What We Know — the Facts regarding i-D and Steven Underwood’s Pitch / #FUCKVICE

Juwan J. Holmes
Jun 2, 2019 · 9 min read

There’s probably been a lot of misconceptions and misinformation about our accusation that i-D stole Steven Underwood’s (Twitter: @blaqueword) pitch. People may think we’re making this up. We’ve already been subbed, accused of searching for attention, doing this for clout. People have told us that we should expect, or accept this from the journalism and media industry (or both). This is not an attempt to respond to each of those, as much of that has been addressed already. Instead, I’m going to lay out the timeline of exactly what happened - with sources, two things that so far, i-D Magazine and Vice Media refuse to do.

(If this is your introduction to this topic, view my Twitter moment below, Steven’s thread, or my follow up thread calling for us to Boycott VICE Media and others until they address our claims.)

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  • April 15: Underwood (@/blaqueword) pitches the potential feature article on Demetrius Harmon (@DemetriusHarmon) and his activism to Salter (Underwood’s screenshot of the email is below.) Later, Salter will claim that he is on a mental break at this time and never saw this pitch, but he tweeted/retweeted 5 mostly I-D related tweets, including regarding a London event that week. https://twitter.com/Steve_Salter/status/1117734256334245889
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  • April 26: Demetrius announces his Green+Gray You Matter hoodies are dropping on May 1 for mental health awareness month. https://twitter.com/DemetriusHarmon/status/1121907066187198464 Now, Somewhere in this time, I-D schedules and sets up a photo shoot and interview of Demetrius. On May 29th their piece is published, “written” by JL Sirisuk. (Worth noting — Harmon posted about having a photoshoot on May 23.) It is published under their ‘culture’ section, not fashion.
  • The evening of May 29, When I find about the article, I ask Underwood about it, remembering he told me about a similar pitch, but not knowing he had pitched it before, to i-D and Steve Salter specifically.
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  • That’s where we went public — Underwood makes a thread about it, and me and many other people start replying under Demetrius’ post of the article and i-D’s tweet of it, which he’s tagged in and retweets. (Both are later deleted but Yara Shahidi’s tweet is still up). Many of those tweets are directed at I-D and their employees. Underwood also compares his pitch to the article’s introduction and finds them similar.
  • Steve Salter is tagged under one of many tweets being accused of stealing the pitch, and at 01:18 EST (6:18 AM in London) 05/30 he responds, thanking those that tagged him. Here he claims both that he was on mental break when the pitch was sent, he had no idea about this piece “out of the US Office.” https://twitter.com/Steve_Salter/status/1133965861478371330
  • Next, Salter tells us “this is a personal response, not an official one” and promises that an investigation will ensue. https://twitter.com/steve_salter/status/1133974770024947712?s=21 His next reply makes the claim that he was “being attacked”, and that the pitch was “unsolicited” and he had no “professional relationship” with Underwood. https://twitter.com/steve_salter/status/1133985365365284864?s=21 (Go back to the events of April 01–15 — Salter made a call for pitches, has his email in his Twitter bio under “pitches to”, and acknowledges receiving Underwood’s invoice one tweet before.)
  • Now, the morning of May 30, I get a DM from a writer who claims to have seen my tweets, telling me: “It appears the magazine has a pre-existing relationship with the PR team that Demetrius lists in his bio… So his PR team probably pitched the story directly to the US office…” and includes the screenshot of their PR Coordinator’s Instagram story, posted after our first tweets at i-D went out. (To be clear, I couldn’t ascertain how this person came to the conclusion that the PR team pitched, before we happened to be told that again, later. It’s clear they were involved but not what their involvement was. I researched and found the people involved on my own, but I can’t say for sure if this person knows anyone directly involved in any of this.)
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  • Later on the 30th, Demetrius messages Underwood regarding this information. Demetrius says that he’s “confuddled to say the least” and thanks Underwood for a previous article he published about his activism, “before anyone saw anything in me in this space”. Sending a screenshot of someone tagging and criticizing him for not responding, Demetrius says that “I honestly have no idea what is wanted from me or what to do in this situation…with it being about me, it’s almost like I’m simultaneously seen as a problem along with i-D…so like the whole burden of it all is on my shoulders.” His next message continues, “I honestly don’t know if they saw your pitch and stole it, but I know my agent pitched me to them for mental health awareness month originally to bring attention to the green hoodies. But I also wanted to know what I could do.” Underwood, in essence, tells him “I think the best thing for you to do is…you’re a poet, speak your truth for you and let it exist as is.” https://twitter.com/blaqueword/status/1134631085508300800?s=21 https://twitter.com/blaqueword/status/1134631210582511619?s=21

These events, outside of Steve Salter’s replies and the DMs we’ve received, have been unaddressed by i-D. From the attention our claims garnered, many fellow writers and content creators also bravely spoke up about times they have been stolen from, deceived, or taken advantage of by editors and publications, including numerous further accusations of i-D and its parent corporation, VICE Media. I announced my belief that it was in all writers’ best interest to boycott their work and calls to pitches from them and their associated brands, in addition to Teen Vogue and Newsweek, until our claims are properly addressed. Their has been complete radio (or Twitter) silence by their employees since then, but i-D and VICE have continued to release and tweet further content, to criticism. i-D notably tweeted out this quote on the afternoon of May 30:

“it is perfectly normal for a seemingly normal thing to bother you. don’t try to tune it out. you owe that person nothing.”

