VICE and the “new journalism model”*

The business of journalism as we know it is in trouble and there’s a scramble for a “new journalism model,” with held up as the latest prototype (see here, here and here). I am not so sure VICE is the new journalism–its partnership with “old media” (CNN, HBO) is old fashioned, it mostly produces sponsored content (nothing new there), owns an advertising agency and makes nice with Rupert Murdoch. Of course, VICE’s style represents something fresh. With its diversity of topics and irreverence, it is a vast improvement on the talking heads of cable news. But, there is also much to dislike about VICE.

There’s its cheap headlines, sensationalism, vulgarity, misogyny, the way it ridicules mostly non-Western people, and its very white, male, Anglo-American look.

On balance, VICE’s Africa coverage is more bad than good, even when they try not to—whether they cover cyber-fraud in Ghana, embark on “Guides” to Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo that resemble “Heart of Darkness” or exaggerate alcohol abuse in Uganda.

Basically they’re just another ambitious media company (Shane Smith, one of the founders, refers to VICE as “the Time Warner of the Streets”) interested in market share, synergy and branding. So, yes, they may be introducing a whole lot of young people to international affairs, but in the process they also work very hard to undermine their own credibility.

* This is a slightly edited version of what I wrote down when Al Jazeera English contacted me about a 60-second comment for  a feature they ran on VICE on the channel’s media program, “The Listening Post.” Start watching the Listening Post feature at 13:52. My short comment was for “Global Village Voices,” a regular, short segment on “Listening Voices” that are usually included at the end of features like the VICE story. A very condensed cut of my comment–to fit into the program’s format; nothing malicious–made it onto the final version of the episode.


6 thoughts on “VICE and the “new journalism model”*

  1. it’s hard not to take on hegemonic views of the world or reproduce them when a small indie paper goes global. with all its faults, i have to say that while nearly EVERY Hollywood narrative and even major news coverage is told from a structurally racist, sexist, and classicist vantage point, Vice stories, with all of its surface anti-PC irreverence and jokes, and even with the white male “look”, actually are not. That is the most important thing from where i stand. While the “holy shit check this out!” sensationalism is frat-ish and studenty, it is also a part of their success.

  2. I have set my dvr to record the season run of Vice on Hbo, but haven’t been able to watch more than one episode (North Korea defectors/ India vs Pakistan…) Something about the show is just not right, starting with the hosts’ attitude. They, along with the camera, are obviously outsiders, detached from the reality of that which they are reporting on, relying instead on the premise that , yes, this is incredibly dangerous and incredibly crazy, and aren’t glad you are not here; along with bright, strong images and enhancing camera work, all the tropes of reality tv. At the end of the day, nothing new is offered (and has not been done already by the BBC, with more danger and more insight) and everything is over simplified.

  3. Watch “The Vice Guide To Haaj”, it’s really interesting. And not narrated by a white guy. I think that’s a somewhat dubious claim in this post; it focuses on Shane Smith re: the “white guy” perspective, when actually alot of the international Vice stories are not hosted by white guys/Shane Smith. Won’t deny the misogyny, but I don’t think it’s reaches “gonzo porn” levels of misogyny.

    They’ve produced some great stuff…Heavy Metal in Baghdad, Vice Guide To North Korea…and it’s disingenuous to expect outsiders to report on foreign countreis with the nuance of a native. They should do their research, absolutley, but a small degree of misrepresentation (not purposefully calculated) should be expected.

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