“When I look at network news, it feels like a finished product and it feels like it was finished a long time ago.”
On a recent episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Vice News boss Josh Tyrangiel talked about how Vice is remaking the evening news for millennials.
You can read some of the highlights from Peter’s interview with Josh at that link, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of the conversation.
If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Media on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
Transcript by Celia Fogel.
Peter Kafka: I’m here with Josh Tyrangiel. Josh, did I get [the name right]? No.
Josh Tyrangiel: Yeah, no, like 85 percent.
I feel like Trump asking Hillary if she’s okay with that.
No, no 85 percent. Dude, you grow up with a funny last name and you really get used to all sorts of pronunciations. So that was solid. That was like an A-.
So now that I’ve butchered your name, pronounce it correctly and tell me what you do.
I’m Josh Teer-an-gel.
There you go.
I’m the senior vice president / executive president of Vice News, which means vicenews.com, “Vice News Tonight,” which is a new show, coincidentally debuting on HBO.
Yeah, as we speak this will be available to watch.
Yes. On October 10,we launch. And the “Vice Weekly Show,” Vice on HBO, which is an Emmy-award-winning documentary series.
So you’re the guy with the long magazine background that Shane Smith brought in to say, “Make some TV for us.” And we’ll talk about how that happened. But I want to talk about the TV show since, again, since you’re listening to this now, you can go watch it on HBO. You are trying to recreate the idea of a nightly news show. Am I summing that up correctly?
Yeah. When we first started talking about this as an opportunity, the very first thing I said to Shane and to Richard Plepler at HBO was, “You guys know nobody needs this, right?”
And they were a little bit taken aback, but I think that was the way …
They said, “We want to do this and want you to run it,” and you said, “No, this is a bad idea.”
I didn’t say it was a bad idea, I said you have to approach it from the construct that nobody needs it. It’s 2016. But you can make people want it. And that’s a different thing. So you know, in my career the mistakes that I’d seen made by big media companies again and again and again was to fight the tide of people’s behavior and say, “We’re going to make this thing, it’s going to be this way, and people will come to it.” And I think that’s when you look at some of the network newscasts, there’s this belief that the monopoly will go on forever.
And you tweak it and maybe the host get’s a little bit younger, or now the host’s a woman, or maybe there’s a fresh new segment on whatever.
But ultimately it’s treated almost like a dynastic enterprise. And so all you need to do is renew the next monarch but it will go on forever. I grew up in an era when the business was never safe from peril. The formative experiences for me are of people getting laid off. And struggling to understand why their companies, why their media companies and journalism entities couldn’t adapt.
And so when we first started talking about this I said, “Look, I think the key is you gotta make people want the news. We have to figure out a way to make them want to engage with it. And that involves new formats, seduction, surprise.” So we started talking about it from that perspective and I went and watched a bunch of the network news shows. And the truth is, they’re not bad, I’m just not home at 6:30 and a lot of what’s happened throughout the day I’m seeing on my phone just like everybody else. I like to flatter myself as someone who’s seen a lot of news, so I can understand the what of news pretty quickly. I think trying to really get people to get context, to eke out a story with so much understanding and fact that you don’t need to be concerned about it for a while.
You know, you get an endorphin hit when you really understand something. So that’s how we started thinking about it.
So you’re kind of nuking all my questions in advance, you’re very good.
Oh, I’m sorry.
No, no it’s good. I was going to say, why are you guys making a nightly news show aimed at an audience that doesn’t watch nightly news, and by the way, it’s on a paid TV channel and this audience doesn’t pay for TV, or at least doesn’t get traditional paid TV, or if it does it’s increasingly smaller numbers. You kind of covered that, right? Which is, we want to make something awesome and we think they’ll want to watch it. And you also covered the … it sounds like you’re not going to try to tell what happened that day because you already know what happened that day.
Well, so look. I don’t think you make rules in one of these things. You can have beliefs, right. You can have a philosophy. I wouldn’t have an ideology. What we keep talking about here is how do we add value. Now sometimes we add value through our reporting. You just have better reporting. Sometimes it’s through storytelling. Sometimes it’s just because you got better visuals. And one of the things about the TV or video business is that people may have heard that Russian jets invaded NATO airspace further south than ever before.
