Walkout at ePregnancy over slanted coverage
By Heidi Vogt
A conflict of journalistic integrity is brewing in Utah involving an eight-month-old magazine, a pair of work-at-home moms, and some stretch-mark vanishing cream.
\Late last week the entire editorial and creative staff of ePregnancy magazine walked off the job, claiming among other issues that it was being forced to write stories promoting the products of Basic Research, the parent of the magazine's publisher, Majestic Media.
“There was no separation of church and state between the publishing office and the marketing director’s office. The only thing between us was the pool table,” says Kyle Cox, ePregnancy’s group publishing and circulation director until this past Thursday.
At a small operation like ePregnancy, the walkout didn’t involve many people. The founding editors, Nancy Price and Betsy Gartrell-Judd quit, accompanied by Kyle Cox, his wife, designer Karen Cox, and his father, color-correction/photo specialist Jim Cox.
The products in question are those made by Magia Bella, another subsidiary of Basic Research. The Magia Bella line of beauty products for pregnant women includes a skin elasticizer to prevent stretch marks, shampoo designed to protect hair from the hormonal variations of pregnancy, bust support concentrate, and instant leg energizing gel.
Magia Bella was an advertiser with ePregnancy.com before taking on the startup costs of the print magazine and continues to run ads both in the magazine and on the ePregnancy.com web site.
“There was an article on stretch mark cream where we called competitors that make similar products saying we’re going to do interviews and reviews," says Cox.
"When it came down to it, the marketing director who’s in charge of the products said that we had to take out all references to any other clients and put a sidebar in with a picture of just his product only,” says Cox.
According to Cox, Basic Research marketers also had the final say on editorial content, insisted on articles that complimented Magia Bella products and wrote cover taglines. “In the beginning we weren’t even allowed to sell advertising to competitors,” says Cox.
Staffers also suggest that Basic Research made even more questionable decisions regarding the photography in the magazine. “If it wasn’t the right kind of picture, we had to change it,” says Cox, declining to comment further.
Until this conflict, Nancy Price and Betsy Gartrell-Judd had seemed an unstoppable example of enterprising young mothers succeeding in the business world.
The two women met online when both were pregnant, became friends, and eventually hatched the idea of an information-packed internet site for mothers. They ventured online in 1998, both working from their homes in Ohio and California to create the new internet portal – myria.com.
Since then, their collection of websites has expanded to include ePregnancy.com, chefmom.com and geoparent.com. The ePregnancy.com site alone attracts more than half a million unique users every month. The print magazine was to be Price and Gartrell-Judd’s first venture into traditional media.
ePregnancy published its first issue this past July. Currently the magazine has about 85,000 paid circulation and about 425,000 in total circulation, according to publisher Tony Golden’s estimates.
Golden claims that ePregnancy’s group exodus had very little to do with editorial issues. While a Basic Research consultant did write cover lines, the departments were very separate, according to Golden.
Instead, Golden says the real disagreement was over contracts and a product venture that didn’t work out financially for the editors.
“Nancy and Betsy also put together a deal with Basic Research to manage a line of pregnancy products, Magia Bella. That portion of the deal didn’t work out and they wanted to back out, so they also had to back out of the magazine,” says Golden.
In an email Gartrell-Judd called Golden’s description an “incomplete assessment.”
Gartrell-Judd says she and Price left for editorial, general creative, business, moral/ethical and financial differences. Gartrell-Judd declined to comment further because of pending litigation against Majestic Media.
Golden says that readers will not notice the changes at ePregnancy.
“Art directors come and go; even editors come and go,” says Golden. According to Golden, Majestic Media has the rights to the ePregnancy trademark and so will continue to publish under the same name.
However, Gartrell-Judd disputes this claim and is planning to fight to get the name back. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, ePregnancy has been registered to Myria (of which Price and Gartrell-Judd are co-owners) since 2000.
February 10, 2003© 2003 Media Life
-Heidi Vogt is a staff writer for Media Life.