Vice: Wave of the future for news
The HBO nightly program’s immersive, on-the-ground video reporting got a boost with its Charlottesville, Va., coverage
After last week’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia, the must-see clip that best explained the incident was not from one of the major news networks, but from Vice News.
It probably showed up in your feed multiple times this week. Vice’s 22-minute report, from its Monday broadcast of HBO’s nightly “Vice News Tonight” program, has been watched more than 4 million times and has been praised for its immersive, on-the-ground reporting that resulted from embedding with a group of white supremacists. The clip takes you inside the weekend’s events, from the Aug. 11 tiki torch rally to the next day’s deadly attack, and provides a real sense of the hatred that fueled the weekend’s events, which led to one life lost and many more injuries.
Free from the constraints of network or even traditional cable news, Vice provides an unfiltered look at the participants in the rally. They speak for themselves, and not in traditional talking head cable news format. Profanity goes unbleeped. Politics are largely eschewed; Donald Trump’s voice is heard in the clip, but he is not seen. Inside a hotel room, one of the group’s leaders takes four guns and a knife off his person and throws them onto a nearby bed. It’s tough to picture him doing that in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
And then there’s the correspondent, who’s not dressed in a suit or holding a microphone the way we’re used to seeing TV news reporters. The reporter, Elle Reeve, is a 20-something woman wearing a white T-shirt, jeans and oversize glasses that look like they were purchased at a vintage store (or were borrowed from her mom’s closet).
Suddenly, old-school TV reporting seemed just that: old-school.
“Vice News Tonight” launched in October 2016, and the Charlottesville clip is its biggest get to-date. CNN, NBC and the rest of the network news outlets aren’t quaking in their boots — the show, which airs at 7:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, has a nightly audience of roughly 500,000 viewers — but its millennial-targeted news approach could rock the boat of traditional TV news reporting.
Before it became a nightly program, Vice News — an arm of Vice Media, the edgy, snarky media company that launched in Canada in the mid-1990s and gained favor with the Gen-X set — had found success in its digital reports ranging from stories on Liberia’s Ebola outbreak to Mexican drug cartels. (Vice also has a weekly show on HBO, which airs Fridays and is now in its fifth season.) Vice was once lampooned by the New York Times’ David Carr in a scene in the 2011 documentary “Page One,” where Carr dismissed Vice’s reporting as sensationalistic, but Carr later reversed his criticism and praised Vice’s work.
“Vice News Tonight” aims to provide a news program for people who don’t watch the news. There are no traditional anchors, stories are presented and swipe across the screen the way a finger slides across a phone screen, and low-rumble electronic music plays on a bed underneath reports. Its audience doesn’t necessarily watch “Vice News Tonight” the way viewers take in the evening news: 25 percent of viewership comes from HBO’s on-demand and video-streaming services, according to a Variety report.
The popularity of this week’s Charlottesville clip proves there’s an audience for a different kind of TV reporting, and a thirst to go deeper on a subject than regular news allows. Conventional online wisdom says viewers have no time for clips that go over a couple of minutes in length, but the popularity of this report — as well as viral clips from HBO’s other boat-rocker, John Oliver — flies in the face of that thinking. Give them something good and they’ll watch it.
By uploading the Charlottesville clip to YouTube — which it did on Monday, the same day it aired on HBO — Vice ensured many more people would see it. And now it has traction. The news isn’t dying, the news is changing, and Vice demonstrated the role it may play in the future of the medium. There are no cries of fake news here: Vice feels as real as it gets.
‘Vice News Tonight’
7:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays