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Vice Media to Reorganize, Lay Off 10 Percent of Staff (hollywoodreporter.com)
111 points by rhayabusa 18 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 78 comments



IIRC, I was introduced to Vice with their fascinating coverage of North Korea:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24R8JObNNQ4 (first trip - Shane Smith was banned from the country as a result)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrCQh1usdzE (second trip years later, where they got in under the guise of a Basketball game)

Unfortunately it's been increasingly hit or miss ever since and now their process seems to be along these lines: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw5UzBjgCiI

Also, how is it that so many of these media companies are having layoffs at almost exactly the same time? You'd think it'd be more scattered...


It's happening in Canada as well.

They're just not making enough money. They're making money, but not enough. There's a large drive to produce more with less, and to reboot.

Journalism, especially good journalism, is expensive. Expensive to execute, and expensive to produce.

And everybody wants it for free now.


They're also falling victim to many of the traps startups do with regard to VC funding. Vice (and Buzzfeed for that matter) are ticking along nicely, generating a profit. But they're not generating enough profit for their investors, so they're forced to jump through cost-cutting hoops that will ultimately be to the detriment of their product.


This happened similarly with "traditional" media in the 90s.

Properties got bought up, and owning papers and magazines was a hot item. They were posting large gains yearly, and shareholders were pleased.

When those gains started going down, shareholders became not so pleased! Then the company puts pressure on the properties to cut costs and perform better and sell more to keep those gains coming against a downward pressure that was almost constant. The companies put more pressure on the properties, etc. Many of those properties cut print production completely over the past 20 years and have moved solely online with teams a small fraction of the size they once had. A few emerged less damaged, but still not what they once were financially.

There's a great thread about this very thing happening:

https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1088503510184927233.html

And I guess it's now happening to the online-native media companies.

It will probably hit tech harder in the coming years too, if these histories are evidence of a pattern.


From an investment perspective, I just don't see how the ROI is there for modern digital media companies to incentivize the 'slow pace' of journalism like with 'traditional' media. That's not to say investigative journalism doesn't exist anymore, but news companies are much more cognizant about 'production metrics' so longer, time-consuming pieces are much less frequent. You said it well: investors want their dollars. It's like manufacturing: more sales = more dollars. More news = more revenue.

The barriers to entry (and republishing) are also a lot lower now. Why sink a bunch of time and resources into a single piece, when another news company could just come along and say "Thanks for doing the work for us!" and republish it for ad revenue with minor edits. Everyone is rushing to be first, which typically results in a first publisher with nearly instant fast-followers. Plus, when news is ubiquitous and free, users have tons of choices to read the story from, so there is always an alternative around the corner.


I wonder if there was ever a time in history where it was okay to just run a business and make some money.


The majority of businesses still work that way. VC backed companies are outliers but they are in the press a lot.


Any publicly held company is ethically obligated to maximize profits as the agents of the shareholders, the vast majority of which only want the stock price to be maximized.


Still can be done. Just gotta stay private.


Even private businesses are at risk of a well funded company coming undercutting them on costs until they sell themselves or fold.


Can only work if everyone whose money you're using to run the business is OK with it.


Really depends on how the company is setup. If you have shares issued, you really only need a majority (not everyone) of the people with voting shares to be ok with it.


There has been plenty of in depth reporting about what was going on at Vice. They knew damn well what they were doing. Pump and dump on an unsuspecting old media company that still had tons of money.


Vice was cheap to run, for a time. It started as a niche magazine in Quebec and expanded into yellow journalism with cheap to make, but provocative, YouTube documentaries.

Then it was acquired and it pivoted sharply into being a media and news portal, with a presence on nigh every platform. The content quickly expanded in quantity, and critically overloaded itself in trying to dominate online discussion in every space.


> Then it was acquired

By who? The Wikipedia article on Vice Media says they were acquired in 1999--without listing who the acquirers were--but also says that the cofounders bought it back in 2001. All of the pivoting you're talking about appears to have happened under the original management, in any case, didn't it? They've had investment from a bunch of "old media" companies over the years, but original founder Shane Smith retained a controlling interest. (It looks like Disney will own more of the company than he does once their merger with Fox is completed.)


It's not an acquisition, per se, so much as some of it was acquired and the leadership changed at a time that major changes were being undertaken.

