The Story Of Vice And The Future Of Media

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I’m a metalhead punk. That’s about it.

With that comes my general attitude of wanting to mess up the system, keep things casual and honest, and never be satisfied with what is a part of the establishment. Faster and harder. It’s my way of life… and it’s not for everyone. My roots to that genre of music run deep. Back to the early seventies, when I was a young pup, and my brothers used to choke me if I didn’t listen to KISS, Black Sabbath and The Who. You learn quickly. To this day, cranking heavy music is the one thing that can center me. With that, I was very fortunate to work in the music industry (starting in the late eighties). I wrote for music and lifestyle publications (I even published a few), and managed to become friends with artists, industry professionals and other media outlets. Before there was this thing (the Internet, blogging, etc…) the editors and publishers of the printed press controlled which artists got coverage (and which didn’t). It was a gruelling lifestyle to convince these people that you had an interesting story to share about an artist, that their readers would find captivating. Here, in Montreal, the art and music scene was about as eclectic as you could imagine. Think New York injected with European culture, mixed with a bilingual group of citizens all pushing for their own rights. Fertile ground for metal, punk, anger and a sense of anti-establishment.

It was perfect for someone like me.

Along with publishing two magazines (and helping to launch a third), I did a lot of freelance writing. For magazines and newspapers all over the world. Here, in Montreal, I had a weekly stint at one of the local alternative weekly newspapers. The content was always edgy, and had to be delivered at a frenetic pace. People often ask me how I am able to produce the amount of content that I do here, at Six Pixels of Separation? This is nothing compared to the demands of a weekly alternative paper or a daily newspaper. Making stories happen. That’s what these people do. In the Montreal scene, a new magazine/indie paper called, Voice of Montreal, hit the streets. The story were over-the-top. Topics that you thought could only be the stuff of fiction, but it wasn’t. It was crazy. From the photos to the words. They quickly changed the name to Vice and the format to a glossy magazine, but the content maintained its edge. How edgy? Let’s just say that there were many moments – sifting through the magazine – that would make me blush or super uncomfortable. It could be a picture, it could be the writing of an article or even the headline. Vice had this magical way of not just pushing towards the edge, but going well beyond it.

Vice helped you discover things about this world that you never knew. It helped you discover things about yourself as well.  

I would pitch Vice stories about up and coming bands. It turns out that I was soft. I would have an interview with legendary punk, spoken word and author Henry Rollins, but Suroosh Alvi and Shane Smith wanted to know what was new, different and original about that (I didn’t interface much with Gavin McInnes, who is no longer with the organization). I would bring them new artists (ones that no one ever heard of), and as great as the music was – and Vice’s ability to be the first to talk about these groups – they wanted something else… something more. They were a tough crowd to please. I’m not sure how many pieces of mine actually got published at Vice back then, but I do remember a piece about Bill Shields making it to the magazine. Shields was (and still remains) one of the most intense writers/poets that I have ever read. He published his poetry on Rollins’ book imprint, 2.13. 61. Shields’ words about his drug addiction, PTSD from Vietnam, poverty and life were so raw and honest, it was crushing. That’s what Vice wanted to do. They always wanted to open the eyes of the world just a little bit wider.

Vice is now a media juggernaut.

It’s hard not to admire what these guys from Montreal accomplished. They moved to New York, took big risks, expanded beyond the printed word, embraced digital, and continue to evolve. I could not be prouder, especially when I think about the countless nights we all spent together in our youth, in the local scene watching bands, laughing and the stuff that young dreamers do. Last week, Vice launched Viceland, their own television channel. Vice Co-founder/CEO, Shane Smith, and Creative Director, Spike Jonze, sat down with Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka of Recode at their Code Media 2016 event to discuss why this modern media company thinks the next step for success is a traditional television station, and what the future may hold. Putting aside my past with Vice, this was one of the most interesting conversations about media that I have seen in a long, long time. The full video is below, but consider this one quote from Shane Smith: 

“…media is the best business in the f***ing world to be in. So, if this is the hard part, then it’s better than selling shoes at Payless. Everyone is asking [us] questions, hard questions, to people who have a business that’s hard to run. Whoever gets the first mover, whatever that is — three-screen, one-screen, OTT, different programming day and day scale, monetized, having the brands, native that can’t be ad-blocked, all that stuff, get away from programatic up to premium — whoever wins that algorithm, wins everything… wins the race. And then you can talk about IPOs or getting bought, or no one can buy you at that point, or doing something with a big boy like an Apple or a Google, whatever it is. Then you’re transforming media. So whoever gets there first, wins. Who’s racing towards that goal?”

Huge question: look around at every media, brand and content company. Who is – like Vice – really racing towards that goal?

Watch this: Going to Viceland With Shane Smith and Spike Jonze – Recode