The media today: Facing a critical moment, Vice plans for change at the top

Vice Media’s rise from fringe Canadian magazine to global media juggernaut has made it a digital darling, but recent reporting has cast a cloud over its future. The most valuable new media company in the US has been under fire for posting disappointing financial results and harboring a culture of harassment and fear in the workplace. Now, it appears that fixing those issues will require new leadership.

ICYMI: The New York Times attempts to correct the record

Variety’s Cynthia Littleton was first to the news that A+E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc is deep in talks with Vice about taking over as chief executive of the company. Dubuc announced she was leaving A+E yesterday, though her departure letter made no mention of her next move. She would be stepping into the role at Vice during a critical moment for the millennial-focused brand.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Vice missed its 2017 revenue target by more than $100 million. That news came on the heels of a damning New York Times exposé featuring allegations of “old-school sexual harassment” at the company. That report resulted in the firing of Vice’s chief digital officer, and two of the company’s co-founders acknowledged they had failed “to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive.”  One of those co-founders, current CEO Shane Smith, has been the face of the brand for nearly 25 years, but reportedly reached out to Dubuc about taking over his duties in recent months.

ICYMI: How hacked emails and a yacht in Monaco ended my career at The Wall Street Journal

Smith will reportedly stay on at Vice, transitioning to an as-yet-undefined role. Meanwhile, Abbe Raven, Dubuc’s predecessor at A+E, will return to lead that company in the interim.

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Despite its recent problems, Vice, valued at $5.7 billion, is still seen as the most financially successful property in a group of new media companies that includes BuzzFeed and Vox Media. Dubuc is familiar with the company’s business, having served on its board for several years and working in partnership on its Viceland TV channel during her time at A+E.

Below, more on a delicate moment for Vice.

  • A natural fit: The Hollywood Reporter’s Lacey Rose writes that Dubuc’s “gut for programming, outspoken style, and confidence have made her one of the most effective and easily one of the most candid executives in the industry, which could make her a good fit for Vice.”
  • Big questions: Recode’s Peter Kafka breaks down the challenges facing Vice if Dubuc takes over and Smith transitions to a new role: “How much of the company’s success is dependent on Smith’s presence, leadership, and uncanny sales skills? How much of that will he contribute to the company when he’s no longer CEO, no matter what role he morphs into?”
  • Tipping point: With Smith stepping back as his company faces financial questions and concerns about its workplace culture, CNN’s Tom Kludt calls this “a potentially watershed moment for Vice.”
  • From the archives: Back in a 2015 cover story for CJR on “the cult of Vice,” Chris Ip looked at the company in a different moment of transition, when it was trying to make the leap from entertainment outlet to trusted source for news.


Other notable stories

  • In its April issue, National Geographic is attempting to reckon with its history of discriminatory racial coverage. EIC Susan Goldberg writes in an editor’s note that the magazine asked historian John Edwin Mason to lead a review, and he found that “until the 1970s National Geographic all but ignored people of color who lived in the United States, rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers or domestic workers. Meanwhile it pictured ‘natives’ elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché.” Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith applauded the move, writing, “Editors should follow [Goldberg’s] lead and invite criticisms of their publications.”
  • CJR’s Justin Ray profiles Vox media critic Carlos Maza, who has managed to break through with slickly produced videos and a distinct perspective. “Basically, he’s Brian Stelter meets NowThis,” Ray writes.
  • Troubling story from the Associated Press’s Ted Bridis, who reports that, “The federal government censored, withheld, or said it couldn’t find records sought by citizens, journalists and others more often last year than at any point in the past decade.” Bridis’s story provides a window into how the Trump administration is treating the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand looks at ESPN’s tricky NFL problem. “Multiple sources pointed to ESPN’s fraying relationship with the NFL as the top priority for new ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro,” Ourand writes.
  • Longtime Sport Illustrated media reporter Richard Deitsch is headed to The Athletic, The Big Lead’s Ryan Glasspiegel reports. The Athletic, a subscription-based set of sports sites, recently raised $20 million, and is planning to more than double its staff.
  • CJR’s Alexandria Neason spoke with BuzzFeed News reporters Kendall Taggert and Mike Hayes about their story on leaked NYPD files showing how hundreds of officers convicted of serious offenses got to keep their jobs.
  • Fox News, which ditched its “Fair and Balanced” slogan last year, is launching a new ad campaign around the phrase, “Real News. Real Honest Opinion.

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.