At a time when the executive controlled roughly 3/4 of Vice, Fox purchased 5% of it; other major media have done so. Shortly before this occurance, Gavin McInnes had left his leadership role over alleged differences of opinion on how to run Vice Media.

His departure, the arrival of large media conglomerates as large minority shareholders, and the rapid expansion of Vice into new properties and markets all occur within a very short time span.


Vice isn't cheap to run, now, though.

And that last statement is a lot of conjecture. Unless you have proof of some conspiracy to dominate online discussion in every space. They do cover a wide variety of subjects, only a couple of which I've read—and they seem generally good, with the odd very good piece.

Most media companies run a small gamut of niche categories: lifestyle, fashion, news, business, tech, finance, etc.


I think their rapid expansion of properties, some enormous, after 2010 speaks for itself. [0]

0: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vice_Media#Properties


Then I guess we just disagree, and it's more a matter of opinion than it is a fact.


> cheap to make, but provocative, YouTube documentaries

That's exactly what I liked from them, but I don't really see that anymore. Motherboard is okay. That's pretty much my contact with Vice.


That's interesting, I would have thought the costs associated with printing a paper magazine would be fairly high compared with digital distribution, though?


It’s rather meaningless compared to what the newsroom costs.


Vice doesn't pay well either, even for journalism, which isn't a high paid profession. https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/Reviews/Vice-Media-Reviews-E2690... https://gawker.com/working-at-vice-media-is-not-as-cool-as-i...


"Everybody wants it for free now"

This overlooks the role Google and Facebook play in draining all advertising money from every other industry.

People always wanted their news for free, and it worked just fine before advertising got so concentrated.


> And everybody wants it for free now.

I'm willing to pay for it but I know not everybody is. Like, the vast majority of people.

It's very similar to the F2P game space. Nobody wants to pay for games so studios release games which seem to have used the laws of economics to extract the optimal amount of money from people. These games don't seem like good or fun games to me but they do entertain a lot of people.

Same for a lot of these articles. A lot of clickbait and shallow content.


> how is it that so many of these media companies are having layoffs at almost exactly the same time? You'd think it'd be more scattered...

I've been wondering this myself.

One possibility is that lots of companies had layoffs proposed/planned, and they've accelerated their schedules to be part of the "wave". Better for investor confidence to be one more name in a followup story than to be your own headline.

Another is that the October-onwards stock drop eroded the prospects of a lot of borderline companies all at once. I'd be a bit surprised by both the timing (well into the rally) and the ownership range (everything from private founder-owned to private Disney-owned to public) though.

Third, I suppose, is that they didn't have them planned but saw an opportunity. If you lay off 10% of your staff in isolation, you might well lose another 5-10% of the best people who go find safer jobs. But if there's a clear industry crunch, it becomes a more appealing way to balance the budget because you can deflect the anger and resignations that otherwise come along with layoffs.


yes, i was the same way. my interest was sustained by simon ostrovsky's dispatches from the war in ukraine as well as the gonzo documentary hijinks of david choe's quest to hitchhike across the US. they have fallen a very long way since then. i stopped reading them a few years ago when it was clear they were unapologetically trash.


I was thinking the same. This is peak Vice for me: https://youtu.be/Yknrg-63674


I think we're seeing it all happen at once because it means the negative PR is spread around and not targeted at a specific organization. Media groups essentially have free reign to fire whoever they want under the guise of a 'current media crisis'.


> Unfortunately it's been increasingly hit or miss ever since and now their process seems to be along these lines: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw5UzBjgCiI

Wonderful. I've been thinking about an excuse to post this even before clicking the discussion link.


Episode 2 of Documentary Now on Netflix/IFC is also a pretty good parody of their style. The episode is called Dronez: The Hunt for El Chingon


Documentary Now actually got me to look more into Vice with their 'Dronez' episode: https://www.netflix.com/title/80010778


McClatchy offers buy-outs to 10% today as well.

https://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/mcclatchy-follows-buzzfee...

I have a sense that big waves like this are a leading indicator for market as a whole.


I wonder if the Buzzfeed/Vice/Huffington Post layoffs are related to the appropriations of the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act running out. The US government was subsidizing certain organizations to counter fake news to the tune of $20M.

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Countering_F...


If I'm not mistaken, that money came under controversy because it was allocated but never spent: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/04/world/europe/state-depart...

