Earlier this week at the B+B Newsroom, we welcomed Rocco Castoro, editor-in-chief of Vice Media, and Jason Mojica, editor-in-chief of Vice News, to talk about the Williamsburg-based brand’s evolution from the fringes of the mainstream media to the front lines. You had a lot to ask, they had a lot to say, and you can watch it all above. Below, read some choice snippets about the company’s plans to produce more reality TV, film, livestreaming, and investigative journalism. Oh, and expect to see more female correspondents on the HBO show. Budding journalists will also find valuable advice about coming up with stories, including Mojica’s method of “making shit up and then hoping that it really does exist and then searching for it.”
On 21st Century Fox’s recent investment
Castoro: If people want to say Murdoch this and that it’s like well, did he mess with the Simpsons? Because he owns that, too. Not really.
On Vice knock-offs
Mojica: I don’t think that news is a zero sum game — I think anyone who gets all of their information from one site or news organization is fucking crazy. It’s all part of a greater media diet. So if there are more people doing good stuff, great… Salaries are being driven up by companies like that, so it’s making it really frustrating for me to hire people at the salaries I’d like to hire them for. You have eBay news coming, Amazon news, there’s lots of money suddenly.
On Vice producing reality shows and scripted content
Castoro: Yes, we actually have quite a few slated for next year — scripted content. We’ll be doing feature films soon enough and I also am running video for Vice.com, at least as the executive producer level, and that’s an initiative I want to start: we are going to do more short-form stuff, funnier stuff, have a show called “Bad Moms Club” which we’ll be doing next year, which is a reality show but it’s about a group of moms who are sexually liberated, we’ll say, in Miami and who like to frequent clubs where former NFL players like to hang out and be their mistresses and they’ve agreed to do a show which will be hilarious and a lot more real than most reality tv.
Mojica: I’m working on a show that’s kind of like Breaking Bad meets The Wire in North Korea.
On whether Vice is too sensational
Mojica: If you look at any “world news program” on a broadcast network you might get a minute thirty about something happening outside of the U.S. government crisis or someone’s nipple slip and, I mean, we’re giving hundreds of hours of documentary content and spending 30-50 minutes on this story in the Congo and so I think we’re actually engaging on a much deeper level. When we say it’s entertainment, or entertaining, or trying to engage people, I think it’s not just treating it as just sit back on your couch and look at the pretty pictures, but I think it’s just trying to find a way to make it not so goddamn boring.
On making people care about international news
Mojica: It wasn’t too long ago I had a conversation with an executive at one of these broadcast networks and they were saying, “We can’t do this international stuff that you do,” and I said, “Yes, you can,” and she said, “No, we can’t have 2 million viewers, we need 15 million viewers.” And I’m like, “You can do international news, you just can’t do international breaking news, because people don’t have the context to know why this blip of information matters.” Because you haven’t been telling them, first of all, but secondly, I just kind of argued that you can tell self-encapsulated stories and people will be interested. I think that what we’ve proven is people aren’t tuning out because “that’s a place I don’t know,” they’re tuning in because they’re interesting compelling stories that you’re taking from beginning, middle and end.
Mojica: It’s not at the top of my agenda right now but I do think there’s an opportunity there caused by two things: CNN’s shift toward a lot more entertainment-based programing so you’re not guaranteed to be able to just turn on “the news” (I mean, I enjoyed Blackfish but sometimes I’m like, “Can’t I just find out what’s happening?”) and also Al Jazeera’s interesting decision to completely alienate the audience that was built over the past six, seven years by cutting off all of its livestreaming and even archived YouTube content. So yeah, I think there is room for someone to step in and just provide 24-hour livestreaming news and [half-joking] in all my spare time I’ll try to figure out how to make that happen, with a Vice logo on it.
Castoro: We have Tim Pool… he’s going around to each of our offices and basically we’re providing them with kits: there’s a JVC camera on the market now that you can livestream directly from, it’s almost like a Camcorder. And then the question becomes, well, what are all these fucking satellites good for? And there’s another idea with people who own some of those satellites, especially decommissioned ones, that you could turn it very easily into sort of a global WiFi network. So if there are 30 cameras around the globe that we have… how likely it is that a ton of people are going to be watching livestream all the time… to me there’s like the people that really want to watch livestream and there’s the people who don’t, so it’s almost a different market to me in some ways or a different audience but it’s really important and I think we definitely have plans to kind of crack that nut the best we can.
On whether Vice caters to young males
I believe for the first time this year — not that it proves anything about our audience, or says anything — I think there’s more women than men on my editorial staff because people have leveled that accusation at us (“something blah blah blah”) and it’s like when I go to my fashion editor (now she’s a creative director) I’m like, “There’s too much cleavage in this,” she’s like, “No, there’s not enough.” So I don’t know what to say about that other than we do what we do. I by no means want to target -– [I] think young men are some of the worst people on the planet so I by no means want to be only in that wheelhouse. Whatever our sales department or whoever says, so be it — but that’s not my agenda whatsoever.
Mojica: We do a lot of stuff with guys with guns and that tends to be liked by young men
Castoro: Sure, but we also do… child brides and I don’t know if that…
Mojica: Define do… no, bride kidnapping in Kurdistan, yes yes. Did a very important story on that. And female fighters of the PKK, who do leapfrog.
Castoro: And I think you’ll start seeing more and more female correspondents. That is one thing I’ll admit that we’ve been lacking and we’ve been finding the right people to do that. It’s hard because, male or female, in the early days it was very hard for us to identify like, what is a host for Vice, because it’s literally people that have just been there and just tell stuff to the camera like they do over a beer. We’ve had a small pool and now we’re expanding now that we can teach people that.
On the Vice Is Hip Twitter handle
Mojica: It’s where I’m getting most of my story ideas.
Castoro: We’re actively developing many of those headlines right now.
Mojica: It’s like, that’s not bad. That’s gotta exist.
Castoro: Well, I’m trying to figure out who it is so I can hire him. It’s like the guy from the Post that writes the headlines — it’s like, “You’re great, come on over.” If he’s in this room, meet me outside afterwards.
Mojica: I mean, sometimes that’s what our brainstorming sessions are like. Is it the South Park episode with the manatees… the Family Guy thing? I mean, sometimes that is — here’s a little secret — one of the best ways of finding amazing stories is making shit up and then hoping that it really does exist and then searching for it.
Castoro: Chances are it probably does at this point. Ham sandwich talks…
Mojica: Icelandic Vietnam reenactors… it exists.
On breaking news
Castoro: Investigative journalism is something that is very hard to fund these days, it’s something that I’ve always really been a very big proponent of as I can fund it, and now that we’re doing more and more news and have a bit more money you will be seeing very, very deep dive features that when you read them you’ll be like, “What the fuck? This is true? It’s almost stranger than fiction.” And no one’s really doing that, so if there’s a space for us to occupy in breaking news it’s not going to be racing to the headlines it’s going to be like, what the hell is this? It will happen.
Mojica: What is the business model? BuzzFeed is reverse engineering a model to get lots of traffic, so kind of what they’re selling is you. And we’re selling our content, so we can focus on making great content and would we love their traffic? That’d be great.
Castoro: Imagine what a BuzzFeed tv show would be like. Imagine how cloying: “LOL” “haha,” “Wow!” “WTF?” Like, just not really something I want to watch.