A smorgasbord called “Vice News”

Are you paying attention, mainstream media? You’re just not doing your job. You’re avoiding coverage of the news we need. And you’re not even trying to explain the meaning behind the headlines you do cover. That thin gruel you pass off as news is like the tasteless mounds of stuff masquerading as food at buffet-style, fast-food barns. There’s plenty of quantity but hardly any quality.

I’ve given up. My television screen’s gone dark. Now that I’ve completely turned off traditional news outlets, the question is how am I going to satisfy my cravings? Not knowing exactly where to turn, I composed an ad for Craig’s List soliciting for a more simpatico news partner. The ad looked something like this:

Starving news junkie seeks raw, unfiltered news. Desperately seeking smart reportage that will engage, enlighten, and energize. Eye for detail and keen sense of humor definitely a plus. News outlets peddling piffle need not apply.

Fortunately, this bit of silliness never got published because my twenty-something daughter came to the rescue and introduced me to a smorgasbord of youthful online news called Vice News.

Finally, here’s a news outlet suited to my Gemini personality: multi-faceted, ambiguous, sometimes uncomfortably complex, questioning, exploratory, curious about anything and everything. Vice video and print reporters put you right on the scene. They give you the real deal. They’re never lazy.  Not for them the easy clichés or sound bites that let you wrap yourself up in cozy familiarity. The intent is just the opposite. The diverse gang at Vice wants us to get really uncomfortable. They want us to squirm with the reality of what they’re showing us. How else, their reporting implies, can they encourage us to question our assumptions?

Although Vice targets a demographic I’m decades past, this is reporting I can relate to. The selection of topics wildly ricochets between the facile and the deadly serious. Some of the reporting takes on hot-button issues. Some is nothing more than dessert material. Story lines are quirky and idiosyncratic. At its best, the reporting can be downright revelatory.

An add-on value to Vice is that if you’ve ever found yourself waking up in the middle of the night wondering “what interests millennials right now?” this is the source that will give you the answer.

Founded in Montreal in 1994 as a government-sponsored community magazine, Vice Media (of which Vice News is just one division) is now headquartered in Brooklyn. Although Vice now has 35 offices in 18 countries, its roots in one of the world’s trendiest hipster destinations go deep. The company could easily display a byline declaring, Williamsburg Meets the World. And that world, if you’re willing to jump on the ride with Vice, turns out to be a fascinatingly complex, multicultural whirlwind.

Unlike old media, Vice News doesn’t spoon feed its audience. Visitors need to sort through the abundance of offerings based on personal taste. For the most part, the videos skip main-dish news.  Vice serves up the ingredients that make up the underbelly of the big news stories and offers a bit of garnish on the side. For example, are you curious to understand the emergent culture of wealth in China that’s being fed by American consumerism? Then a report on the burgeoning popularity of high-stakes pigeon racing among China’s newly wealthy will provide you with insights into the changing mores of China’s business class. America, take a good look, the piece implies. This is where your money’s going.

On the other extreme, a five-part series called “Renegade Jewish Settlers” may be the most insightful, on-the-ground reporting of the story of Israeli settlement building and annexation of Palestinian land I’ve ever seen. Reporter Simon Ostrovsky succeeds in opening a window onto the wrenching tragedy of the gulf between hard-line Jewish settlers who believe god and history have granted them the lands they’re taking and the anger and frustration of Palestinian farmers who for generations have lived and farmed those same plots of land.

Fascinating and powerful stuff is what Vice dishes up time and again. How about looking into the faces of children working in silver mines in Bolivia in a piece called “Child Workers of the World, Unite!” Would you be shocked, as I was, to learn that child workers have formed their own union called UNATSBO? The union advocates for passage of laws legalizing and regulating child labor. Going into the mines to interview these teen-agers, the reporter shows us that many of las cuartas (referring to child laborers who are paid one-quarter of what their labor is worth) are working underground not only to help support their impoverished families but also to save up for their own education. The Vice reporter challenges our first-world assumptions about child labor by asking, “Who suffers when children work? Who suffers when they don’t work?”

Vice’s headlines often intentionally grab you by the neck in order to shake you up a bit.  Check out “Military Police Are Killing the Cambodians Who Make Your Clothes,”  a print piece about clashes in which four protesters were killed and twenty-one injured when military units opened fire on garment workers demanding nothing more than a living wage at a factory in Cambodia.

Time and again, the reporting at Vice News delivers that kind of slap in the face. This is immersion journalism as crusade. The challenge embedded in the coverage is clear. It goes something like this: Okay, people, here’s what’s going on. Here are the ripple effects of your politics, your governing, your buying habits, your lifestyle. Here’s how your life intersects with the global community. So now that you know, what are you going to do about it?