The business of journalism as we know it is in trouble and there’s a scramble for a “new journalism model,” with VICE.com held up as the latest prototype (see here, here and here). I am not so sure VICE is the new journalism–its partnership with “old media” (CNN, HBO) is old fashioned, it mostly produces sponsored content (nothing new there), owns an advertising agency and makes nice with Rupert Murdoch*.
Of course, VICE’s style represents something fresh. With its diversity of topics and irreverence, it is a vast improvement on the talking heads of cable news. But, there is also much to dislike about VICE.
There’s its cheap headlines, sensationalism, vulgarity, misogyny, the way it ridicules mostly non-Western people, and its very white, male, Anglo-American look.
On balance, VICE’s Africa coverage is more bad than good, even when they try not to—whether they cover cyber-fraud in Ghana, embark on “Guides” to Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo that resemble “Heart of Darkness” or exaggerate alcohol abuse in Uganda.
Basically they’re just another ambitious media company (Shane Smith, one of the founders, refers to VICE as “the Time Warner of the Streets”) interested in market share, synergy and branding. So, yes, they may be introducing a whole lot of young people to international affairs, but in the process they also work very hard to undermine their own credibility.
* This is a slightly edited version of what I wrote down when Al Jazeera English contacted me about a 60-second comment for a feature they ran on VICE on the channel’s media program, “The Listening Post.” Start watching the Listening Post feature at 13:52. My short comment was for “Global Village Voices,” a regular, short segment on “Listening Voices” that are usually included at the end of features like the VICE story. A very condensed cut of my comment–to fit into the program’s format; nothing malicious–made it onto the final version of the episode.
By Sean Jacobs – Africa is a country