Editorial: ANIMAL PEOPLE & the role of humane reporting

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2005:

“We still haven’t found an executive director. Guess no one
wants to come down to the sunny south and dodge all the hurricanes,”
Suncoast Humane Society interim director Warren Cox wrote on
Halloween from Englewood, Florida.
Sending Cox to Florida was clearly easier than ushering him
into retirement. Now in his 53rd year of humane work, Cox reduced
his possessions before taking his 22nd leadership position by
donating to ANIMAL PEOPLE a complete set of the National Humane
Review, from the years 1933 through 1976.
Published by the American Humane Association, the National
Humane Review for much of that time was a mainstream slick magazine,
sold on train station newsstands, with separate regional editions
serving all parts of the U.S. Even without carrying paid
advertising, and without soliciting donations with particular vigor,
the National Humane Review generated enough revenue at peak, through
sales and subscriptions, to subsidize the AHA itself. At the height
of her popularity, in June 1935 and January 1936, actress Shirley
Temple was twice the cover girl.

Few animal advocates alive today ever saw the National Humane
Review as it existed under a succession of former newspaper editors
who took it to its heights, the last of whom was Fred Myers. Few
even imagine that such a periodical ever existed, in many respects
presaging the editorial positions and scope of coverage of ANIMAL
PEOPLE. Well ahead of the times, the National Humane Review
demonstrated similar sympathy for no-kill sheltering, feral cat
rescue, and humane work abroad, and put comparable emphasis upon
developing accurate statistics on animal issues. Many of the
studies commissioned and published by the National Humane Review were
markedly better designed and much more accurate than anything
produced during the next several decades.
At times in the early 1950s the National Humane Review even
leaned toward endorsing vegetarianism, though it never actually came
right out and said so.
Those still in humane work who remember the National Humane
Review–except Cox–tend to recall the last years of a
shelter-oriented publication that nearly 30 years ago morphed into
AHA Shop Talk. That was the terminal incarnation of the National
Humane Review, and a faint shadow of the influential magazine it
once had been.
At peak the National Humane Review emphasized uncompromising
moral leadership. Just a month after the Japanese bombing of Pearl
Harbor plunged the U.S. into World War II, for example, a National
Humane Review lead feature took note that wars sometimes must be
fought, but warned against unduly glorifying war, and especially
cautioned against the harmful psychological effects of giving
children war toys, thereby encouraging the pretense that killing can
be wholesome fun.
Notes of compromise on hunting, trapping, and pound seizure
crept into the National Humane Review with increasing frequency after
World War II, but the erosion of focus and moral clarity markedly
accelerated after Myers resigned in 1954, rather than further weaken
editorial integrity on topics including opposition to sport hunting,
fur trapping, the use of pound animals in biomedical research, and
animal experimentation in general. Meyer went on to found the Humane
Society of the U.S., in partnership with Helen Jones and Cleveland
Amory. Jones and Amory in 1959 split from HSUS to start the National
Catholic Animal Welfare Society, which in 1977 became the
International Society for Animal Rights. Amory soon returned to
HSUS, but took his own direction again in 1968, when he started the
Fund for Animals, merged into HSUS in January 2005.
Economics drove the ethical implosion of the National Humane
Review, and of the AHA itself. The rise of television and decline
of train travel cut deeply into readership and sales. The AHA
leadership frantically tried to reposition themselves closer to
mainstream perspectives, at cost of becoming increasingly irrelevant
to their core audience. By the mid-1960s, the National Humane
Review had long since become uncritical of high-volume killing in
animal shelters, after a decade of waffling before finally endorsing
killing by decompression. Having compromised on every other front,
the National Humane Review in later years even accepted wearing fur.
In retrospect it is painfully clear that the more the AHA
tried to mainstream itself, the more it lost the momentum and
direction that had made it the leading voice of the humane movement
from 1877 until the formation of HSUS.
As the National Humane Review imploded into a house organ,
Frederick L. Thomsen in 1965 founded Humane Information Services Inc.
as umbrella for a newsletter called Report to Humanitarians, which
tried to fill the vacated leadership role. It grew into a newspaper,
The Humane Report, featuring investigative exposes by the late Henry
Spira. The Humane Report circulated 19,000 copies per edition at
Thomsen’s death in 1978, but died with him.

