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Twenty years ago, Vice was founded by Shane Smith. It is aimed at the youth all over the world and prides itself on being edgy and offering something to people who have no interest in mainstream media. Vice started out as a cool little hard copy magazine and when the Internet came along, Smith reinvented it and has made it one of the most well-known media brands on the planet. One of Vice’s smartest moves has been it’s use of video; where most media outlets have suffered in the age of the Internet, Vice have relished the opportunity and have been at the forefront of it’s potential from the beginning.
The John McAfee saga is the first example of how Vice have been the first on a story with access that has left the mainstream press feeling very hard done by. Pre-Christmas 2012, John McAfee’s activity and whereabouts dominated the press when the Belizean police announced that they were wanting to question McAfee in connection the recent murder of his neighbour. McAfee eventually surfaced – he had indeed gone into hiding – and was in the company of his girlfriend who was 18 years old (age is only a number of course, he just happened to be 66 at the time). The couple weren’t alone; they also happened to be hanging out with two Vice reporters. So, the police and the worldwide media had been trying to track McAfee down while these two reporters from Vice had been helping to smuggle McAfee over the border into Guatemala.
The best bit of this story is that the two from Vice managed to reveal McAfee’s whereabouts, apparently by accident, by blogging a photo with the title ‘We are with John McAfee right now, suckers’.
When the Vice team returned from their McAfee adventure, they released a statement which included the following:
“Our team has just returned home to debrief and deliver said footage. We have always been transparent in our filmmaking and will continue that practice—this will be no exception. If we fucked up, you can be sure it will be in the film, which we will show everyone, everywhere—warts and all. The story as a whole has engaged people around the world precisely because it is so freaky, and even if it shows that we made mistakes on the ground during a very hectic and dangerous week of reporting on McAfee’s mistakes, we are sure it’s going to make one hell of a documentary.”
And that they did. The video below is a taster of the exclusive footage they managed to gather in their time with McAfee. This access is pretty unbelievable.
More recently, a Vice documentary film crew managed to get into North Korea with basketball superstar Dennis Rodman. Vice were in the right place at the right time as Rodman, surreally, befriended Kim Jong-Un (the new leader of North Korea). Outtakes from the bizarre pairing of people were sent by Vice to the rest of the world who watched on in wonder. They got some deserved viral attention from these shenanigans.
This is the documentary that Shane Smith made about North Korea:
This is an awe-inspiring video in which Vice get to show off their unprecedented access within North Korea:
Shane Smith told the Guardian newspaper, “our whole mission statement at Vice is the absurdity of the modern condition. So it made perfect sense for us.”
What makes the McAfee and Kim Jong Un examples so interesting is that they are stories that everyone wanted but that no one was able to get. Vice, with their breed of daredevil journalism, managed to get access that left the mainstream media baffled, wondering what they are doing wrong.
Without a TV audience, Vice have used online video via their online magazine to build a profile and reputation that is comparable to a TV channel. They have done it by being different. Vice have a very particular audience i.e. younger people who aren’t interested in the mainstream news. Their language reflects their audience. The range of topics covered with the range of different media types also makes sure they hit their target.
Vice’s video content isn’t tokenistic. It’s not like they have just thought ‘young people are lazy and won’t read so we will do little videos’. They actually care about their craft. Many of their videos are in fact short documentaries and they have built enough credibility to now be in a position to launch a 24-hour terrestrial news channel (in 18 countries). They are also going to have a documentary series in partnership with HBO. Maybe Shane Smith isn’t being unrealistic in his dream to become the largest online media network in the world…