Mondo Vice: going backwards to bring news media forwards

Over the past few weeks I have been watching the team at Vice magazine’s new TV documentary series. The content is familiar territory to people who have watched the Vice YouTube channel, just the segments are joined up into cohesive themes. At the beginning of each episode you can hear Shane Smith introduce the programme with the following refrain:

The world is changing,
And no one knows where it’s going
But we’ll be there uncovering the news, culture and politics
And expose the absurdity of the modern condition
This is the world through our eyes,
This is the world of Vice

Vice’s news media offering comes from a position that mainstream media has failed to give consumers the information and insights that they need and deserve as part of a modern society. Having heard Shane Smith talk about the offering you get the sense of frustration that has driven the programming. Smith cited the anger felt by the youth that they came across, research that indicated younger consumers were interested in the world around them, but weren’t engaged by current news offerings.

This is blamed on a lack of integrity within the western news media which is viewed by some to have sold out during the post-9/11 period. And an inability to come to terms with a changing media landscape of social media publishing combining with a smartphone becoming a broadcast studio in the palm of your hand.

For me Vice looks to have re-invented the news media by going back and borrowing from the journalism of the past. Firstly, Vice stories are one of personal exploration of an issue: a travelogue to find out the different sides of the situation they are examining: whether it is smoking in Indonesia or gun markets in the border regions of Pakistan. This is very reminiscent of the New Journalism movement from Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe to Hunter S. Thompson which put the narrator into the story.

The edgy, surprising and shocking material reminded me of Italian film-makers Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi’s Mondo series of films. These were often travel vignettes offered up within a theme including:

    • Mondo Cane – focused on different cultural practices around the world that would be alien to a western audience
    • Africa Addio – documented the move to post-colonial government across the continent; with some of the little documentary footage shot of the Zanzibar revolution

Vice is managing to make the future of news media with ingredients from genres of journalism that grew out of the counterculture.