Vice Media Kit— WARNING for Advertisers
While writing an Unofficial Guide to Vice Media I realized the media kit is an illusion and the whole company is toxic.
WORK IN PROGRESS (Updated April 15th)
While training to become a forensic consultant and expert witness; I was given some very simple advice, “tell the truth, and you have nothing to worry about”. Vice Media, the subject of my new book, has lots to worry about.
Vice Media is currently valued between 4–4.5 billion. More than the NY Times (2.2B), more than Buzzfeed (1.5B). But when I mention Vice to people outside the media, I get a lot of blank stares.
Vice is an enigma — a Satanic inspired Rubik’s Cube. Researching the book has been an exercise in collecting contradiction after contradiction.
- Announcing growth while shutting down sales in Mexico (after overtly mentioning in their media kit they will pimp editorial for the price of a new car).
- Declaring outlandish revenue while providing no real evidence.
- 36 offices around the world? Random houses on Streetview from what I can tell.
- How many employees? How many contributors? I plotted the answers chronologically and it looks like noise. This isn’t an accident. Shane Smith, the CEO of Vice, is known for being a liar.
Shane says Vice is a trusted brand. What a load of crap. Vice is talked about in media circles — mostly — because they say they have a lot of money. People also talk because their reputation of paying shit and being a little scary. Understandably, the industry is tough and nobody wants to bite the hand that feeds. Even if that hand has violated you.
People working independently in documentary and journalism despise Vice. Even people working for Vice dislike Vice. What the f**k is going on?
The Media Kit Illusion
A media kit is a PDF targeted at advertisers. Individually, Vice looks dodgy but in a meta-analysis of 2007 to 2015 PDFs, I noticed some funny stuff:
- QUOTES: Almost every quote in their media kits is outdated, doctored, spun negative to positive, or fabricated wholesale. It’s as if it was written by an old, smarmy, pick-up artist that used to be cool.
- DEMOGRAPHICS: Between 2007 and 2010 the reported demographics became slightly older. However, between 2010 and 2015 the demographics stayed exactly the same. Year after year — despite quoting new sources. To me, this indicates control fraud. An unfortunately common practice of bullying employees to get the desired result rather than the accurate result.
Update Dec 23rd: One industry insider described a VICE Chief Revenue Officer as a “coke head”, “human garbage”, a HR / sexual harassment nightmare and “the definition of a corporate scumbag”. When asked how the CRO remained employed at their previous job they said they were good at sales.
- CIRCULATION: The words “circulation”, “distribution” and “totals” are used interchangeably and should typically refer to actual magazines printed, not the “readership”. I think the 1.2 million number is bogus. Sometimes the country-by-country circulation numbers literally don’t add up. And while it’s impossible to know, without torturing an accountant into speaking (or finding a suicidal whistle-blower), I think the numbers are amped between 8–50 times — depending on the country. I’ve tried pretty hard to find the ~250 pickup locations in Toronto, Canada; but I can only identify six.
Update Dec 13th: An ex employee has confirmed that Vice Magazine’s media kit circulation numbers, in their country, were multiplied by ten. Anyone else?
Update Dec 19th: Vice Magazine has taken an unscheduled, two month hiatus in publishing (January and February 2016). via: AdAge.
- 100% PICK-UP RATES?: I’ve made a habit of visiting stores in both the US and Canada looking for Vice Magazine. I’ve spoken to the managers and they readily admit to throwing extra copies in the recycling. Discussions about their biggest distributor, American Apparel, usually revolve around the creepy owner and bets on when they will go out of business.
- VIEWS: Content producers are paid less than the average media company but the engineers are paid more than the average media company. So why has Vice begun to disable comments? Even Gawker, deemed a bunch of bitches by Shane, uses a view counter. I think Shane is using salesmanship in place of evidence because Vice just isn’t that popular.
Generally, professionals tend to think that ~50% of clicks are stolen from advertisers. The worst offender studied showed as much as 98% nonhuman traffic. Personally, I know a couple people in the industry who do this type of thing and both are varying degrees of asshole. Shane fits the profile.
