It’s hard to decide which is the more interesting development—HBO figuring it can carve a niche in broadcast journalism with an edgy newsmagazine aimed at a young male demographic, or the response from sour, old-guard outlets about the venture.
Vice, which debuted on April 5 and developed from the print and online magazine of the same name, features tattooed and goateed young reporters traveling the globe. They cover everything from the rise of the Nazi-sympathetic Golden Dawn party in Greece to the nuclear standoff between Pakistan and India.
One would expect those who make their living in news to cheer any attempt to engage millennials in a traditional reporting format, even if that attempt is a little hipper-than-thou. Instead, Dan Rather called Vice “more jackass than journalism,” and writers at The New York Times dismissed it for being “self-consciously gonzo in a dilettantish, 21st-century manner.”
To be fair, footage zooming in on severed heads in Afghanistan serves little informational purpose and reporters dropping f-bombs to prove how “indie” their product is comes off as juvenile. Yet there’s something bracing and surprisingly restrained about the show’s approach to story-telling. Despite being produced by Bill Maher and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, the journalists mostly avoid displaying a bias.
Reading between the lines of complaints that segments neglect to discuss “the effects of American colonization” (The New York Times) and Vice’s correspondents fail to question “whether they’re being used by one side or another” (The Huffington Post), it seems what the mainstream journos are really bothered by is the show’s impartiality.
This isn’t to suggest that its 10- to 15-minute segments exhaust all the facets of subjects like China’s one-child policy or the Taliban’s fondness for recruiting children as suicide bombers (how could they?). But along with its recent photojournalism series, Witness, HBO is making some surprisingly effective contributions to the world of journalism and possibly sparking the interest of viewers who would never allow their TVs to linger on Fox News or 60 Minutes.