Animals’ Agenda

The next periodical of record for the U.S. animal advocacy
cause was the Animals’ Agenda, founded in 1981 through the merger of
animal rights newsletters published by Jim Mason and Doug Moss.
Since the demise of the National Humane Review and The Humane
Report, there had been no nationally distributed independent news
media covering animal advocacy. Not even one newspaper in the U.S.
had a reporter formally assigned to covering animal issues, though
some had pro-animal columnists. Only a handful of syndicated
columnists wrote about animals, most notably Cleveland Amory.
Yet the sudden rise of the animal rights movement required
participant-oriented coverage, including forums for discussion and
Animals’ Agenda filled the gap, as the self-designated “magazine of
the movement.” The ANIMAL PEOPLE founders, not yet acquainted,
were readers right from the beginning. Kim Bartlett, now the ANIMAL
PEOPLE publisher, became editor of Animals’ Agenda in 1986, joining
associate editor Patrice Greanville, who is now the ANIMAL PEOPLE
webmaster. Merritt Clifton, now ANIMAL PEOPLE editor, debuted as
Animals’ Agenda lead feature writer in the January/February 1987
Animals’ Agenda achieved peak circulation, readership,
income, and influence from 1986 to 1992, after turning two
important corners.
First, before Bartlett was hired, came the decision to go
slick. Unaware of the National Humane Review history, Animals’
Agenda went from a newsprint format resembling that of The Humane
Report to essentially the format that the National Humane Review died
with. Going slick never came close to paying for itself, but did
put Animals’ Agenda on newsstands just as the concept of “animal
rights” caught the public imagination.
This in turn inspired former Animals’ Agenda typesetter Laura
Moretti to expand her Animals’ Voice newsletter into an even glossier
magazine, heavily subsidized by philanthropist Gil Michaels.
Two years later, Bartlett and Greanville promoted Clifton to
news editor, with a single-sentence mandate to establish for
Animals’ Agenda a reputation for journalistic integrity and
credibility. This was done at a price. The founders, before they
departed, elected a board of directors consisting of longtime
activists and representatives of national advocacy groups. The
editorial team soon learned that the board largely wanted the good
reputation without allowing the editors to exercise the reportorial
independence, capacity for critical thought, and standards of
factual verification that such a reputation must be built upon.
The board wanted applause for their own campaigns, often
without regard to the greater health of the cause.
The most frequent flashpoints for conflict were coverage of
movement controversies, investigations of the use of donated money,
and attention to dog-and-cat issues, often emphasized despite a
barrage of criticism that this was “trivializing” the animal cause,
expressed in published letters from executives of PETA, the Doris
Day Animal League, and various antivivisection societies.
Unconsciously echoing the editors of the National Humane
Review more than 50 years earlier, Bartlett editorially explained
many times that the leaders of the animals’ cause had to find ways to
avoid killing more animals each year than either laboratories or the
fur trade, if they were to be taken seriously.
Animals’ Agenda came full circle back to where it started on
May 1, 1992, when the board opted to return it to being “of the
movement” first and foremost, firing Clifton. Bartlett soon
resigned. By sundown on May 2, the ANIMAL PEOPLE debut logo had
already been designed, incorporation was underway, and a business
plan was in development.
The “magazine of the movement,” like any house organ of any
cause, was self-doomed to becoming little more than a historical
repository as the movement matured. ANIMAL PEOPLE from the first was
and is a community newspaper, emphasizing “News for people who care
about animals,” for a community united by interest rather than
Movements, succeed or fail, tend to die young, either
becoming absorbed into mainstream culture or fading into
self-isolated irrelevance. Communities grow, with no inherent
limit on what they might become.
Animals’ Agenda eventually merged with Animals’ Voice, then
collapsed. Moretti later revived Animals’ Voice as a website.