If you show it to them and your edits are good and smart, you’ve changed it, you’ve added value. And one of the things that’s so attractive about what Vice has done is it’s taken filmic-style video and produced it at scale. The editors here, the post production is amazing. And so I don’t close the door on any execution, but what we have all trained ourselves to ask is, “All right, can we add value? How do we do it?” Because nobody’s watching anything out of obligation anymore. I remember for years and years the Wall Street Journal, a lot of my friends are there, we talk about the fact that they would do a story even though everybody in the audience knew it.
Right. You were serving somebody that wasn’t your audience.
Right. And now I know that people already come with some knowledge. They’re not going to be watching something if they already know it. And if you start to bore them, their patience for media when you’re boring them is zero.
So can we just talk about some of the mechanics of the show? You guys sent me a cut from late August. You guys were going to launch in September, you delayed, so maybe you tweaked it a bit. I was struck by a couple of things. One, there’s no news anchor, no one’s telling me this is today’s news and no one’s throwing to a package, so that seems like a clear choice on your part. “We don’t want to have that.”
Yeah, and truthfully the first and fastest way to differentiate is to take away the anchor and take away the desk. It’s wildly inconvenient for those of us on the end having to make the show. I mean, having a nexus point who is a human is really easy to produce with.
And by the way, that person can read news headlines too, right? Tell you what happened, and that way if you don’t have awesome video they can put up a [graphic] and say, “This is a thing.”
Absolutely. But I will tell you, it’s surprising how limited the format actually is. So if you’re a network news show today — and again, I want to be very clear. They do a lot of good work but they’re trapped in a format in which they either have video from the field or they have a read. So if they have to read it and it’s too long or too tough to get across, then the story never happened.
My pet theories about why viewership particularly among a younger demo declined is that everything that they do from the theme music to the set to the types of stories, radiates that what they really value is comprehensiveness and authoritativeness. That that’s what they’re aiming to deliver to you tonight.
“This is the world.”
“This is the world.” But if you can’t do certain kinds of stories because they’re too complicated to read or you don’t have footage, but I know on my phone that it happened, well then you begin to fall out of step with your audience. And so one of the reasons that we’ve really embraced this idea of “no story should be too hard to do,” is because we don’t want to fall out of step. So even when something happens in a white paper and is consequential, figure it out. It’s 2016. If we’re going to earn your time, the onus is on us to figure it out.
I’ll just give you an example early on when we were sort of templating stuff. You know, there’s a huge story, the U.K. did a nine-year investigation into the death of a Russian spy on its soil. Turned out quite definitely, they say, Vladimir Putin authorized the execution on their soil.
That’s a pretty big story. It was not a TV story at all because it was inside a paper. Made a little bit of news in the New York Times and some other places. And we were like, all right, so this is hard, how do you do it? And we went to an animator, like a really beautiful animation of this story that’s completely factual because we pulled it from the report. But animation’s a way to dramatize facts in narrative, and it’s not a move we’re going to do every day, but the goal here is like nothing should be too hard. We’ve got great coders, we’ve got great designers, we’ve got great shooters and editors, really smart correspondents. There’s a solution out there someplace, let’s figure it out because each one of those points of differentiation is going to help us.
The other thing I noticed right off the bat watching this was, “Boy, this is serious.” There’s no fake levity, there’s no news you can use, clearly because there’s no anchors at all there’s no throwing to the wacky weather guy or the wacky sports guy.
Oh, we’ve got like eight wacky weather guys.
You’re just hiding them somewhere?
We’re just auditioning which one is going to be the right guy.
So my read was you guys want to make a statement, which is, “This is the real shit, we’re not going to waste your time, this is serious.” And my thought was, “That sounds great, but maybe people like some fun stuff too.”
Yeah, and look, you’re looking at one thing so obviously don’t read too much into it. But part of the way we went about figuring out how do you … I don’t believe that we can be comprehensive on the news. I think we can be comprehensive in touching all of the points of interest a person has. So obviously we have world news, obviously we have domestic news. Then we kind of break out into politics and policy, economics, not a famously visual subject but from my background I know how important it is. Civil rights and civil liberties, which has never been more important but has a requirement for some expertise. You just can’t throw somebody on that beat, they’ve got to know what they’re doing. National security, national defense. And education is in there too. Those are core stories for us. Technology, which I think you’re interested in. Completely underleveraged by the TV business. And you know from speaking with executives at these companies, most of the time when they want to tell their story or break news, they’re going to you, they’re going to Businessweek, they’re going to the very few select places they think understand what they do.