So how could it be related to any hiring or layoff trends in the media industry? And that's assuming this money was allowed to be used as direct subsidy to non-government news outlets.


You are confusing that with money that was originally allocated by the Pentagon, not S.3274

>And that's assuming this money was allowed to be used as direct subsidy to non-government news outlets.

That is not an assumption, that is what the text of the bill explicitly states:

>There is authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary of State for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 $20,000,000 to support the Center and provide grants or contracts of financial support to civil society groups, journalists, nongovernmental organizations, federally funded research and development centers, private companies, or academic institutions for the following purposes: 17 (A) To support local independent media 18 who are best placed to refute foreign 19 disinformation and manipulation in their own 20 communities. 21 (B) To collect and store examples in print, 22 online, and social media, disinformation, misin23 formation, and propaganda directed at the 24 United States and its allies and partners.

1 (C) To analyze tactics, techniques, and 2 procedures of foreign government information 3 warfare with respect to disinformation, misin4 formation, and propaganda. 5 (D) To support efforts by the Center to 6 counter efforts by foreign governments to use 7 disinformation, misinformation, and propa8 ganda to influence the policies and social and 9 political stability of the United States and 10 United States allies and partners.

It specifically specifies nongovernmental and private organizations in the text of the bill. And it's coincidental that these organizations just started laying off employees in bulk at the start of 2019.


> You are confusing that with money that was originally allocated by the Pentagon, not S.3274

From the Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Countering_Foreign_Propaganda_...

> n the version of the bill incorporated into the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, the U.S. Congress would ask the United States Secretary of State to collaborate with the United States Secretary of Defense and other relevant Federal agencies to create a Global Engagement Center (GEC) to fight against propaganda from foreign governments, and publicize the nature of ongoing foreign propaganda and disinformation operations against the U.S. and other countries

Seems like the bill -- which was part of the National Defense Authorization Act -- itself said that the money should come from the Pentagon. So how am I conflating things?

edit: Also worth noting that these organizations did not just start laying off people this year. Nearly every year, or two years, these organizations have big layoffs. Here's Buzzfeed from late 2017: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/29/buzzfeed-layoffs-restructuri...


>Tillerson’s decision comes after POLITICO reported that he was holding off on using the money despite the desire of Republicans and Democrats to see it spent.

>Almost $20 million of the $60 million was already in the State Department’s coffers and will be released to the center's officials to fight propaganda by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State. Tillerson also approved a request for a transfer of $40 million from the Pentagon to the center so it can fight state-sponsored propaganda.

https://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/31/rex-tillerson-fund...

Both the Pentagon money and the original S.3274 amount were authorized, albeit after some foot dragging by Tillerson. That would seem to undercut my speculation that it went and was spent by news orgs, we'd have to figure out who the GEC's non-governmental partners were/are. I'm not sure how to look that up.


It gets weirder, the money was released but then maybe not? In any case, I'm gonna go ahead and guess my original theory was wrong.

https://toinformistoinfluence.com/2018/09/23/global-engageme...


I think it has more to do with Facebook's recent algorithm change http://fortune.com/2018/01/12/facebook-news-feed-change/


How do you keep abreast of these sort of appropriations that are passed?



and remember to follow it to the end with https://www.federalregister.gov/ to see the final regulations, grant requests, and final distributions


The Congressional Dish podcast[0] by Jen Briney is a fantastic resource, for those of us who don't want to watch committee hearings or read the scrawlings of Congress. She mixes in a bit of opinion, but she presents the facts and, since she uses the value-for-value model of listener support, she is not compromised by advertisers.

0: https://congressionaldish.com/


I'm not sure, does anyone know? I'm guessing the appointed chairman referenced in the bill would be responsible for issuing grants and organizations would have had to apply. Maybe through a FOIA?


Section 1B seems especially pertinent to beats like (until recently) Buzzfeed's Charlie Warzel's who spent most of his research tracking far-right propaganda on YouTube and 4chan.


$20 million is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Even for small organizations like buzzfeed, vice, huffpo.

They were all "darlings" of a free and open internet and social media. They either started in the mid 2000s or had their growth in that era ( vice started in the 90s but their major growth occurred in the mid 2000s ). Without an open and free internet and social media, they would never have been created let alone thrived.

