Jane Velez-Mitchell: Giving Voice to the Voiceless

Jane Velez-Mitchell: Giving Voice to the Voiceless

After a stellar career in traditional broadcast journalism, Jane Velez-Mitchell is wholeheartedly embracing new media — and she’s doing it in the service of what she calls “the social justice movement of the 21st century.”

That movement is animal rights, the focus of Velez-Mitchell’s new website, JaneUnchained, and her online subscription video series, Defining Moments.

“I had been talking to animal advocates for a long time, and they were saying we need to become the media for animals,” she says. The “we” she refers to isn’t just Velez-Mitchell and her partner in life and work, Donna Dennison, but fellow activists she encourages to contribute their own news videos. “Anybody with a cell phone camera can be a photojournalist,” she says.

Well, that may be the case, but most of them don’t have Velez-Mitchell’s résumé. She spent more than a decade as an anchor and reporter for Los Angeles TV station KCAL, plus eight years as a reporter for WCBS in New York City and stints with other major-market stations and on syndicated shows. She won several awards along the way, then gained national fame with an HLN show bearing her name, which ran for six years before it ended last fall.

Over the past couple of decades she also got sober, became a vegan, and came out as lesbian. In 2009 she chronicled it all in a memoir, iWant: My Journey From Addiction and Overconsumption to a Simpler, Honest Life, which became a bestseller and is one of several books she’s authored.

Now she’s enthusiastically harnessing the power of the Internet to report what she calls “some of the most important stories out there.” These include the use of animals in medical experiments, the breeding of them for that purpose, and the treatment of animals in circuses, and what she calls the “institutionalized cruelty” of large factory farms.

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Velez-Mitchell notes that she’s been asked why she cares so much about animals and even asked directly, “Why don’t you care about people?” She has a ready answer: “I care about animals because I care about people.”

The raising of animals for food, she says, affects humans in many ways, “from climate change to world hunger.” The grains fed to livestock, for instance, could be used much more efficiently to feed people around the world, she says. “A pig is the most inefficient use of resources,” she comments.

She also sees parallels between the animal rights movement and the work done by LGBT and HIV activists. Animal advocates are using direct action tactics as ACT UP did in the 1980s and ’90s, she says, and they are aware that silence does equal death. “To remain silent about the way [farm animals] are raised and the way they die equals death,” she says.

Medical testing on animals, she adds, sees “sentient beings exploited on the basis that they’re different.” She contends that “there’s tremendous repetition and replication” in these experiments, citing as an example the taking of baby monkeys from their mothers in order to study the effects of maternal deprivation, when there are many human children already experiencing such deprivation. “To remain silent on this is to abrogate moral responsibility,” she says.

No one could accuse Velez-Mitchell of remaining silent. She and Dennison tell these stories through the videos they upload to Facebook and YouTube as well as JaneUnchained. So far they’re generating most of JaneUnchained’s content, along with correspondents Donny Moss, Ken Price, and Katherine Pflieger, but they are encouraging users to contribute videos as well. They started the site last fall and relaunched it with a new format last week. They are also seeking sponsors, with an eye to making the site self-supporting — and they have found their first one in a maker of vegan catnip. “It’s a work in progress, but I feel like it’s really taking off,” Velez-Mitchell says of the site.

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Their subscription video series, Defining Moments, went live just a couple of weeks ago on ConnectPal, a Web platform for content creators to share their work. In the weekly series, Velez-Mitchell and Dennison interview activists, mostly from the animal rights world but some from other causes, about the moment that changed their lives. Those profiled so far include dancer and teacher Cynthia King, who makes ballet slippers that contain no animal products, and Nathan Runkle, a gay man who heads an organization called Mercy for Animals and talks about the connections between the gay movement and the animal rights movement. The $2.99-a-month subscription also brings viewers a companion series, Behind the Scenes, which provides a lighthearted look at Velez-Mitchell and Dennison (shown together, left) putting all their projects together.

Being in both a romantic and working relationship has its challenges, but Velez-Mitchell says that so far she and Dennison have managed them successfully. “I am just very lucky and blessed to have Donna in my life,” she says. They have been together three and a half years, and they share a Manhattan studio apartment with two dogs and a cat. Dennison is also a blogger, with a site called SoberVeganLesbian.

Despite her embrace of new media, Velez-Mitchell remains open to the possibility of another TV gig. “I would never say never,” she says. And she’s happy to be interviewed on TV and spread the word about her new efforts, as with a recent appearance on The Meredith Vieira Show.

Meanwhile, JaneUnchained, subtitled “Video for the Voiceless,” gives her ample opportunity to make her voice heard. “I love to talk, and I love to give my opinion,” she says.

Below, watch some of JaneUnchained's reports.

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