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Listening Post

Vice: News for the 'cool' kids

We look at the American news outlet known for its off-beat, sometimes outrageous, take on current affairs.

Last Modified: 04 May 2013 08:34
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Here is a journalistic challenge: How does an American news operation get into North Korea, to the heart of Pyongyang, and get exclusive access to an enigmatic leader who is the central figure in a showdown with Washington over nuclear weapons?

Easy. Just get a former basketball player who is covered in tattoos to go with you. And before you know it, Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un will be clinking glasses and your cameras will be there to cover the story.

Back in February, the hermetic leader was pictured hanging out with former US sports star Rodman in the North Korean capital. It was the first time an American had met the Supreme Leader and the story topped news agendas around the world.

The company behind the stunt was a media outlet called Vice, and its exploits in Pyongyang - typical of its style - got world-wide coverage.

It was the kind of story that told you a few things you just did not know: that Kim Jong-un is a serious fan of American basketball, that a long retired, 51-year old ex-player can pull a crowd in Pyongyang, and that an upstart media outlet in New York is capable of making headline news around the world.

Vice has a different style of journalism. Since launching in the 1990s, the outlet has become known for its off-beat, sometimes outrageous, take on current affairs. It travels the road less covered and turns up in some interesting places.

It is not for everybody. While some media commentators say its style of journalism has brought current affairs to a demographic largely ignored by the mainstream media, others slam it off for being offensive and say it is more concerned with entertaining and shocking its audience than producing serious journalism.

Critics say that in bringing news to a new, younger audience, Vice can be gimmicky, condescending and self-indulgent.

To discuss this media outlet with a unique business model and an unconventional approach to journalism, the Listening Post’s Meenakshi Ravi speaks with Shane Smith, Suroosh Alvi and Jason Mojica from Vice; New Yorker journalist Lizzie Widdicombe; Joe Pompeo from Capital New York; and Jacobin magazine editor Bhaskar Sunkara.

"I don’t know what is this 'viceness' that everyone keeps talking about, necessarily. I think for the longest time, we were just [choosing] the places ... that were interesting .... I think a lot of it is just us going with our instincts and our gut and trying to, you know, tell interesting stories."

- Suroosh Alvi, Vice co-founder

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