At a time when newspapers and traditional news media are facing an alarming decline, the black sheep of the family has been bucking the trend. And they’re doing it by attracting the most sought-after and elusive audience: 20- and 30-somethings.
For the past two decades, Vice Media – the magazine, website, film production company, record label and publishing house – has managed to surprise, repulse, shock and entertain with niche, pop culture stories. But more recently, Vice has been making headway with its investigative news content – gaining access to some of the world’s most dangerous environments through a rough-and-ready, DIY, cowboy style of video journalism.
The debate rages about who exactly the new millennials are and what they want (are we civic-minded or selfish; evolved or immature?). We do know that rather than buying the paper or watching the six o’clock news, the younger generation is using Twitter and other social media to curate their own news feed on their own time.
As a result, competition for online readership is intense, and slick video content is becoming increasingly vital for attracting eyeballs. Top players like the New York Times are investing in skillfully produced videos, an area in which Vice Media flourishes.
Vice generates, on average, 60 minutes of video content per day. And its editors have made a science out of obscure and enticing headlines with recent titles like: “I Escaped Death in an Egyptian Police Van but Witnessed an Attempted Rape” and “Meet the Gay Russian Teenager Using Twitter to Combat Homophobia.” This past April, Vice and HBO premiered a documentary TV series – an investigative news show that covers the underbelly of culture in places around the world, with hosts that could easily be mistaken for your local bartender rather than your typical TV reporter.
Vice’s recent growth has been stunning. In 2013, Vice.com was visited by 15 million unique readers a month, the majority of which were between the ages of 26 to 30. Their visibility continues to grow – as do their profits. With huge injections of money from advertising giants looking to capitalize on their success, Vice continues to offer a free magazine that has circulation in 28 countries, a website with free online video content, and a YouTube channel that has over 3.2 million subscribers.
Meanwhile, major Canadian newspapers are bleeding, forced to shed staff through lay-offs, payouts, and the closing down of their foreign bureaus. Without their own reporters on the ground, editors for these major newspapers are forced to rely on independent (often underpaid and uninsured) freelancers to get their stories. When that proves to be too expensive or time consuming, they use stories that come straight from news wires like Reuters, instead of maintaining exclusive content and breaking the news themselves.
The financial crunch felt by these publications has also meant that in the past year, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and the National Post, are among the growing number of news websites who have elected to introduce pay-walls, limiting free access to their online content by charging subscription fees, and creating another hurdle in the race to gain young readership.
What’s Vice’s secret? Simple: they do news differently. Vice’s informal, off-the-cuff form of “immersive” journalism, with its accessible language and bizarre content, exists in sharp contrast to the dry, stilted style of a traditional news storytelling. Vice reporters survey the scene to draw out the most peculiar, funny and often horrifying stories that major media cannot or simply do not bother to cover. Highly-publicized recent examples include videos like the “Basketball Diplomacy” featuring Dennis Rodman and North Korean “supreme leader” Kim Jong-un, and “Chinese Cockblock” about China’s one-child policy.
The credibility of Vice’s content and journalistic approach will continue to be debated. But its growing influence and reach shows no signs of waning. For now, Vice holds the attention of the youngest generation – a powerful asset within an industry where the future is very uncertain. Like it or not, this black sheep is getting a lot of attention.
Raja Moussaoui trained as an architect and is a freelance journalist and designer. Find her at http://rajamoussaouiworks.com/ or @RajaMoussaoui.