Frontline Showcase: An evening with the new media game changers

Richard Gizbert, presenter of Al Jazeera English’s The Listening Post, chaired the evening that started by sitting down with Alex MillerMilène Larsson and Aris Roussinos from VICE, to discuss how they are changing the way news is delivered and to show some clips of their online documentaries.

Gizbert asked the team why VICE is different and how is it proving so successful, Miller, VICE’s editor in chief replied:

“When we started people said that online video had to be cats pissing around in baths. We did the exact opposite and made long-form documentaries. The interesting thing is that it was the serious stuff that was getting the most passionate support. We’ve been nudged towards it by watching the things our viewers are interested in.”

As a journalist who freelanced for the BBC and Channel 4 before he became a reporter at VICE News, Roussinos commented that “one thing that makes me pretty happy working at VICE is that I’ve got pretty much absolute editorial freedom. Because we can have a longer format on the internet, we are not hemmed in by runtimes. There is a thirst for knowledge – why not feed it?”

“There is a little bit of a myth or a hype going on. [These documentaries] are something Reuters could have done, or Unreported World – I can’t see you’re doing anything different. Is it really the case that people come to your site because they have lost faith in the mainstream media?” filmmaker Sean Langan pointed out from the audience.  There was also concern from the audience that the documentaries lacked context, in particular geo-political context.

After a brief hiatus of drinks in the members’ clubroom courtesy of Chivas Brothers, the second part of the evening got underway.

Richard Sambrook, professor of journalism and director at the Centre for Journalism; Kevin Sutcliffe, VICE head of news production for Europe; Richard James, news editor of BuzzFeed UK; and Tom Giles, editor of the BBC’s Panorama, joined Gizbert to discuss the broader subject of the changing media landscape.

Giles pointed out that the BBC will probably be looking to places like VICE for tips going forward, especially with BBC Three being taken off air: “BBC Three will still go on online, and I’m not an expert, but can’t imagine they won’t turn to people like VICE and want to know how they can inform the whole online younger audience landscape.”

Sambrook raised the concern that VICE and other online outlets have not had any crises yet, and a test will be how they can survive them.

Sutcliffe, who had previously been Channel 4’s Dispatches editor pointed out that:

“It’s all virgin territory to us, we are just finding our way – we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re doing good content we are spending money on that content. We think it’s an opportunity to try and grow a network that works, one that doesn’t have to take its model from legacy media – it doesn’t have to be invested in.”

Gizbert asked James what it is like to come from a print background (as a journalist at Metro and The Daily Mail) to a solely online medium. “It is fantastic. There is so much more freedom and creativity not having to chase the daily news agenda,” he replied.

“In a terrible way, we are prisoners of our form,” said Giles, talking about legacy media. “The reason [online only] is liberating is because you don’t need to worry about how is it going to fit on the channel, or how is it going to get marketed at 8:30pm on BBC One. By the time we’ve got the money and the commission, you’ve already put it out there in a new form in a new landscape”

“But at what moment when other people pop up to do the same thing, and when the competition starts, and it really starts to crunch,” he added.

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