THE BLOG
10/21/2014 04:53 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2014

Vice News: Up-Close, Gritty and Challenging Mainstream

In the battle for ratings, network television and cable news find themselves face-to-face with an upstart whose coverage of world affairs is up-close and gritty.

It's Vice News. And Vice is on a roll. No wonder ... the Millennials are where it's at.

The big media companies have seen the challenge. Reports are that Fox now has a stake in Vice News, while Time Warner and Disney also appear to have had talks. CNN, part of Turner Broadcasting and owned by Time Warner, had experimented with a Vice News/HLN linkup at www.cnn.com/specials/vice.

Only a few days ago, the Huffington Post reported that Vice received a $500 million investment, making it possible to expand further with local-language editions in seven new countries.

If you read the Nieman Journalism Lab -- "whose goal is to attempt to help journalism figure out its future in an Internet age" -- author Ken Doctor focuses on the buying power and future financial muscle of millennial viewers.

"The new wave of news sites ... aim to get significant shares of the millennial market. At that size, this generation will spend $200 billion by 2017 (and $10 trillion in their lifetime) in the U.S. alone. It's the lower end of the 25-54 audience that the TV advertisers covet and therein lies a new tale of budding ad competition."

Now in their 20s and 30s, it is just those Millennials who are leading the way when it comes to how our digital world is influencing the future and the media. They grew up with digital ever present and at their fingertips. Digital is how they get their news, share their views and shape the perceptions of others, often on hand-held devices with high definition retina displays.

It is hard for me, a baby-boomer, to envision a world without network and cable news. They play a critical role reporting on local, national and global issues and providing in-depth coverage of crises and fast-breaking news.

However, I am not the future.

The Millennials are. I know firsthand.

When I talk with my six millennial children and their friends, seldom does network or cable news coverage come up during discussions about where they get the news.

But Vice News sure does. Some of the words they use to describe Vice are:

Real ... Up-close ... Gritty ... Gripping ... Graphic ... Raw ... Unbiased ... Courageous


What they tell me is three-fold:

First: "the coverage is of events and stories that the mainstream media don't seem to pursue but which do deserve attention."

Second: "on the ground, it is at the heart of what is actually going on, not filmed from a distant balcony."

And third: "it is footage from the source, and it doesn't tell me how to think or interpret the events but rather lets me figure it out."

Importantly, they relate to the high impact digital format where news comes with powerful video, captured in segments that permit Millennials to get a better feel for what is going on, as they see it, behind the scenes.

Vice's link with YouTube has already created a new dimension to video sharing and expanded viewer interest. And now, in what looks like a potential strategic partnership with Skype, there is an even newer, entirely different way to involve viewers. As MediaWeek reported:

"Vice News plans to use Skype's voice and video technology to enable audience participation and to expand news coverage around the world.

"The initiative is aimed at allowing Vice's youth audience to engage more closely with the newsroom's content."

Looking at the challenge posed by Vice News, it's fair to ask just how much of this strikes a chord with those whose responsibility it is to plan the future of mainstream news coverage?

Brian Stelter, CNN's senior media correspondent and anchor of Reliable Sources, was insightful about the future of media just a few days ago and in recent tweets.

Writing about layoffs, he made a very pointed comment about inevitable change:

"THE fact of media in 2014, is that reshaping of all kinds is going to continue."


I'm guessing that real change lies in a sweeping call to action, much in the spirit of the 18th century political activist and revolutionary Thomas Paine:

"Either lead, follow or get out of the way."