy to work together in a more efficient manner, so that one day in the very near future a vegetarian diet and a Vegan lifestyle are accepted as normal and no longer looked upon as different. Yes, we consider VegNews to be a community newspaper; we just want that community to include everyone!