Q: Why is Vice on TV? A: Why do people rob banks?

September 22, 2014
Category: Uncategorized

Partway through his interview with Vice News Editor-in-Chief Jason Mojica Friday, City University of New York professor Jeff Jarvis asked why Vice still pumps out content over TV. “You’ve got the fucking Internet!” Jarvis exclaimed. “Why would you even dance with the old models?”

“Why do people rob banks?” Mojica replied. “That’s where the money is.”

That exchange evinced the tension at the heart of Friday’s summit about reinventing TV and video news, held at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism. The conference aimed to fix a medium that in many cases is still making money by the truckload.

Mojica. (Photograph courtesy Vice)

Mojica. (Photograph courtesy Vice)

But you can’t drive that truck far into the future, Jarvis argued in his opening remarks, during which he urged people to get complaints about TV news tropes out of their systems. (His beef: Standups in front of places where nothing is happening.) Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project showed graphs that showed that CNN, for example, is running fewer reported pieces and more opinion, just as people under 29 flee the medium.

Mojica talked about Vice’s remarkable rise as a news source, telling Jarvis he hired people from mainstream TV orgs who “want to get out of it for the right reasons,” and that his target audience is his younger self, a guy who never understood what the Lewinsky scandal was about and only began paying attention to world affairs after 9/11.

Jarvis asked Mojica what he’d do if handed the reins to “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams.” While noting that “A lot of the things that we see as problems with TV news are what it’s been reverse-engineered to achieve,” Mojica said he’d “Go back and rethink every component of it — why is the desk like this? Why are we spending so much time looking at hotel comforters under a black light?”

He’d also increase international coverage and “increase the level of what is written,” Mojica said. He remembered fondly the just-the-facts tone of CBS’ “In the News” features that used to run between Saturday morning cartoons, something he strives to emulate in Vice reports.

“Whenever people decide they’re going to make news for young people,” Mojica said, “it always comes off like older people making TV for young people.” He said he thought writers of shows aimed at young people write them with an idea that kids are innocent. They “don’t realize that they’re in the world experiencing real shit, having sex, doing drugs and talking about important issues.”

After Mitchell, a slate of speakers gave five-minute lightning pitches for improving local news. They ranged from things that sounded like they just might work (Adam Davidson talked about the “Now I Get It” moments the Planet Money podcast shoots for, as well as public radio’s business model; Twitter’s Fred Graver pitched a show that could “embrace the conflict” between journalists’ presentation and the audience’s discussion of news), swipes at the status quo (“I have yet to have anyone in the real world tell me they like packages,” Bloomberg News’ Tom Keene said) and things I didn’t fully understand (“Enjoy the sparkly conversations of a living room” went one pitch).

During the panel’s wrap-up, Jarvis fielded a question about the paucity of women who spoke — he should have done better, he said, noting some women he’d asked to speak had said no — and someone else asked whether anyone under 25 spoke. CUNY Students, though, were everywhere, some holding iPhones on sticks and videoing people in the room.

During a final panel, ESPN senior vice president Rob King said that any media company that looks at metrics has to “accept the hard truths” they offer: You have to deliver what your audience expects. “You’ve got to find the right balance between the transaction that’s expected and the ability to inject into that transaction, wonder,” he said. “Wonder for us is who’s going to win, what’s going to happen next.” Other TV news outlets have to identify their own wonders.

Here’s a Storify of the event that CUNY put together: