This video on cocaine and Colombia is why VICE is winning journalism
*Originally published on White Cover Magazine...
If you've been hearing a lot about this VICE thing the past couple of years, if you're a journalist and you're wondering why you can't get that coveted but often brushed-off 16-30-year-old demographic to watch your show instead, then the video above is maybe the one of their many you should watch.
Vice doesn't talk down to their audience. They don't even talk down to their subjects or insult them or rip them apart, even though they're all cocaine producers, dealers, and (let's just say it) probably killers.
Even though they're hiding their faces from the camera and flicking little baggies of white powder and feeding a dog marijuana, the reporter doesn't feel the need to justify to you – the suddenly educated viewer – why they should be telling you this story, or why it's okay to show you the other side of the drug war from the other side of the drug war.
Other sites, they're afraid to say words like "abortion" or "Huffington Post" – afraid to show you something without a disclaimer or a carefully constructed first paragraph, probably because some mother or father will call them and tell them they're evil for putting something gritty on TV while their son or daughter is still awake. They're so afraid of the web's deep, blue ocean, their reporters end their Twitter bios with, "My RTs do not mean endorsements" or "My Tweets are my own, not my employer's". (Here's a tip: we know they're your own thoughts. That's what your handle is for. If something you Tweet gets you in hot water with your boss, that's between you and your boss, not us and your boss.)
But not Vice. They don't feel the need to explain everything to you, to tell you why you should watch or when you should feel sad or guilty or happy. You're already watching, aren't you?
There's been a great disservice done to reporters and journalists who work primarily online, which is this rumour (and it's a slander, really) that the Internet is all full of trolls and worthless opinion and misinformation.
This is, of course, only true to the fault of an individual, or several individuals. But just because Vice invites YouTube commenters doesn't mean Vice is a YouTube commenter. Just because they're on the Internet and just because they publish their opinions, that doesn't mean that's all they offer.
In my experience, I think journalism dies in the five minutes of banter between anchors on morning shows, not on a homepage. And I'm not saying you can't enjoy yourself in the morning, far from it. But if you can enjoy your TV, why can't you enjoy yourself on BuzzFeed, too?
Vice's reporters do their jobs and they do it for you. In the video above, you actually see people snort cocaine on camera. In the video below, you'll see a Vice reporter smoke weed next to Jose Mujica, the President of Uruguay. It's Anthony Bourdain, but without the CNN logo in the top right. (And, oh yeah, Vice has a video with Bourdain, too.)
Vice seems to have figured out very naturally that you don't get viewers by buying viewers. You get viewers like you get customers, by selling them something they want. Instead of coming up with new segments or new features that slip words like "Trending" and "Social Media" into the headline, to trick viewers under 25 into clicking, Vice instead turns its focus to what happens when you do click.
And sure, maybe that video above – the one about cocaine and Colombia and Medellin – will appeal to frat boys who want to quote Scarface or to anyone who still thinks Entourage was a good show.
Maybe it doesn't hurt that Vice's CEO Shane Smith has a beard and tattoos, because the network (can we call it a network yet?) is attracting viewers with beards and tattoos.
But to break Vice down – to break any website down – to its surface, to judge it by its cover is to miss the whole point of why it's winning almost everything it's competing in.
We know it's a mistake with these things. It's a mistake on your computer, too?