Questions readers have been asking lately

Why do you write about VIN News? Are you trying to discredit veterinary professionals? Do you think veterinary professionals are stupid?

It’s never our intention to discredit – nor is it our agenda to endorse or promote – anyone or anything, least of all to discredit veterinarians. Strong, independent reporting makes democratic institutions stronger and more just for more people (and dogs).

TCR was founded to fill a void that neither VIN News nor any other entity was filling by a long shot. What’s more problematic about VIN News is that whereas not much stock is put into some of the other publications that cover the pet industry, VIN News represents itself as a high quality journalism enterprise, thereby perpetuating problems by distorting how you learn and what you learn–and from whom.

The Canine Review will never be in short supply of media reporting. Our coverage of USA Today/Gannett’s Seresto saga, for example, peeled back the curtain on reporting processes – or lack thereof.  How the media and especially how reporting measures up on issues of fairness, accuracy, and ethics is especially important in the context of an industry with so much abuse and such a relatively ineffectual regulatory framework. Higher standards for information make something that much more accountable.

Thus, we cover VIN News because Dr. Pion has declined repeatedly to answer questions about its policies, processes, including, for example, questions about the number of times his after-the-fact quote approval policy has resulted in substantial changes to a story. That’s alarming in and of itself.

 

2. I like your reporting, but what’s up with the paywall and price hikes?

  • Yes, we charge subscription revenue–because we believe no quality journalism business with high ethical standards can operate without significant subscription revenue, thereby removing strings as well as any perception of strings to a particular group.
  • The kind of reporting we do is unique. We are the only journalism focused on the pet industry that provides honest, careful reporting that doesn’t cater to advertisers in an industry that’s full of abuse and devoid of meaningful regulation. That takes careful, time-consuming reporting (including incessant calls for comment – in order to be fair). And fact-checking. So, we need your help to sustain and continue to expand that kind of consumer-based coverage. And we believe we are providing real value in return. There’s no place else you can go to get the kind of reporting we do focused on this industry.
  • Now that The Canine Review has gained traction and enough people have had regular, reasonably free access to understand our unique brand of journalism and what makes us so different, we are raising rates to get to break-even and, in fact, to begin recruiting a small, talented team of staff reporters who are likeminded in their commitments to being relentless about ethics, accuracy, research, and fairness.

3. What is “ethical journalism” in practice? What makes The Canine Review different?

Here’s a checklist. Strong, independent, ethical journalism offers stories in which all of the following are consistently true:

  • Raising questions on important but long-overlooked issues: A powerful institution is asked to be accountable on an issue that it had never considered to be an issue. The story is raising the issue for the first time and most often, the issue involves money and/or high stakes policy.
  • New information: The story provides information that’s never been released, and the information is coming from people who don’t want to give the reporter the information. In other words, the story is not a press release dressed up as reporting.
  • Spotlight on the “bad” and the “good”: You can find multiple examples in The Canine Review of stories in which the reporting has significant negative impact on some pet industry providers AND ALSO examples of reporting in the same publication that impacts a company positively; in other words, the reporting shouldn’t consistently line up on one side supporting one set of interests. We follow the facts and report them without fear or favor.
  • Quality journalism is also a credibility business, which means our newsroom is an open book defined by transparency and uncompromised ethics policies. Reporters who work with us need unrelenting drive, curiosity, no preconceived notions, thick skin, and above all, the understanding that to the greatest extent possible, every aspect of a story should take the reader along for the journey. This means we report comments and declined comments. Many organizations simply don’t do that.

The price is meant to sustain all of that.

4. If I wanted to buy a large number of subscriptions for my company, clients, or members of my organization, could we get a discount?

  • Yes, of course. We would charge 50% off the regular price for ten to 25 subscriptions; 65% off for more than 25 subscriptions up to 100. Above 100, we would offer deeper discounts. Please contact us by emailing me directly at emily@thecaninereview.com .

5. I only want to read one article. Why can’t you sell individual articles?

  • We’d have to charge you something like the equivalent of a half year subscription, given the cost of setting up and maintaining accounts. Moreover, our goal is – and must be – to build a sustainable subscriber base. You can, however, always cancel a paid subscription and get a pro-rata refund equivalent to the portion of your unused annual subscription.

 

6. Are  you really independent and not sponsored? What if Purina wanted to pay you $1 million to collaborate on a story about nutrition? Do you do that?