I would like to give Vice the benefit of the doubt but I can’t imagine these words out of Shane’s mouth: Alright team, I know our website says “den of nefarious activities” on it, and I’m a self-described megalomaniac, but please don’t hire botters to make me rich — something I’ve obsessed over my entire life and the main reason people are near me. Seriously guys don’t.
An Unbranded History of Vice Media
Should Vice ever be trusted?
- FORMATIVE YEARS: Shane grew up wanting to be a fiction writer or a poet. But, Reductio ad Hitlerum, he failed at the arts, went into PoliSci and caused trouble in Europe.
- ARBITRAGE: While living in Europe Shane was “being a criminal…buying and selling money illegally”
- FREUD’S TAKE: Freud says our conscience is given to us by our father. He said a lot of things but bear this in mind for the next anecdote: On Charlie Rose, Shane admitted that his father, a brilliant programmer, was caught for insider trading. The interview ended with Shane — in tears — saying how much his father meant to him. Before you feel all warm and fuzzy search “inverted conscience”. Some people think bad is good.
- VOICELESS: Vice began as Voice of Montreal (1994) and quickly turned into a “welfare scam”. Vice used money that was meant to provide work to Haitian-Canadian immigrants to publish reviews of hate literature.
- MASTER SALESMAN: In 1995 Shane was hired to Vice because of his ability to BS without remorse (in 2007 he took control of the company).
- ROB’N BANKS: Robbie D, earlier editor of Vice Magazine, used to rob banks. His father also used to rob banks. He runs a blog: FUCK EVERYTHING and currently writes for Vice.
- MORE INSIDER TRADING: The first round of funding came from Richard S. who, shortly before investing in Vice, was sued for insider trading in both Canada and the US. He wanted to take Vice public. *HINT HINT*
- MTV “REALITY”: The next investor was Tom Freston from Viacom. A company known colloquially in the industry as ‘the devil’.
- RUPE’N EVERYBODY: The next investor was Rupert Murdoch who — if that doesn’t sound alarm bells; you blissfully ignorant soul— was recently deemed by a UK court unfit to run a company. This basically never happens. Remember that whole phone hacking thing? James Murdoch was implicated and is the only other person besides Shane Smith on the board of Vice.
- VIOLATED BY ALIENS: Hearst-Disney, the latest investor of Vice. Has such critical thinking skills to bring the world History Channel’s UFO Hunters (2008), Ancient Aliens (2009), and Fooling People is Our Business Model (2020).
- GOING PUBLIC: Media critics suspect something similar to a pump-and-dump scheme. Shane described Vice as re-applying lipstick to a pig every year until it finally got big. Shane even admits to laughing his way to the bank. Shane preys on ignorance.
I can see, before reading all this, how giving money to Vice would seem like a good idea. They CLAIM to have exactly what advertisers want: 200 million millennial dummies. Problem is; they don’t exist.
Vice’s numbers appear perfect because Shane is a con man and Vice is a black hole.
Depending on your perspective on: corporations, the usefulness of advertising, and your frequency of suicidal ideation; dumping money into this shitpile might actually be a good thing. But maybe the money could go to better use.
One journalist said to me “If you don’t have a wall between editorial and advertising; you have nothing”. It makes sense because multiple studies link misinformation to lowered intelligence. Watching Vice, or any media without ethics, is a commitment to being dumber. Worse, a company that seeks novelty without a code will always stray into Antisocial-land.
Garbage in, garbage out. Put simply, a company without ethics is a company that cannot love.
The bigger question: Why should a ‘content company’ that operates without conscience — not in the public’s interest or even the viewer’s interest — be allowed Journalist’s privilege?
Most people think Shane is joking when he says outrageous things. But most the time he isn’t joking. Shane has, on more than one occasion, defined Vice as a cult. The bait for this cult — put simply — is a promise of fun, no rules and self-defeating concepts like everyone else is boring. The reality is that anonymous employee ratings have Vice pegged as the worst media company out there. Employees don’t speak out because of the draconian documents they sign going in — and leaving.
“Vice IS vice” — Rocco C., former editor of Vice Media Inc.
I’ve heard that nervous breakdowns are common. Vice, practically by definition, breaches the employee’s human rights to a freedom of conscience. Often enough, Vice is against ethics. I’ve heard that Shane mocked an employee for advocating the basics of journalism and there is reason to believe he pushed out another. It’s no surprise that anti-competitive sales practices are the norm.
A Depraved History of Vice Media
Less cerebral reasons to brew contempt for this company.
- Vice used to ship date-rape drugs (GHB) to male advertisers.
- Shane published a degrading story about gang-banging someone in their office. (I’m not linking it)
- Shane told an artist ex-girlfriend at her gallery opening that he was dying of a mystery illness and maintained the story for over a year — basically, as an excuse to cheat. The BBC found a character witness.
Update Jan 12th: Please stop offering me gross stories of Shane Smith that are sexual in nature. I’ve read enough.
Maybe this is the future of news — or maybe — in Shane’s own words he wants to “…fuck news in its naughty ass”.
Why admit to this? People usually don’t look into their employer because of power and aggression dynamics. Counter-intuitively, it’s an avant-garde strategy of power that keeps people (especially employees) constantly confused.
Shane Smith is Definitely a Con Man
Shane, like most ruthless hucksters, can read his target on the spot. Shane has every indication of a sociopathic trait called duper’s delight. To put things simply: being evil gives Shane a kick.
In light conversation, Shane is charming — a pretty well documented trait. Tough questions are dodged — again a pretty well documented trait of politicians. So, unless you’ve done your homework, you probably want to put a email filter on any announcement that this company dictates.
Vice, at its worst, is an insane plausible deniability machine. At best, it’s derivative, anti-competitive and held together by mutually-assured-destruction. All this adds up to a short-term strategy of impunity — and probably why Vice lawyers sent police to my door when I mentioned concerns of fraud at reception. (Story below)
Side note 1: How deep do the shennanigans go? I have a hunch the reported buyout numbers are just some plutocratic publicity stunt. How else can something, with fewer views than Gangnam Style, be worth 4.5 billion? This theory scrapes the bedrock of my skepticism. In my defense: Shane, while drunk, did proclaim the most psychotic thing I’ve ever heard “it doesn’t matter if it’s true, it matters if you believe it”. He also jokes about spending time with the illuminati — if that means anything anchored to reality — just means he hangs with wealthy connivers who look down on humanity. Nothing special.
Maybe when VOICE changed its name to VICE they kept the “O” and threw it behind the circulation numbers. Poetry of a lunatic: where all your employees are put in danger because of the truth — and you make the life of honest people more difficult.
Side note 2: I have nothing bad to say about Suroosh Alvi. Good taste in music, probably shell-shocked from the homonculus rat in his brain called Shane. Someone, please give him a book deal.
Side note 3: If Shane writes a book named anything other than How to Make Enemies and Hypnotize People: I’m not buying it.
Alternatives to Vice Media
If you’re an ad buyer looking for a ‘youth media company’ try Vox Media*, Buzzfeed, GOOD Magazine* or even a magazine by the former Vice Magazine editor called Apology Magazine*. Yes, the title is in reference to Vice.
Try contacting other news channels on YouTube. There are 35 channels rated better than Vice that won’t lobotomize you with misinformation and subversive advertorials.
Or reinvest in “old guard” newspapers with a code of ethics. Ones that care about their audience.
*no published code of ethics
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
DANIEL VOSHART has shot over 100 films including an hour of music video, five hours of documentary and six hours of fiction. He also a forensic consultant, architecture grad and a reluctant Vice Historian.
Contact the author on twitter or pick your flavour of discussion over on Reddit (most comments were based on an earlier draft): /advertising (38 comments), /Journalism (22 comments), /Skeptic (12 comments), /TrueReddit (188 comments), /KotakuInAction (31 comments) and /Vice (28 comments).