Most of the people at my age would be very familiar with the existence with this edgy news media called VICE news. An online media founded by Shane Smith and some other bunch we might not familiar with. VICE started (surprisingly) as a magazine that I sort of suspected no one have ever heard of, or at least anyone who is around my age (or doesn’t live in the States). The magazine started at 1994 and apparently reached quite some successes with CNN and other media tried to buy them in 2004.
However, it is not until the year of 2013, when they came up with their online news that they exploded into the digital world. Vice produces a lot of radical reporting covering various issues from drugs, North Korea, through to education. With their daring reporting that includes getting high with the president of Uruguay, Going to Chernobyl and sending its founder to North Korea, Vice forced its way into various success including (relatively) recent collaboration with the HBO to make their program available in the cable channel.
As a media graduate myself, I see their success isn’t really puzzling to be quite frank. Of course they would need to do a lot of work themselves, and the traction as well as circulation of their contents need to be stable enough. But for me, their target market is really precise that the merely two-years instantaneous success that they achieved makes sense.
Knowing quite well their audiences, (which I as a younger demographic like myself), they played with the topics of drugs, LGBT, human rights, war and environmental issues. Drugs and gay rights have particularly stronger stress in their content (I wish I had an actual data on the proportion of their topic, so please note that this is all based on my view only). Topics that was quite “taboo” to be talked about in the mainstream media and can only be discussed freely recently thanks to the Internet.
As a rebel adolescent who cannot actually show sorts of interest in the topic by themselves, the cyber platform that Vice is operating at becomes the perfect way to express their view on the matter. That is why when Vice can finally get an interview with president Obama, the most asked question was the legalization of Marijuana in the States.
I don’t know how to react to this frankly, because this is a topic with A LOT of social perspectives to be involved in, and I don’t feel like discussing about it at the moment. Instead, I want to take a moment, as a media enthusiast, to explain that Vice is a business after all. I want to talk about this because of a comment mocking at a segment in Youtube by Vice which was supported by the “call of duty” game and talks about the private war contractors. The issue itself I think is real, and to concentrate on sponsors rather than the issue is appalling.
Of course we all have to acknowledge political economics influence in every media contents, and the segment doesn’t operate outside it. The first thing that popped out in my mind watching it was the “Call of Duty” sponsorship and how it would bias their reporting. But the topic itself was quite concerning that I started not to focus on the delivery but more on actively engaging with the content. Eliminating possible bias and taking facts into persona conclusion to decide on the appropriateness of the issue.
I know a Youtube comment shouldn’t be taken seriously and those people have way too much time to do that. But this actually paints a bigger picture about the state of our society and its level of media literacy. What’s sad is that some people do not know how to do that (the eliminating and taking facts thingy). I am not saying that what I did is the correct way to consume media or that it is better, but it does work in a sense that it drove me into looking at topics that are more urgent, serious or may impact my society in general.
What I ultimately want to say is that the media operates in a way that follows its consumer. A particular content is there because somebody (and quite hell lot of them) keeps on consuming it and drives the media money. So when we complains about how Justin Bieber is annoying and tried to make thousands and millions of pledges to make him disappear, it would never work because: 1. Murder is Illegal and 2. There are millions of idiots listen to him.
So is news media. Despite of Shane Smith’s strong ideology, he can’t keep on feeding on it because his ideology might not generate money. People want to hear about weed from Vice, and when they are trying to feed us different topic, they will need to keep relevant or makes compromises (such as using the Call of Duty sponsorship). So it is quite sad that a great discussion about various political from war, environment and foreign aid issues between Obama and Shane Smith has to be distorted by a bloody Marijuana question that I can sort of suspect Shane is embarrassed about and Obama is appalled about.
The more disturbing potential fact and problem is that we seemed to be comfortable to stay in that bubble and stay with certain topics of their choice. So when Newsroom’s Will McAvoy was quite sceptical about the media’s influence on the society and said, “people choose the fact they want now”, he might not be wrong. And our society does need to handle this problem if they are ever to ever tackle these social issues. Of course this would need to be assisted by the media industry and government as well, but since we are not any of them, why don’t we start from ourselves?