The Vice guide to video news for millennials

Vice wants to be the millennial CNN. With its new launch of Vice News, the hot media upstart is betting it can find a way to package content to appeal to a younger generation that has tuned out TV news.

The site launched yesterday with dispatches from Ukraine,  South Sudan and Venezuela, all of which are reported with Vice’s characteristic “edgy” you-are-there style. The site plans to produce a couple dozen videos per week at first but will ramp up production as time goes on.

“We’re 100 percent a youth media company, and everything we do is geared toward our audience,”said Sterling Proffer, general manager of Vice News

Proffer, who had scant experience in journalism prior to joining Vice five years ago, spoke to Digiday on Tuesday about creating content for millennials, the distribution importance of YouTube, and the powerful bullshit detectors of today’s young people.

Like a lot of news organizations, you guys are in Crimea right now. How is Vice doing things different there?
We’re taking the same approach that Vice had always taken to storytelling — an immersive approach. We go there, we experience it, we point our cameras, and we talk about what we see. It’s different from traditional news, where reporters are generally standing up in a row next to a dozen other news reporters. We take the camera along with the host and go on that journey together.

Is that approach what young people want?
Young people have powerful bullshit detectors. When they don’t feel an affinity with the person reporting a message, it makes it harder to really align with that message. The question is, is the information being conveyed a piece of commoditized info or a piece of opinion or perspective? We don’t hide behind this view from nowhere. Youth want to know what people think. If you’re going to cut through the noise, you have to have a meaningful voice.

Vice CEO Shane Smith has said that Vice News isn’t meant to be comprehensive and covering every big event that happens. What’s the advantage there?
If we try to be all things to all people, we’re not going to define a strong identity. Fortunately, with the way the Web works, it’s not one particular content creator’s responsibility to give a comprehensive view of the world. Our job is to tell the stories we want to tell in the best way possible. As Jeff Jarvis says, “Do what you do best, and link to the rest.”

Why use YouTube and not your own player?
YouTube is the anchor of our video distribution strategy. It’s without a doubt the world’s largest video distribution platform. It’s where young people live and consume video, so there’s no question as to where we put our video if our goal is to build a global audience. We would be leaving those viewers on the table if we didn’t go there. The goal is to reach the audience wherever they are.

ViceNews does a mix of video content — news, longer documentaries, short-form stories. How important is that range?
The range is necessary because our audience wants to hear stories from all sides and from different circumstances. One of the main things people have said is that young people have no attention spans. We’ve proven time and time again that that’s not true. They watch, and they do care. That said, we respect that when it comes to length, we only want stories to be as long as they need to be. We’re not a slave to the liner television-based ecosystem. Out goal is to let the stories, not broadcast rules or advertisers, dictate length.

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