  • Short answer, NO. If you’ve never heard the saying, “If you’re not the customer, you’re the product,” The Canine Review proves that concept. Our primary revenue source is always going to be subscription revenue (readers).
  • The publisher Emily Brill (Bedford Dog, LLC formerly Emily Media LLC)  is financing all startup costs with no outside investors to date. Having gained significant traction in years one and two as readers have discovered our unique brand of reporting, TCR now looks to a new stage focused on both sustaining and expanding by hiring a small but extremely talented team of reporters.
  • We are open to and welcome inquiries from potential investors and partners. However, interested parties should know that we remain committed to full transparency as far as our readers are concerned. They will always be told clearly who pays for what. If we ever were to write about someone or something with which we have a financial relationship and whose interests are affected by a story we write, a disclosure will go in the story.
  • Moreover, nobody – no investor, no friends, no one — other than editors and staff reporters will be able to access forthcoming reporting, let alone be able to influence it.

7. What’s The Canine Review’s relationship to Trupanion?

In May 2022, Trupanion, Inc. purchased a discounted group subscription for a limited number of its members. Trupanion has no control over any content The Canine Review publishes. Like other paying subscribers, Trupanion has the option of not renewing its group subscription in May 2023. Because Trupanion is currently our largest subscriber (also our only group subscriber) we disclose the subscription purchase in every article in which Trupanion and/or the pet insurance industry is covered.

 

8. Other reporters allow me to review my quotes before a story is published. Why doesn’t TCR allow after-the-fact quote review?

We are aware that VIN News has an unusual policy of requiring after-the-fact quote approval, which gives anyone it interviews the ability to have whatever they are about to be quoted on submitted to them for approval before a story is published. To those who may have been misquoted or have had a quote taken out of context, that may seem reasonable. But any professional journalist will tell you that this undermines good reporting by giving people a chance to rethink something they might have said in a fit of candor. (Remember the old Washington rule: a gaffe in Washington is when someone tells the truth!). Or in a situation in which, let’s say, a company has been hit with a product recall, it may allow the multiple people involved to “get their stories straight” or to have the PR people craft a good dodge. At a minimum, it produces spin and corporate-speak instead of spontaneity, or it delays stories while subjects ponder whether to approve a quote or how to recraft it. Yes, it’s a complicated issue, and in some cases, some reporters have to agree to quote approval as a condition of getting an interview. But most reputable news organizations – The Times, Washington Post, Economist, Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker — absolutely forbid it, as does TCR (and, yes, we proudly publish our policies, including the policy about after-the-fact quote approval).

Note: For those who want a better understanding–at least from the perspective of the journalism profession–of after-the-fact quote approval, the best primer on this topic is The Times’s former executive editor Jill Abramson’s staff memo issued in September 2012.

Why should veterinarians and others care about press ethics?

If the only place where the leaders of your professional association and their staff experts paid to address all the critical issues facing the profession will discuss these issues is with a “news service” that assures them of this kind of carefully scripted platform, it becomes that much harder for policymakers, animal health professionals, students, fellow veterinarians, and those you serve to get credible, accountable information. And if all other reporters have to submit questions only to the AVMA PR office, which can then craft the organization’s official answers, this only compounds the problem.

Both Kremlin-like practices allow AVMA officials to avoid the test of putting their views to people who will ask them straight questions and report what they actually say, not what they or the organization wish, on reflection, that they had said.

9. How did you get that story about The Dodo?

Documents. Raw source material. To elaborate,  SERFF (System for Electronic Rate and Form Filings), which is a convenient, mostly free, searchable database of insurance filings. When insurance companies want to make changes of any kind, they are required to file for approval with regulators with the departments of insurance in every state in which they wish to implement the change.

Add this URL to your bookmarks https://www.serff.com/serff_filing_access.htm –> The URL brings you to a map of the United States. From this screen, you can select departments of insurance by state. However, for Florida, Washington, and Massachusetts, for reasons not clear to us, access is not provided directly from this page. If you Google “Massachusetts” and “department of insurance,” you will get to the appropriate page:

https://www.mass.gov/orgs/division-of-insurance

California is a good state to start with because it would difficult for a pet insurance product to operate without approval in California. That said, some companies that wish to avoid attention will file in states with low populations of insured pets. It’s important to cast a wide net. Look for filings in California as well as in states like Arizona and Vermont where a company might hide a product.

 

2. After you click on California, you will land on this page: California Department of Insurance. This goes for all states. Look for “SERFF Filing Access” and click the URL. You’re looking for filings.

More TK

Some documents to get you started: