How best to describe VICE?
(a) Journalism, entertainment, investigative
(b) Immersive, gonzo, guerilla, verite
(c) Controversial, uncouth, uncomfortable
(d) DIY, collaborative, global, participatory
(e) Print, web, TV, film, digital
(f) News, Fashion, Music, Sports, Tech, Travel
(g) All the above
It’s not easy to describe, but one thing is for sure,
“Vice has never been celebrated for good taste …The company started in Montreal, in the mid-nineties, as a free magazine with a reputation for provocation … In recent years, Vice has been engaged in an energetic process of growing up—both commercially and in terms of journalistic ambition. It now has thirty-five offices in eighteen countries … It operates a record label … book and film divisions … a suite of Web sites; and an in-house ad agency. According to Shane Smith, Vice’s C.E.O., “The over-all aim, the over-all goal is to be the largest network for young people in the world.”(Lizzie Widdicombe, “The Bad-Boy Brand,” The New Yorker, 2013)
Although the company has been around in one form or another since 1994, VICE has risen considerably in public awareness recently, first with its story on Dennis Rodman’s roadtrip to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong-un, THE HERMIT KINGDOM: BASKETBALL DIPLOMACY,” then its report from the Ukraine, RUSSIAN ROULETTE, by Simon Ostrovsky, who was kidnapped (and released) in the process, and most recently its forty minute documentary, THE ISLAMIC STATE, by freelancer Medyan Dairieh.
“The riveting footage and remarkable access in “The Islamic State” provoked envy and wonder — those little dickens at Vice had done it again — and raised questions about the line between propaganda and news …
So how did Vice get the get? “We asked,” said Jason Mojica, editor in chief of Vice News. He stated categorically that no money had been paid and said that the restrictions under which Mr. Dairieh worked were there for all to see in the video. It was a choreographed media opportunity with one of the most dangerous, well-armed terrorist organizations in the world, one that he said was worth the risk and the effort … We did our best to minimize the risk and give our viewers the information they needed to make a judgment about what they were seeing.” (David Carr, “It’s Edge Intact, Vice is Chasing Hard News,” The New York Times, August 24, 2014)
Vice is clearly targeting millennials. Vice VP, Jim Czarnecki, described the company’s signature style in the comments he made at the IFP Future Forward event in New York (September 17, 2014). Its hosts and editorial staff are, for the most part, under thirty. They are immersed in their stories, which are told as they’re happening, in real time, on location, however remote or dangerous. The use of sit-down interviews is minimal and hand-held cameras predominate. Access to subjects is key, as is telling compelling, authentic stories, which are unique and timely, but not CNN-style “breaking news.”
“Vice’s ‘guerrilla journalism’ is, to say the least, succeeding in getting a new audience interested in world affairs. For traditional media companies, the most interesting thing may be less its daring journalistic techniques than its ability to make money from digital news. But Smith [Vice co-founder and CEO] knows his market:
“News audiences on TV are skewing at 50 or older. No one else is creating journalism for young people…Young people, who are the majority of our audience, are angry, disenfranchised, and they don’t like or trust mainstream media outlets. They’re leaving TV in droves, but music and news are the two things that the younger generation in every country are excited about and interested in.” (Colin Morrison, Flashes and Flames, September 10, 2014)
It appears that Vice is attracting the attention of not only millennials, but also investors.
In 2013, Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox acquired a 5 percent stake in Vice for $70 million. In September 2014, A&E Networks outbid TimeWarner for a 10% stake to the tune of $250 million.
At the same time Vice received a $250 million investment from Technology Crossover Ventures, a Silicon Valley firm which has invested in companies like Netflix and Facebook. Previous investors have included Intel (the Vice Creators Project), MTV co-founder, Tom Freston, the Raine Group and WPP.
So, given all these investments, where is CEO Shane Smith headed with Vice? Michael Wolf writes in The Hollywood Reporter,
“Smith has built Vice against a background of enormous uncertainty and angst within the media business … while Smith might be the avatar of the new — the quick, the cheap, the young, the cool, the digital — it turns out, reassuringly, that his way forward is television.
What he wants most is a channel, a network, a place to call his own. His new investment capital is said to be earmarked for securing a cable platform, possibly one of the current A&E channels …
Vice’s other trick, perhaps its central one, is not to have been taken over by a big company … largely they seem to have acquiesced to sideline status and to letting Smith call the shots because they really seem to believe he knows the secret, one he has yet to share with anyone.
He’s got the magic — and nobody has seen magic in the media business for quite some time.” (“Michael Wolff on Vice Media: Why Hollywood Is Drinking the Kool-Aid,” The Hollywood Reporter, September 11, 2014)