I know that our potential viewers have a 16-hour-a-day relationship with Apple and Google and Facebook and lots of other companies. When they make news, it matters to them. So we are really serious about covering technology in that way. Climate is a fourth sort of pillar where again you need people who really understand the story. We don’t want to cover it as a scold. We don’t want to keep telling people that the waters are rising. We actually want to tell them like, here’s some of the scoundrels, here’s some of the things that are actually happening. But that’s a key component to us. And the last is culture. We actually believe that pop culture is interesting to people and undervalued. It’s either treated in an “Entertainment Tonight” kind of way where you’re getting longer and longer essays on websites. Certainly longer and longer oral histories about unimportant movies. We actually want to bring that to life.
You have some of that.
Yeah, I mean look. Are we going to have all five every night? No. Because proportionally, world news and U.S. news takes up a lot of the oxygen.
If I’m watching this on HBO, it’s linear. I’ve got to watch it in order. Is there an option for me if I’m consuming digitally to hop back and forth between segments?
Yeah, and I would say one of the most pleasing things before I took the job was there was a shared understanding that we’re not going to force people to consume this only one way. So it’s on HBO Go, it’s on HBO Now. In those places, you can disaggregate individual pieces from the entire show. You can scan. And both are touch enabled. So, I’m a big believer that you have to signal to people on different platforms. You understand the platform, so if you’re watching on one of those apps, a little small icon of a finger is going to come up …
Pops up and says, “You can get to this culture piece over here right now.”
It says that. It also says, “Hey, there’s a really interesting director’s extra in here. And if you touch it, we’re going to move the frame of our story up and you’re going to see an extra story. You can see a graphic you can interact with.” Because as you know, in order to make a simple graphic you first have to make a complicated one. Let’s show people some of that data.
And then we do a lot of reporting from FOIA documents. You know, when we do that, you should be able to see the document and not leave the app to get that experience. So these are basic things from a technological perspective, but we want to make sure people understand we know where they are, consume us any old way you want, and seven days after, everything we do comes back to the web.
It pops up online.
A couple of mechanical questions: It’s a little silly to talk in advance of a thing that we’re going to be able to see and you can go look at it instead of hearing us talk about it, but one of the hallmarks of Vice video, Shane Smith on camera, he’s an awesome character, he’s great on camera, but he’s not going to be in this show, right?
Oh no, he’ll be in the show, it’s just Shane is in a somewhat out-of-history conundrum in which he is the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, the executive producer of a weekly documentary show, and our biggest star.
I had him onstage last February, he said he’s a brand artist. Have you heard that term before?
He’s a performance artist is what he is.
Shane is really something. Really smart guy. We’ll use him when we can use him and where we think he’s best. And Shane wants to be a part of the show.
But it’s not going to revolve around him in the ways other stuff often does.
No, he’s not the anchor. But you’ll see him, my guess is without spoiling anything, you’ll probably see him a little bit early on, and we’re going to continue to deploy him in ways where we really think he can make a difference.
And because it’s daily and there’s still, I would imagine, either pressure or self-imposed expectations that you guys should be talking about what happens that day. There’s no anchor to tell you what happened that day. So you guys will start on Monday the 11th, there’s a debate the night before. How do you think about covering an event that happens the night before you’re going to tell people about it a day later?
We think about it all day every day. It is the conundrum that you want to steer clear of. And to go back to the original idea here, it is add value. So if that debate — we’re talking on a day when the vice presidential debate happened the night before. It is not the first thing we talked about and it’s midday. And that was not a wildly consequential event. By 7:30 tonight it will be so far in the rearview mirror.
Now there are other moments where you absolutely have to seize the agenda and get on it. These are the deeply religious philosophical questions that go back and forth all day every day in lots of newsrooms, ours is no different. What I’ve tried to get across to everybody is that our battle is very pitched. Most of our competitors are dealing with abundance. Most people are getting their news on a social platform, on a TV cable platform that’s on 24 hours a day. We’ve got between 20 and 30 minutes a day to tell people stuff. And so scarcity is where we have to go to. So when we do stuff, it can’t just be to check a box, it can’t be to defy a perception that maybe we don’t have yesterday’s story. We have to do stuff that adds value in one way or another.
