By C.C. Clark, Matt Geffen, Katrina Horsey, Will Ogden and Campbell Slavin; from Drew, Marin Academy, Marin School of the Arts and University High Schools
A unique platform for news, commentary, and human interest has come of age in Brooklyn. From this single website, one can learn about lesser-known aspects of international conflict, get insights into blossoming art and youth cultures across America, learn fresh perspectives on sex and gender issues, and even watch a famous rapper discuss his favorite recipes. If any (or all) of these subjects sound tantalizing, VICE, the self-proclaimed “Time Warner of the Street,” is the news source for you.
This multimedia outlet has emerged in recent years as a powerhouse of online, video, broadcast, and print, with its main site and sub-brands covering a plethora of news topics and personal stories. From political turmoil and human rights crises to musical and artistic subcultures to cooking and relationship tips, nothing is off topic for one of the world’s most popular sources for commentary and current events. This past July, Fast Forward took a peek behind the scenes at the company that grew from a modest model of alternative journalism into a modern media empire.
Founded in 1994, VICE began as a print magazine but expanded into other, newer media with the birth of the new millennium. As the company’s evolved it’s encompassed several news and commentary sites, including Motherboard, Noisey, and Munchies, to name a few prominent examples. In addition, VICE has both its own HBO series and its own TV channel, VICELAND, with another HBO series currently in production. The New York office hosts nearly 1,000 employees—and there are many, many more around the globe. What’s behind the company’s ongoing growth and success? Fast Forward visited VICE’s Brooklyn headquarters to find out.
We really feel like we have to be reflective of the world and mirror the people that are reading us. For us, it’s really [about] connecting cultures and communities. I think art’s biggest power is in doing so.
In one of the office’s conference rooms, staffers Marina Garcia-Vasquez and Devin Greenleaf answered questions about their roles within the company and about what VICE represents to the people who read and watch its content. Garcia-Vasquez, a Bay Area native, makes it her job to be on top of the latest developments in art and culture, often attending gallery openings and shows around New York. She’s also an editor in chief of VICE’s website, instrumental in the collection of stories and communicating with the business development team. Her deep interest in art has also made her an advocate for representation and diversity in the works and artists VICE covers. “For every white male artist that we cover, we cover a woman of color, LGBT, [or] someone from a different country,” she says. “We really feel like we have to be reflective of the world and mirror the people that are reading us. For us, it’s really [about] connecting cultures and communities. I think art’s biggest power is in doing so.” Every day she seeks out up-and-coming creative types to showcase on the site—a far cry from the kind of work she did in her previous job on The Wall Street Journal. Tapping into the youth culture is much more important to her than embracing the philosophy of her former employer, which she thinks only appeals to white males with their own businesses. VICE, on the other hand, provides content and a platform for a lot of people conventional journalism doesn’t cater to.
This focus on the culture of art and youth is just one facet of VICE’s coverage. Devin Greenleaf works for VICE News, which covers a wide range of domestic and international stories. Some of VICE’s notable efforts have included sending a journalist behind enemy lines into ISIS-occupied territory; an exposé on the drug crisis plaguing Colombia; an interview with a man in Siberia who claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus; stories on LGBTQ struggles in the developing world, the issues surrounding marijuana legalization, and a newspaper written by refugees for refugees; and the list goes on.
For every white male artist that we cover, we cover a woman of color, LGBT, [or] someone from a different country...
Along with its reputation for covering underreported stories, VICE journalism is famous for its reporters’ bravery, regularly putting their lives on the line for the sake of a powerful story. Greenleaf talked about how coverage of the 2015 Nepal earthquake embodied VICE’s commitment to compelling journalism, risks be damned: “That was a time where we were really focused on making sure the team had water, making sure the team had electricity, and all those types of things. We got really good content out of it. But each day it changed really quickly.” The earthquake (and other stories like it) was too important not to cover, regardless of anyone’s personal safety.
Garcia-Vasquez says that VICE “didn’t start like a news agency at all,” but this once-on-the-fringe outlet has grown far beyond its original ambitions, representing stories and perspectives that appeal to a broad audience of younger people. VICE plays a leading role in reaching a demographic that isn’t embraced by conventional news outlets, inspiring them to take a greater interest in current events. This is what’s given VICE the audience and power it has today: making quality news for a young and global demographic, helping facilitate dialogue and open communication to encourage a new generation to observe, engage, and take action for their world.