Unfortunately for them, big media companies ( nytimes, cnn, wapo, etc ) that they compete against have won preferential status within social media and the wider internet. So they are now struggling to grow and even stay afloat.

They only have themselves to blame so I have no sympathy for them. They are the ones who demanded that "authoritative sources" get preferential treatment on google news, google search, youtube, facebook, etc.

If search results or the news feed aren't based on merit but human moderated "authoritative sources", then there is no room for buzzfeed, vice, huffpo. Whereas the nytimes, cnn, wapo, etc have structural advantages, name recognition and other broadcast avenues, these small companies are entirely internet/social media driven.

You would have thought that they would have protected their turf rather than cheerleading nytimes, cnn, wapo, etc taking over their turf. But oddly enough, buzzfeed, vice, huffo, etc have been the greatest champions of a closed and moderated internet.

Whereas I used to see buzzfeed, vice, huffpo articles/videos on youtube and google search on a regular basis. Now I hardly ever seen them. Instead, I see a lot of cnn, wapo, nytimes, etc results and recommends. I've never used facebook, but I'm guessing the same thing has happened there, just as happened with google news years back.

Also, these layoffs are just a tip of the iceberg. They are laying off during a major economic growth, low unemployment and tons of easy cash floating around. Imagine the pain they are going to feel when the recession comes and money gets tight. But as I said, they only have themselves to blame. And it's only going to get worse as tech companies ( at their request ) only allow "authoritative sources".


I didn't mind vice media until I watched their 'documentary' about crokodil in Russia. The whole thing was dramatized around the idea of a new horrifying, skin melting drug that was killing people. Throughout the whole thing there was one very small mention about the fact it's actually codeine with the solvents used in production improperly purged and no real mention about the flesh melting being caused by red phosphorus not being completely removed.

The entire focus was on this 'new terrifying drug' when it really should have been about the abject poverty leading those desperate junkies to shooting up cheap, solvent laced opiates.

The whole thing really bugged me and honestly, the attitudes of their journalists when they go into places like that is really just terrible sometimes. Though I guess it did lead me to research more on the subject and learn enough to know what a poor documentary it really was...


Vice has really uneven quality among their departments. The main site is all garbage. Motherboard and Vice News are mostly okay.

What I think they do best is their TV. Vice News Tonight is extremely good. And their HBO one hour show is also very good.


Throw in Nirvanna the Band the Show which is one of the funniest shows in years


It’s surprising that there are 2500 staff at vice. I thought they mostly used freelancers.


Purely Conjecture:

A friend works there as a video editor and they work exclusively on the weekly show, which kind of leads me to believe that they probably have teams allocated to a single property. I also know they'll work on one episode for a couple of weeks, so they have separate teams of people working on separate episodes at once.

Edit: my friend was a freelancer there for a few years before they were hired


Likewise. I mostly consume their content via nightly news on HBO, and an occasional YouTube video. I had no idea they were so large!

Anyone know how this compares to other organizations?


Verizon media (aka huffpost, techcrunch and others), Buzzfeed, and now Vice. The beat goes on.


As far as I can tell, those are all progressive left oriented, what is the situation with conservative media in this sphere, are they also suffering financially ?


The Weekly Standard folded completely in December, and last year Red State had layoffs.

It was interesting to note that TWS was largely anti-Trump, ad Red State laid off mostly anti-Trump writers.


your list just show the yearly churn of the news-repost industry (i.e. companies that have zero investigative journalism, needs fresh people to get fresh news sources to repost)

vice (not the site) and buzzfeed news (not regular buzzfeed) are a new beatst in the news industry. they sell tailored pieces (pretty much an improved model that wired used to reborn in the 2000s). for example vice got a huge account promoting gun hobby. go to their YouTube channel and you will see half of their documentaries are touting the fun of owning guns. the site now only exists as a payment hub for those documentaries. buzzfeed (and Verizon media) tried the same but are moving much slower (but you wait when an election is around the corner, you will hear a lot from those)


Browsing their channel, I was unable to find any videos that appear to promote gun ownership. The only videos that prominently featured guns appeared to be neutral to negative on guns, and mostly not in America. https://www.youtube.com/user/vice/videos


All 4 of those outlets that were mentioned to investigative journalism. TechCrunch (owned by the same company as HuffPo) was prominently on HN's homepage this past couple of days because of this investigation: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19031055


Sorry I’m a little confused- are you basically saying Vice will tailor make you a edgy documentary about whatever you want if you pay them enough?


just like most news outlet ever worked. sometimes you get it even from cheap favors like a couple plane tickets so their staff can attend your grand opening. other times you have to talk to their ad seller and say "gee! I wonder if you have a piece with this sentiment on this topic I could drop this million dollar advertising budget." and everything in between.


