The Currency of Ideas: A Visit to Vice

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Taking in the Vice ethos, students prepare to members of the digital and news team.

Look no further for the future of news than the repurposed lot of a Domino Sugar factory along the East River in Brooklyn, where Vice Media recently opened its doors to students from NYU’s MS in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program. To no surprise, the 75-thousand square foot Vice headquarters offers a casual, yet kinetic, workplace true to its identity as a contemporary news outlet. As you enter, imagine a white grand piano on your left and a retro Coca-Cola light-up sign with company updates on your right. Imagine an open lobby decked with rustic couches and tables, wood horn speakers, and a fully-stocked bar home to “Old Blue Last,” Vice’s own beer available all day, every day. Then imagine a huge terrace with a vibrant garden of fruits, veggies and spices against the buzzing backdrop of the Manhattan skyline. At Vice Media, the commitment to the language of image and sight is on display at the company’s home base in Williamsburg – where journalistic values echo this awareness not only of what but how its content is seen by viewers worldwide.

Executive Managing Editor Dory Carr-Harris (right) taking students’ questions.

Setting the stage for our visit was Communications Assistant Lauren Bobek, who queued up three videos exemplifying the rousing visual tone of Vice, which covered newsworthy locations ranging from Iraq and Manila to Charlottesville and Chicago. Dory Carr-Harris, Executive Managing Editor of Vice.com, then helped us understand the core mission, laying out the underlying principles of the news outlet. “Ultimately, Vice aims to look at human stories that hit passion points. To achieve that, it is important for us to report from within the topic rather than around it. We want people who are living the stories to tell them on their own accord.” As the dialogue continued, Carr-Harris discussed the many ways in which Vice plans to expand its global reach while sustaining its high standard of journalistic integrity. “We hope to take content from international offices and accurately translate [that content] to achieve a new platform and a new voice,” she continued, when asked by one student how Vice plans to manage content creation across multiple third-world countries.

Producers Shawn Killebrew, Alex Waterfield, and Matthew Horowitz, and Vice News Editor-in-Chief Ryan McCarthy

Vice Media began in 1994 in Montreal as an “odd, hybrid form of pseudo-journalism,” Producer Shawn Killebrew noted, whose show Vice on HBO and network of connections became far more refined as time went on. “Now Vice includes a wide swath of international politics, culture, and medicine,” he added, joined by two fellow producers Alex Waterfield and Matthew Horowitz, as well as Editor-in-Chief of Vice News Ryan McCarthy. Inquiries from NYU students led to a lively discussion as to how Vice navigates form and content to maintain its visceral, no-nonsense reporting style while also cultivating new platforms for new markets. “Our show is modular in a way, and our format is flexible,” McCarthy commented, discussing how Vice’s fluid approach to news allows more organic narratives than is otherwise present in more conventional media. “We’re not interested in doing commodity stories,” he added. “And we aren’t afraid to call people on their bull.”

Communications Assistant Lauren Bobek (center) shows students the great terrace view and herb garden.

In a particularly insightful ending to the day, the panel offered advice to NYU students. “Your ideas are your only currency,” said Waterfield, leading Horowitz to echo this point a moment later: “It’s really a merit-based system. If you have strong, original ideas, then people will take notice.” What’s more, McCarthy added that obsessiveness is a virtue in our day and age because it demonstrates passion and willpower, dedication and drive. He spoke of one young woman at Vice who, on her own accord, called 66 Puerto Rican hospitals to gather information on the death toll of Hurricane Maria. This poignant anecdote seemed to hang in the air long after our dialogue had ended and the NYU students descended into the Williamsburg streets. It seemed to embody the power of wherewithal in this year of watershed importance for media outlets, like Vice, which are unafraid of harsh facts when they constitute even harsher truths. It also seemed to call for an Old Blue Last straight from the tap – but that’s for another day, I suppose.

Students excitedly tour the Vice lobby, with its grand piano and  bespoke beer.

by Zach Muhlbauer

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