This is from Mistress Carmen, a dominatrix featured in their article “5 Dominatrix Explain the Rules of Consent”, but they did not link the article or credit Mistress Carmen in this tweet — they simply left this quote, out of context and uncredited.

I understand Demetrius’ position — these accusations mean we’re discrediting his team of representatives, and it’s not easy hearing that about those that represent you. It’s also frustrating to be featured in a major publication, but then have negative reflections around that feature.

What I know, first hand, is laid out above. This is my record, my testimony, laid here for good. I do want to make clear a few things: I am not, nor am I trying to, attack or defame Steve Salter, JL Sirisuk, Demetrius Harmon, those at The Hyphenate, or even i-D or VICE, or their employees. I just laid out facts, and based on the order of events, we should get answers. That’s what journalists do, and that’s what we expect those at VICE Media (and the other publications named) to do on a daily basis. Journalism is already under attack and “dying”, with thousands of journalists having been laid off so far in the first 5 months of 2019 alone. I don’t intend to further that or bring such a fate here, but journalists also ask the questions others don’t want to, so if others don’t intends to ask, I am choosing to.

To you, the reader, draw your own conclusions — if you’ve read this and believe we’re off base or crazy, that’s fine. Even if this one accusation wasn’t credible, there were at least 6 other accusations against media publications that my fellow writers, journalists and content creators publicly came forward with, potentially sacrificing their future, financially and career-wise. Accusations of stealing pitches, journalism methods, paraphrasing or using of other’s writings as staff writers’ basis of theirs — and straight up plagiarism. Hundreds of people, many freelancers or writers, those with best selling books and those who are looking up to writers for guidance and a voice, are calling for answers. If we are willing to risk our reputation and identities, I think that’s evidence enough. Help me ask those involved to publicly answer for themselves, so there can be a record of acknowledgement on these events.

Here are the many questions I have been left with from these events. I’m not necessarily asking you, but mostly those at i-D, VICE, and/or Demetrius Harmon’s PR team, the Hyphenate.

  • Why have we not heard from you since the morning of May 30? Has superiors i-D/VICE commanded you not to? You tweeted that pitches are supposed to be forwarded or CC’d to other editors or employees. Is that what happened here, and if so, to whom did it go?
  • This supposed pitch regarding these new version of the “You Matter” hoodies, if managed correctly, would’ve gone to i-D’s fashion editor, Steve Salter. Did this pitch or connection involve him, and if not, whom? Can you prove or acknowledge that a pitch was received from the Hyphenate in reference to Demetrius Harmon? If so, why were you (or your editorial department) not interested in the subject matter on April 15, but became interested enough to publish this on May 29? Did something change? If the Hyphenate did pitch i-D — or had a previous relationship, as suggested — was this formulated between April 26 and May 29? Did someone on this editorial team later go back to Steven Underwood’s pitch and use it as a starting point for your feature on Demetrius?
  • Of JL Sirisuk’s 30 contributions to i-D, 21 are under culture or music (my count), while 5 are in fashion. 26 focus on non-black subjects, and to my knowledge none of them focus on the subject of mental health. Was she assigned this story, or did she come up with the idea on her own? Why did no one research, follow up or find out if other writers had previously written, or offered to write on this subject? (In both cases, Steven Underwood would have, should have been found, whether from his emails which Salter says should have been forwarded to others, or his previous article on Harmon’s work in 2017.) Why did this editorial team, as claimed by Salter, fail to find Underwood’s pitch, and respond to him afterwards, informing him that they were going a different direction?
  • If i-D was pitched to by the Hyphenate in reference to his “You Matter” hoodies, why were the hoodies only mentioned three times in the story, and zero times regarding the new Green or Gray versions produced for Mental Health Awareness month? Why was the focus of the story not the hoodies, as suggested that it was, and published two days before the end of the month it was celebrating? Was it last minute and did that effect the editorial process? Was this story originally supposed to be under fashion, or culture as it was published? Why does Sirisuk’s published introduction appear similar to Underwood’s as it was pitched?
  • Can you confirm that there is or will be an investigation, as Mr. Salter told us? If so, when can we expect it to conclude? Can you prove that the story was independently constructed, or pitched to you, and published independently of Steven Underwood’s work? Why are you, a major billion-dollar media organization who relies partially on the work of freelancers, refusing to respond (or doing so slowly) to our concerns, the subset of the industry that helps produce your content? What about the concern of your readers? Why have you ignored the accusations of others for so long? If you can’t respond to those that try to work on your behalf, how can we trust your media organization to press answers from your subjects? i-D’s tagline is ‘the original fashion and style bible’. How can you claim that if you can’t or won’t defend your work as original? Most simple, and final of all, did you use Steven Underwood’s pitch in ANY WAY to produce this article? Why are you allowing your employees, which may include several reputable writers and editors, to suffer from accusations of thievery and shame of their employer, if what’s being said is not accurate? How can we trust anything you publish from here on out?

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