The community grows

The animals’ cause continues to grow and diversify. The
3,000 U.S. organizations that existed in 1981 are now more than
11,000, according to the Internal Revenue Service, including more
than 5,000 animal shelters. The numbers of active groups abroad are
growing even faster.
The Internet took over the role of providing internal
communications, which Animals’ Agenda and ANIMAL PEOPLE once had,
and expanded the audience, enabling ANIMAL PEOPLE to devote much
more space to original investigative reporting and news analysis.
Discovering the value of ANIMAL PEOPLE as an accessible
independent information resource, mainstream newspapers increasingly
often explore the local dimensions of the topics we raise. Most
mainstream dailies now have at least one reporter who is assigned to
animal-related coverage on a regular basis, increasing their
cumulative attention to animal issues more than tenfold since our
debut. Many mainstream animal beat reporters have more knowledge of
animal issues than anyone serving the animal cause did 20 years ago,
because background on almost any issue is now readily accessible from
the Internet, enabling anyone to become informed almost overnight if
Regional pro-animal tabloids supplement the mainstream
coverage in many areas.
General interest pro-animal publications such as the
Massachusetts SPCA’s Animals and the American SPCA’s AnimalWatch
thrived when mainstream coverage was sparse, but faded out in recent
years because the readership long since began getting equivalent
material from mainstream sources. There was no longer a need for a
humane society to do it, nor a viable niche for providing general
interest coverage through a nonprofit medium.
The animal rights movement long ago followed earlier
incarnations of the humane cause into developing established
institutions and career tracks. The “no kill movement” emerged 20
years later, evolving through the same phases of growth and
institutionalization during the past decade. A second-generation
animal rights movement emerged as well, focused on food issues
rather than vivisection, and has also produced many now fairly well
established organizations and information media.
Animal advocacy is now not just a community but a
fast-expanding megapolis.
There have been setbacks and implosions along the way,
mirroring the disasters that afflict any growing community. Among
our disasters were the amendments to the Animal Welfare Act that
permanently excluded rats, mice, and birds from protection in 2002;
the virtual repeal of the 1971 Wild Horse Annie Act in November 2004;
the simultaneous exclusion of “non-native” species from coverage by
the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act; the resumption and expansion of
the Atlantic Canada seal hunt, Norwegian and Japanese whaling, and
the recovery of the fur industry through the sale of cheap pelts from
China, including dog and cat fur. (Adjusting for inflation, fur
still is not anywhere near as profitable as it was 20 years ago, but
the animal toll is again comparable.)
Many of these setbacks and implosions occurred due to the
short-sightedness of activists and activist groups who continued to
think in terms of being a “movement” instead of in terms of belonging
to the mainstream political landscape.
There are now more vegetarians in the U.S. than hunters and
trappers, for example, and more financial supporters of animal
advocacy causes than there are people who ever hunted or trapped.
Animal advocates are not a movement, but a constituency,
and a major constituency at that, like the citizens of any community
that encompasses millions.
If a constituency feels it is not getting adequate attention,
it has the capacity to organize politically to change the status quo.
This is at last beginning to occur.
A constituency needs multiple news media, of multiple kinds,
and we have them. Like the National Humane Review and Animals’
Agenda in their heydays, ANIMAL PEOPLE occupies a unique niche as
the only printed periodical providing fulltime specialized coverage
of animal advocacy, but the national and international mainstream
newswires now move enough pro-animal material every day to fill a
daily newspaper. Online information distributors circulate more
material each week than any pro-animal printed periodical ever did,
or could, and may also reach more people.
While ANIMAL PEOPLE still looks much as it did in 1992, our
mission continues to evolve.
Recognizing the growing importance of websites, we place
increasing emphasis on making our online archives accessible and
producing how-to handbooks that humane workers around the world can
download to help themselves cope with such problems as fundraising
and accountability, mange and rabies control, and keeping shelter
cats healthy.
Our annual Watchdog Report On Animal Protection Charities
long ago outgrew the annual “Who gets the money?” section, from
which it descended.
The ANIMAL PEOPLE newspaper is not less focal to our work,
but the newspaper is now the hub of much more activity, helping to
move the animals’ cause forward.

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