Vice Aims To Produce Daily HBO Show Without Being 'Slaves To The News Cycle'

03/30/2015 12:49 pm ET | Updated Mar 30, 2015
Vice News

NEW YORK -- When Vice News launched in March 2014, masked pro-Russian separatists were seizing government buildings in Crimea, and the upstart news organization posted some of the first ground-level reports of the nascent conflict.

Though U.S. coverage of Crimea has waxed and waned in the past year, Vice News Editor-in-Chief Jason Mojica offered a simple explanation for why the outlet has stayed with story for more than 100 video dispatches: “It’s not over.”

“That’s something that’s kind of an important part of our DNA as a news organization,” Mojica said in a recent interview with The Huffington Post. “We’re not driven by the news cycle. ... So long as we think there’s still a story and it’s important, we’re going to devote resources to covering it.”

How Vice News, the youth-focused media company's digital news platform, has covered the world online this past year is a good indication of what to expect when Vice launches a half-hour daily newscast on HBO later this year.

On Thursday, Vice announced plans for a show that will run five days a week, along with an extension of its weekly newsmagazine through 2018. When asked that afternoon on CNBC how Vice would fill a daily newscast, CEO Shane Smith said the company has "already been doing it” online with Vice News.

“We walked before we could run,” he said, “and now we’re ready to go primetime with that daily news coverage.”

In response to a question during the CNBC interview about covering a story like the Germanwings crash for the HBO show, Smith noted that Vice News could get a correspondent on the ground quickly. But, he added, "We don't want to be slaves to the news cycle."

With more than 30 offices worldwide, Vice shouldn't have trouble reaching the French Alps. But it's unlikely the HBO show would opt for a traditional TV news standup featuring a correspondent giving regular updates in front of a mountain backdrop. And it seems even less likely the outlet would book a roundtable of aviation experts to discuss the story on set.

That's because Vice prides itself on getting its hands dirty, and the outlet turns documentary style toward people enmeshed in conflicts and catastrophes rather than pundits in studios thousands of miles away.

For example, its Friday dispatch from Ukraine -- the 104th video in the ongoing "Russian Roulette" series -- featured correspondent Simon Ostrovsky visiting a tank repair facility where rebels claimed to have taken Ukrainian army vehicles. In the nearly 15-minute report, Ostrovsky related this firsthand experience to government and military officials in Kiev and asked them whether armored Humvees recently provided by the U.S. could similarly wind up in the enemy’s hands.

The report tackled a Washington debate one might find on cable news -- "Should the U.S. Send Lethal Aid to Ukraine?" -- but didn't turn to a Washington-based panel for answers.

Mojica, who spoke with HuffPost prior to the HBO announcement, said that Vice News hasn't been motivated by breaking news or posting information "a few seconds ahead of someone else.” But the site has clearly covered current events, and has found itself in the middle of the news cycle when posting exclusive footage during moments of heightened media interest.

Its biggest get last year, an unprecedented look inside the self-declared Islamic State, was released a day before the start of a U.S.-led bombing campaign targeting the extremist group. “Cable news can cart out tons of former this and former thats and they can weigh in on their opinion based on what they read,” Mojica said. But Vice News instead provided “an unvarnished and up-close look” at the Islamic State, or ISIS.

Vice News also landed an exclusive interview with Dr. James Mitchell, the architect of the CIA's torture program. The video it produced on Mitchell, posted the same week that a long-awaited Senate report on the program was released, was picked up by shows like "NBC Nightly News," "CBS This Morning," "ABC World News Tonight" and Fox News' "Special Report."

Mojica said Vice News has tried straying from the pack even when locations are thick with journalists. He cited the outlet's lengthy interviews with Ferguson locals during hours of streaming coverage of the protests.

“That is so counterintuitive to what one would traditionally do on the Internet, which is very bite-sized. Or what one would or could do on TV, which is really just ADD-oriented," Mojica said. "It was surprising, it turned out to be really compelling journalism to have our reporter talk to someone for an hour in the middle of the night when there’s just incredible tension in the air."

Vice News, like many outlets, covered the Ebola crisis last fall and published a three-part series from Liberia. Mojica suggested that the outlet's ongoing reporting, with a correspondent currently back in the region, distinguishes it from news outlets seemingly less focused on the outbreak now that it's not perceived as a threat in the U.S.

“Again, the story’s not over yet,” Mojica said. “We don’t have young doctors in Brooklyn bowling alleys anymore, but it’s still not contained there. The story’s not over. We’ll continue to cover it until it’s finally gone away."

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