Saturday, December 24, 2016

HBO Vice News: Two Thumbs Up ... by gimleteye

Vice News is a half-hour daily news program (5 X a week) that is beginning to work my attention span, accustomed to advertiser-driven nightly news. The program grew out of the extraordinary documentary work for HBO by Vice and its founder, Shane Smith.

As a subscription cable service HBO doesn't adhere to poll-tested audience and advertiser preferences. Thank God. Watch network news before dinner and you feel that everyone in the target audience has erectile dysfunction, high blood pressure or osteoporosis.

Network news is a victim of its own success. Anchors and media owners won't diddle a formula that's made those at the top extraordinarily wealthy. Who, among the legions toiling below the top line, would risk their chance for the brass ring by challenging what is deemed newsworthy or not?

Put another way, if there is a good living to be had for broadcast news producers or journalists "made redundant" because they were free thinkers; let us know.

This isn't a new phenomenon, but it is especially grating since the election of Donald Trump -- who in his transition has blasted to smithereens every convention of presidential transition except parking a double-wide in front of the White House before the inauguration.

Network news, in these trying days, has doubled-down on reporting the irrelevant. For days, the explosion of explosive devices in a market outside of Mexico City was featured up front, perfectly tailored for an audience conditioned by hapless car wrecks, trucks falling off bridges, trains colliding, airplanes sliding off runways sandwiched between commercials for anti-depressants. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is ripping a hole in the goodwill that has protected the nation since its founding, and that is being reported as "normal".

Which brings me back to HBO Vice News.

Vice is still tinkering with its format, but thankfully it is tinkering at all. The first fifteen minutes are sound bites that look at feel like quick hits on the web. That's OK, because that is how most Americans are getting the news these days. Gradually the stories lengthen, providing more color and depth. The second fifteen minutes are features that sometimes hit their mark and occasionally feel like 60 Minutes b-reel.

The time involved for preparation and reportage of the longer pieces means the second-half stories can feel outdated by the time of broadcast, when other massively pressing news takes shape. But Vice News is definitely onto something important with this format, that takes it closer to the quality of BBC and PBS News: great.

Throughout, terrific 20-somethings are reporting, a needed and refreshing departure from anodyne anchors, their substitutes, and reporters who have to qualify by some sort of hypnotic vocal cadence. Whatever that system is, it sucks.

Vice News is still finding its way. HBO should give VICE News the time it needs; a worthy start-up for these most trying times.

No comments: