The fall of “Vice News” exposes the limits of free journalism

In the early 2010s, a not-so-distant era, new online news sites − such as Vice News, BuzzFeed News or even the Huffington Post − intended to shake up traditional media with their free models, based on advertising, and their editorial lines aimed at the generation of millennials, that is to say people born between 1980 and 2000.

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Vicewho dreamed of both “the next CNN and the next MTV”, and had been valued up to 5.7 billion dollars (5.3 billion euros) in 2017, declared bankruptcy on Monday, May 15. However, with its embodied reporting, its freely written and sometimes familiar articles tackling social issues and counter-cultures, its original journalistic angles, Vice had been able to settle in the media landscape. “We dealt with subjects that we did not see anywhere else”explains a former employee. “The editorial identity of Vice was punk, alternative, very sex, drugs and parties”said another.

Initially a simple alternative magazine, launched in Canada in 1994, its founders Shane Smith, Suroosh Alvi and Gavin McInnes were able to rely on the Web, in the early 2000s, to transform it into a multimedia brand. They have gone international to claim to reach 350 million people per month in 2020, thanks to their thirty offices around the world and their content in twenty-five languages.

A “giant with feet of clay”

The quality of his journalism was even distinguished by a Pulitzer Prize the same year.Vice has shown the way in editorial freedom »explains David Creuzot, co-founder of Konbini, a French media outlet which also targets 15-35 year olds.

But the deterioration of the economic situation due to the war in Ukraine and the decline of the advertising market ended up destabilizing what is today described by several players as a “giant with feet of clay”. Viceit’s the story of the frog who wanted to be bigger than the ox »believes Philippe Lamarre, founder of the Canadian online media Urbania. The leaders of Vice would have, over the years, promised “unattainable growth” to the various investors, according to Mr. Lamarre. Among those who have recapitalized the company: the Australian media magnate Rupert Murdoch, Disney or, more recently, TGP.

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Despite a turnover of 600 million dollars in 2022, according to the figures revealed by the washington postthanks in particular to its advertising management, the group was still not in equilibrium. He never managed to find his economic model and kept going into debt to seek growth, until he totaled $830 million in debt by 2023. “With the current explosion in interest rates, investors are looking more at direct profitability”notes Philippe Lamarre.

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