Citation needed


Buzzfeed started with clickbait trash, then hired investigative journalists to do some good journalism and winning awards (two time Pulizer finalist)

Now they are cutting people from the low effort side but keeping the investigative journalism intact.

It's interesting business model. Produce cheap trash in large volumes to people who consume it and to do little real journalism on side. It really confuses people because the Buzzfeed brand image is schizophrenic. It's both news & bullshit.


Buzzfeed cut their whole national security desk. Doesn't seem consistent that the claim that they're "cutting people from the low effort side".

Of course, I wish they were only cutting out clickbait trash, but alas the advertisement machine must be fed.


Investigations teams and politics were left alone.


Can you back this up? Vice has put out some surprisingly good field journalism pieces. And Buzzfeed News has produced Pulizter-nominated journalism.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRuSS0iiFyo "VICE: The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia"

https://www.pulitzer.org/finalists/staff-buzzfeed-news


yes just like every car company has a sports cars but make most money on minivans. not saying there's no good content now and then


Their youtube channel used to deliver incredibly raw and direct coverage of world events other US news sources seemed to be ignoring. Over the last few years though I've become increasingly annoyed with what content of theirs I saw, it's definitely changed.

Their coverage of the rebuilding efforts and failures in Afghanistan for instance was very illuminating and well done, I highly recommend giving this a watch though it's very upsetting:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ja5Q75hf6QI


I enjoyed Vice content for a while but when they scaled they seemed to lose their edge. Honestly it probably became a much better place to work but that translated to noticeably worse content.

I want people to like their jobs... But if the option is have a shit demanding job where you make great content vs a nice comfortable job where you make good/mediocre content and then get laid off.

What's better?


Is it just me or there is lay off every other day. Tesla, Buzzfeed etc.

This does not seem like a economy at its peak. It seems like a contraction.


As someone who lived through both the original dot-com crash and the crash of the housing bubble, let me provide some reassurance: if we hit a real contraction, you will not feel like you need to ask anyone if that's what's happening.


A bubble popping and a contraction are different things.


Those are all related to their own problems, not weakness in the overall economy.


The monthly jobs numbers account for layoffs.


Vice is completely biased and it makes me happy to imagine snarky vice people being laid off. I hope that these layoffs are a sign that the clickbait model of journalism is failing. I would gladly pay for my news if it werent biased. But I haven’t found a news firm that is free of bias, not even the economist is.


I'm still hoping that Vice Media will renounce its bigotted past and either remove or address some articles, such as:

https://www.vice.com/da/article/9bv7qv/the-vice-guide-to-par...

A sneak peak:

Here are some of the types you'll need to invite.

TRANSSEXUAL: Pre-op is good, but post–breast implants, pre–gender reassignment is PERFECTION. All transsexuals are slutty, so don't worry about that. This guest is a very high priority and should be catered to accordingly. Put her first in the queue for cocaine and drinks. Tell her how pretty she is. Touch her a lot.

GUY WHO WILL FUCK TRANSSEXUAL: He is your #2 guy, your party wingman. If the tranny doesn't feel loved, she will leave.


My first question about these types of articles is, "Who is the intended audience?" The transgender community is a very small portion of the populace. Vice seems to be a center-left organization (if not, then even more to the left). Presumably, they aren't writing for the transgender community because:

(1) The community is very small. and (2) That community would likely not want to read this.

Is the intended audience center-left folks? I don't really see why that audience would want to read this. Is the audience center-right? Full-throated right-wing? I don't see why any substantial number of conservatives would care to read this?

I have a pet theory about the rate of absurdity in a world being dependent on the rate of both population growth and communications connectivity, but I won't bore anyone here with it.


A little more context: the article is from 2005, when Vice was still a hipster/edgy/provocative publication focused on shocking and with no political leaning, largely led by Gavin McInnes (of later alt-right Proud Boys fame).

While Vice largely change its approach after McInnes left, it hasn't removed or addressed the articles from those darker times.




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