VICE on Ice as Barnacled Progressive Media Goes Down with Legacy Media's Ship

(Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

VICE Media made its edgy progressive media bones by promoting stories about supposed political upstarts like Katie Hill in 2018 and taking advantage of controversial events like the 2017 Charlottesville protests, using that event as a launch point to report on the white nationalist movement and other supposedly right-wing activism. Corporate media conglomerates like Disney, HBO, and Fox slathered after VICE Media’s audience and practically sold their souls (and ponied up dollars) in order to bring the brand under their stable.


That was then, this is now, and as legacy media goes, so goes this supposed fresh new media face that attached itself to their sinking ship. Following in the path of other legacy media co-opted outlets like Buzzfeed, VICE Media can no longer sustain itself.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Vice Media is preparing to file for bankruptcy as soon as within the next several days, people familiar with the matter said, a move that would mark a major fall from grace for a once-hot media startup that was valued at $5.7 billion at its peak.

Vice, whose assets include Vice News, Vice TV, Refinery29 and Motherboard, has struggled for years to find growth. The company has been looking to sell itself, but a deal hasn’t materialized, The Wall Street Journal previously reported. Its chief executive, Nancy Dubuc, departed earlier this year, and last week the company announced it would be restructuring its news division, ending its Vice World News Tonight show and shutting down the Vice World News brand.

It remains possible that Vice might find a buyer and avert bankruptcy, the people said. 

Yeah… good luck with that.

“Vice Media Group has been engaged in a comprehensive evaluation of strategic alternatives and planning,” a spokesman wrote in a statement Monday. “The company, its board, and stakeholders continue to be focused on finding the best path for the company.”

Welcome to the latest phase of media, boys and girls, one in which the audience chooses what they want to view and see based on personalities and content rather than bombast and braggadocio. VICE’s model was made for an advertising base that really doesn’t matter and an audience that has gone on to greener pastures.

Ahh, the inconstancy of youth.

Vice, which began as a punk magazine in Montreal almost three decades ago, expanded into digital media and TV striking deals with companies including Sky and HBO.

The promise of successfully tapping the media habits of a global youth audience attracted hundreds of millions of dollars of investment from companies including Disney, which explored a $3bn-plus deal to buy Vice in 2015. Disney wrote off its $400m investment in Vice as worthless in 2019.

Vice was among a generation of fast-rising digital media upstarts such as BuzzFeed that once threatened to supplant legacy media companies with the recipe for attracting millennial audiences.

After the COVID madness and corporate and legacy media’s lockstep complicity in it, the media-consuming public—especially younger Millennials and Gen Z—know they have to find their “news” by other means. According to Statista, social media, podcasts, and “other online media” are the preferred channels for Millennials and Gen Z. Vice continued its marriage to legacy media and just like that media, remained behind the curve. In the end, they weren’t even on the same track. As a result, as the Wall Street Journal further explains, they are suffering the same fate as the legacy media giants that formerly vied for their attention.

Vice’s downfall is emblematic of the tough times that new media companies that raised money at sky-high valuations have had as they tried to navigate a difficult advertising environment where most ad dollars go to Meta Platforms’ Facebook and Alphabet’s Google. Last month, BuzzFeed announced it was closing its news division after it continued to lose money.

The media company has been in arrears to many of its vendors, and recently obtained a $30 million lifeline from Fortress to help it get through a sale process, the Journal previously reported.


And then there’s how they handled the money. Everyone knows that VICE was simply a left-wing media operation thinly disguised as investigative news. Just like Samuel Bankman-Fried and FTX was a leftist money-laundering organization disguised as a crypto company.

The New York Times pulled the covers off that illusion:

The company has been trying for years to turn a profit but has consistently failed to do so, losing money and repeatedly laying off employees.

Kinda hard to do gonzo journalism with no staff.

Last week, Vice told employees it was closing Vice World News, a global reporting initiative that covered world conflict and human-rights abuses. The closure of the world news operation was a blow to employees who saw the division’s aggressive coverage as in keeping with Vice’s roots in gonzo journalism, established when co-founder Shane Smith would report from risky destinations like North Korea.


Even its former admirers are pissing on the outlet’s grave. PBS Special Correspondent Simon Ostrovsky feels no love lost, throwing maximum shade on that North Korea hit.

I first met Shane in 2011 in a Japanese restaurant on Russia’s Chinese border. He was a week late to a shoot I had meticulously produced on N. Korean slave labor. He spend the whole meal talking about gold watches he owned. Who’d of thunk Vice would fail?

Anyone with eyes and a brain, that’s who. It’s the old adage of style over substance, and substance is the only thing that will stand the test of time, no matter what the climate. This is especially true in the new age of digital media. It’s not just about how much flash, fractiousness, and freebies, but actual content, talent, and fresh voices that keep audiences engaged and coming back. VICE Media depended too much on the former and totally disregarded the latter.

They are paying the price, and no one else is.


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