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After backlash, Mark Bittman agrees to change the Salty name of his new food site

This post has been updated.

When cookbook author and former New York Times columnist Mark Bittman announced Tuesday that he was launching a new online food publication with Medium, people were intrigued by the name: Salty. It’s a food name, sure, but it’s also slang for feisty or irritated. It fits the publication’s scope, which Bittman outlined in an introductory post: to cover the world of food with an eye for politics and inequality, in addition to recipes and personal essays.

Salty launched with an appropriately salty story from chef and writer Tunde Wey about a restaurant district in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Whateverwhere, USA, a place that is nowhere and everywhere. And food writers and fans praised the clever name, with its retro font and pink logo.

It’s such a good name, another publication had already come up with it. Salty, a “sex, dating and relationships newsletter for women, trans and non binary people,” launched in March 2018. It, too, has a pink logo with a retro font. And its editors see Bittman’s initial adoption of the name — which has since been changed — as another way the “deck is stacked against” women, trans and non-binary people, they tweeted.

The founder of Salty is Claire F., who asked go by her last initial because she said she and other Salty writers have been subject to online harassment. She and her collaborators chose the name Salty for what it conveyed: “It’s visceral. Sex is salty, sweat is salty, tears are salty,” she said. “It’s used to put down women who stand up for themselves. We wanted to take the power back.”

She said she found out about Bittman’s Salty when her contributors, all volunteers, shared a link to a New York Times article about the publication in a Slack channel. When she saw the similarities between the two logos, she was “really angry.”

“We’ve been around for a year. We’re not nobodies. It takes literally a Google search to find us,” Claire said. “Either they haven’t done their due diligence, which is shocking, or they’ve seen us and have decided that what we do is of little consequence.”

When a company — especially one with the resources of Medium, which was founded by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams — starts a new brand or vertical, there’s a lot of consideration that goes into the name. Often a name will have to be vetted by the company’s lawyers to prevent a situation just like this one; choose a name too similar to a preexisting brand, and if the products or services offered by both are similar enough to cause consumer confusion, the company could be sued for alleged trademark infringement. This can be applicable even if a company has not yet registered its trademark, as is the case with Salty the newsletter. Even though one publication is about food and the other is about gender, both Saltys are online publications with similar logos, which could be enough to confuse readers.

Claire says she received an email Tuesday from Williams asking whether someone from his team could speak with her. She replied and asked for a face-to-face meeting with Williams, instead.

“I’m sure they’ll say it was just a mistake, but that’s not good enough,” she said. In fact, that’s what happened after our interview.

“We made a mistake – a stupid but honest one – and are in the process of fixing it,” Bittman said in an email to The Post. He tweeted that he was working to change the name. On Friday, the name appeared as simply “Bittman,” or “Medium x Bittman,” depending on where on the site it displayed.

But even though Medium was complying with Claire’s request to change Salty’s name and logo, she also wants compensation: The New York Times reported that Williams had given Bittman’s Salty a “bigger investment than other” publications under the umbrella of Medium, though the company did not disclose the amount. Claire has been seeking funding for the newsletter, but it’s been harder to find investors willing to fund a publication about marginalized groups. “I want tangible financial support,” she said. She still hopes to speak with Williams.

Medium has not yet responded a request for comment. Claire said she hopes she will bring greater attention to the struggles that publications for marginalized groups face.

“It’s important for the coverage of this story to keep the bigger picture in mind: This isn’t about a logo, this isn’t about a color palette, this isn’t about a word, this is about the fact that there are cis white men benefiting from broken power structures that keep them in power and keep them in wealth,” she said. “This whole mess is an example of it. They haven’t respected the voices of women, and trans and non-binary people.”

Meanwhile, she’s also working on getting the next Salty newsletter out. It was supposed to be published the day that Bittman’s Salty made its debut, “but I got a little bit distracted,” she said.

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