VICE obituary: How Gen Z will remember the millennial digital media titan

By Abby Amoakuh

Published Feb 29, 2024 at 12:16 PM

Reading time: 4 minutes

Psychedelics, acid-induced murders, weird sex stories, counterculture, and fringe. These are just a few of the things that come to mind when I think of VICE. Founded in 1994 in Montreal, Canada, the news outlet busted the drawer open for what cunning and hard-hitting journalism was both allowed and willing to cover, leaving a permanent mark on the digital media landscape. VICE’s cultural impact is undeniable, which is why many were saddened when it was announced that the publication would lay off hundreds of workers and halt publishing on its flagship website, VICE.com.

While disheartening, this news did not come completely unexpected. VICE had long lost its title of digital media darling and instead had been stuck in a downward spiral for the past few years, due to budget cuts, a bankruptcy filing in mid-May 2023, and a $350 million sale to Fortress Investment Group. So, this is SCREENSHOT’s obituary to a once-great millennial-focused media titan that also touched a surprising amount of Gen Z hearts.

What was VICE.com?

VICE was a news publisher and broadcaster that became known for its edgy and alternative content, targeted at millennials. It became the first official door into millennial sex parties, the disabled BDSM community, Mumbai’s rising mafia, queer Palestinians in exile, the secret confessions of butlers for the super-rich, and the revitalised drug trade in Mexico. VICE put the majority of its eggs into the booming millennial culture of the 2010s and saw a massive payout.

What propelled VICE further to the forefront of the global media landscape was its accessible and immersive storytelling format. Rather than just informing its audience, it aimed to draw them into a completely different world that existed alongside theirs. VICE’s ability to make the weird and the wonderful personal supported its rise and helped the company carve out a highly scalable niche.

What happened to VICE?

When it comes to what happened to the media publisher, it’s a story that can’t really be distilled into one article to be honest, but I’ll try. One element of VICE’s downfall was that the digital media space became increasingly competitive. It didn’t take long until other outlets like Buzzfeed, Mashable and Vox Media popped up, ready to take a shot at the king. And they didn’t miss…

VICE’s title as the go-to source for diverse voices and all things fringe started to crumble. It seemed as though every day a new publication appeared that managed to do a better job at covering some of its go-to topics. Want to learn more about sex workers in India? Gal-dem. What did the protesters at the women’s march have to say? Check it out on Bitch Media. Do you need a quick refresher on the Armenia and Azerbaijan war, the Sudan conflict, why movies have gotten so dark, or why food waste is the world’s dumbest problem? Hob over to Vox. While it should be noted that a few of these publications have now also closed their doors, their mere existence—and the mark they’ve made on the industry—highlights how VICE simply isn’t one in a million anymore.

It could also be argued that VICE lost its firm grasp on youth culture and emerging trends. Rather than gearing itself more towards Zillennials and Gen Zers, VICE started to age with its core audience. Once celebrated for its accessibility and freshness, the publication started to feel increasingly monotone, out of touch and pretentious. While Gen Zers sought out silly goofy hot girl takes on pop culture and politics, VICE relied too heavily on the cold brew generation, stamping out an integral demographic.

@vice

it's art, you hate it, but it's unintentionally art! #ukpubs #britishtiktok #britishpubs #soho #london

♬ original sound - VICE

To many netizens, it felt as though VICE was relying too hard on its hype, believing that its reputation as “the world’s largest independent youth media company” would sustain it. However, if anything, it cushioned its fall. Rather than continuing to fuel its popularity with the fringe, cutting-edge themes it became famous for and repackaging it for a new audience, VICE was confronted with irrelevance.

In all fairness, as the digital media space expanded, it also became harder for VICE to outdo itself and cover topics that hadn’t been explored or analysed before. But, as we all know, the word of digital media isn’t always fair.

Then the financial troubles began. I know, these guys couldn’t catch a single break. Budget constraints were already tight but then COVID-19 hit and pushed even bigger media outlets into crisis.

Buzzfeed shut down its Pulitzer Prize-winning news division in a move that shocked many. Online publisher Vox announced that it was cutting around 4 per cent of its staff in November 2023, after letting go of 7 per cent of workers in March. Bitch Media had to close down completely and the same faith befell Gal-dem, despite all its praise and accolades. It was like watching the gods fall from the sky one by one until there were only a few left. Then, not long after, VICE announced bankruptcy and was subsequently bought by Fortress Investment.

Following a content-focused partnership with Saudi Arabian Prince and businessman Mohammed bin Salman, accusations of spreading propaganda for the state followed. It added another nail to the coffin. Before we knew it, VICE’s legitimacy and authenticity as a media publisher was vanquished. Once considered an alternative, it started to seem like just another mainstream media outlet, albeit edgier. Its unique selling point was erased.

Then, on 22 February 2024, Chief Executive Bruce Dixon confirmed the horrible news that VICE.com was closing its doors and would stop publishing new content. The announcement verified something that many of us already knew: VICE.com was dead in the water.

What will happen to VICE now?

Although VICE.com is done for now, the VICE Media Group will continue to exist and switch to a studio model, meaning that the company will undergo a structural shift and focus on its social channels as well as partnerships to distribute its news content—something that we’ll likely see happen across the entire industry.

That being said, we here at SCREENSHOT wanted to see off VICE.com properly. We’ve lit a candle, put our best garms on, and even put on some tasteful Beyoncé in the background. Thank you for spotlighting the things that other publishers marginalised. It was groundbreaking. Thank you for not underestimating, or talking down to your audience (at least for the most part). We loved you for it.

Thank you for not being scared of social media and digital technologies, they were a vital part of your storytelling and thank you for recognising that younger audiences are a dangerous force to be reckoned with. You showcased our power and it made us feel, well, powerful. So this is our send-off, our heartfelt goodbye. You climbed and conquered the mountains that others are now comfortable sitting on and we know our being here is due, in part, to you.

Rest in Peace VICE. You will not be forgotten.

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