HBO's 'Vice,' reporting news others ignore

Shane Smith (left) and Suroosh Alvi, cofounders of Vice.
Shane Smith (left) and Suroosh Alvi, cofounders of Vice. (Vice)
Posted: March 14, 2014

There's a strange contradiction, an ironic knot, at the heart of TV news in America. While a mind-boggling number of hours are devoted each day to news - on 24-hour news channels, the many news reports and talk shows on the networks and their websites - we seem to get very little of the actual stuff.

The situation infuriates journalist Eddy Moretti, one of the creators of Vice, a half-hour weekly newsmagazine on HBO that returns for a second season Friday at 11 p.m.

"It's amazing, they have so many hours they could use to ask about so many other stories," Moretti said in a phone chat. "But they repeat the same stories over and over again. There has got to be more than six things going on in the world!"

Vice is different, Moretti promises: It goes places that mainstream news ignores. And it never shies away from controversial reports.

HBO's show is one of a number of projects from Vice, an indie news provider that began as a print magazine and has grown into a multiplatform media mini-empire that includes music and book publishing.

Each week, HBO's program offers two 15-minute reports by one of about 10 full-time correspondents.

The season debut features two striking pieces.

The first, about America's $100 billion campaign to rebuild Afghanistan, has Vice cofounder Shane Smith investigate how hundreds of millions of tax dollars have been lost, stolen, or simply wasted on dead-end projects. Smith takes us into a brand-new, American-funded $35 million power plant near Kabul that is never used - importing electricity from Afghanistan's neighbors is much cheaper.

Last season, Vice averaged 2.8 million viewers an episode on HBO, the cabler said. Millions also regularly view the dozens of other documentaries Vice posts on its website. The company's success suggests it has found a winning formula.

"We speak in a language that young people understand," said Moretti, who is the company's chief creative officer.

What about the conventional wisdom that today's youth don't engage with world news? Young people don't dislike the news, but how mainstream programs present it, said Vice correspondent and producer Fazeelat Aslam.

"They dictate the news from a higher ground and a detached perspective," she said. Vice practices immersive reporting.

Viewers "watch the reporters reacting with genuine emotion about what's going on around them," Aslam said. "That kind of approach supported by the facts will give your audience a real chance to understand and to connect."

Is Vice on a mission to make us better citizens? Moretti takes a few beats to think. "Do Vice viewers make better citizens? Yes, dammit, they do."



11 p.m. Friday on HBO.


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