Waitrose and William Sitwell: Censorious Twitter haters score another victory - Press Gazette

Waitrose and William Sitwell: Censorious Twitter haters score another victory


There is something rather impressive about the way William Sitwell has lost his job.

He is a journalist so incapable of writing a boring a sentence that even when responding to a freelance pitch he couldn’t resist a flourish of hyperbole. To my mind his note was meant to amuse  – and maybe also to offend. But I think he will not be short on offers of work.

After freelance journalist Selene Nelson suggested a “plant-based meal series” to Sitwell, he responded: “Hi Selene. Thanks for this. How about a series on killing vegans, one by one. Ways to trap them? How to interrogate them properly? Expose their hypocrisy? Force-feed them meat? Make them eat steak and drink red wine?”

I guess he was making the point that a series of articles on how to make meals out of vegetables was not the most original idea in the world and Nelson would have to go back to the drawing board if she was going to make it into Waitrose Food.

Sadly it seems that it is outspoken editors, and even entire publications. that some would like to see killed off one by one.

When Waitrose was bombarded with Twitter messages from censorious vegetable lovers it quickly caved in, apparently pushing its multi-award-winning editor of 20 years to go. He stepped down with immediate effect yesterday in a move that was welcomed by the posh supermarket chain.

It is the latest brand to surrender to a vocal minority of Twitter users who feel they can dictate what other people choose to read.

It is an incident to file alongside campaign group Stop Funding Hate in the archive of digital attacks on press freedom.

That group dislikes the journalism of the Daily Mail, Express and Sun titles so much that it would like to see them snuffed out of existence by starving them of advertising. So far it has mobilised its army of Twitter tabloid haters to persuade Paperchase, Evans Cycles and Lego to withdraw promotional activity from certain tabloids in response to campaigns targeting corporate Twitter accounts.

It has been said to me “what if Sitwell was talking about Jews, or people from a specific ethnic minority instead of vegans?”. But I don’t think we can class vegetablism (hatred of those who eat vegetables that is) alongside racism, sexism and anti-semitism.

I’ve recently given up drinking alcohol. If I pitched an article about cocktails for teetotallers to the editor of a drinks magazine and he responded by saying: “I think all non-drinkers should be hunted down and ritually disembowelled one by one”, I honestly don’t think I would be offended.

Knowing how hard it is for freelances to even get a response from time-pressed editors I might even feel appreciative of the fact that he or she had bothered to respond to my email.

If Nelson was offended and upset by Sitwell’s comments she deserves an apology and has received one. In my view that is where the matter should rest.

Dominic Ponsford is editor-in-chief of Press Gazette.



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14 thoughts on “Waitrose and William Sitwell: Censorious Twitter haters score another victory”

  1. Bottom line – Sitwell was unprofessional. He could have simply replied “thanks, it’s not one for us though”, or words to that effect. Or not replied. And Waitrose has a brand to protect. A brand that recently launched (and was first to do so) a huge range of vegan products. Waitrose Food is customer publishing and the customer – both Waitrose as a customer of the publisher of its magazine and Waitrose’s vegan shoppers – is always right. Sitwell was an idiot. It’s one thing to joke about something with your mates (and you should hear me on the “gluten-free food faddists – not a reference to people with coeliac disease). But there’s no need to insult a colleague, even one unknown as yet to you. Yes, her pitch should probably have been better honed. But she didn’t deserve to be treated unprofessionally.

  2. Not sure why he ‘resigned’ when an apology and perhaps sent on a ‘don’t be a pompous git in the workplace course’ (not vegan specific, there’s just no need to be a wazzock if you’re in a position to yay or nay folks’ pitches) and, you know, commission something from her, would suffice. So I can only imagine that since neither Waitrose nor John Brown publishing were prepared to stick up for WS, they weren’t too traumatised at seeing him go…

    Anticipate the editor role to be repurposed to ‘head of content for Waitrose Media’ or something at a <£salary

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