How long do you give yourself to figure this out? When is this baked? Come back in six months and say, “This is the show.” In a year, “This is the show.”
Oh listen, I think I would not serve you raw dough. I mean, it’s baked. What I’ve always seen is that you begin to learn a lot about yourself based on what your feedback is. But also just on what you like. And so you know, we’re going to tweak constantly. And what I’ve learned also from watching everybody else, you can’t stop. You’re never done.
And so I think when I look at network news, it feels like a finished product and it feels like it was finished a long time ago. I think if you stop surprising people, they notice. Really quickly. And that goes for any platform. So we’re never really going to be done. You gotta get used to that if you want to work in this business in 2016.
This would be a high-pressure thing in any circumstance but it’s coming after your company launched Viceland, the 24-hour channel on cable. There’s a debate about how that’s performing but a lot of folks think it’s underwhelming.
And then HBO has launched the Bill Simmons show, that’s not doing great. So you’re the sort of second new HBO digital millennial thingy, and you’re also Vice’s second attempt — or I guess third attempt because they did Vice for HBO — to break through on TV. Does that add weight for you? Or doesn’t matter at this point.
Dude. You’re killing me.
I don’t know. I mean, I’m pretty good at tuning out those externalities. I have also felt like great things don’t fail. And that even though the media business is sometimes a fucking nightmare, you have control over what you make. If you make something that you feel is really, really great, more often than not you don’t have that much to worry about. It’s hard, because you obviously hear lots of noise. And the media business and the journalism business in particular has never been more competitive. There’s a lot of good work out there. But I think if we focus on what makes us different and smart and we listen to people’s feedback on what we’re doing that we’ll probably be okay.
That’s optimistic. I like it.
Gotta be optimistic. We have these crazy fun jobs, and you can see I love the fact that when I started in this business I was literally put in a broom closet next to other people in a broom closet. The art directors worked on a different floor. Here and today you’re working with people so much smarter than you are in so many different realms and it’s exciting. That challenge is really exciting. And it’s more just how do you orchestrate all that to be new, to be different, to be exciting for other people. So yeah, the externalities are what they are. But I can’t control that. I can just know that if I can get the right designer together with the right journalist and the right motion animator, we’re going to make something people haven’t seen before. And that’s super exciting.
I’m speaking to you a couple days before you’re launching a new show, so I’m extra appreciative of your time today.
Well I’m grateful that, as you know in launches, and I’ll quote True Detective, “Time becomes a flat circle.”
So when you’re here all day and all night, it’s easy to find a couple minutes to talk.
Yeah, your folks said, “Yeah, Josh will do something.” I said, “We tape on the Upper West Side.” “Oh, no no, Josh isn’t leaving the building.”
Yeah, I live in the East Village and I’ve been to the Upper West Side, I’m going to say in the 20 years I’ve lived in New York, less than 15 times.
That was about me before I became a podcaster.
Oh, do you think that now that there’s a beacon that I’ll come up to the Upper West Side more often?
If you want, yeah, it’s kinda def. [JT laughs]. I think that’s what the kids say.
You said something great at the beginning, you said you talked to Shane Smith and Richard Plepler before they hired you or after they hired you?
And they wanted to bring you over, you had a great job at Bloomberg, and you said, the thing you’re proposing is not a thing we need. Is that a traditional sort of negotiating ploy for you?
Oh I don’t negotiate. I’m not canny enough or savvy enough to negotiate. I started really at Time Magazine. And I had a great conversation with Walter Isaacson before I started. And he said two things.
One was, “In media, never miss an opportunity to find yourself.” If you can do something that says, “This is what Time Magazine stands for,” or whatever you’re working at, always do it. Always over-invest in that. And the other thing he said is like in these jobs you’ve got to be prepared any day to put your badge on the table and say, “You know what, I can’t execute that. And if you want somebody who can execute that, there are a lot of great people.” He had thought about that a lot and unemotionally for a long time.
Because usually the advice is, figure out how to do the thing your boss wants, that’s how you climb the ladder.
Yeah, I just don’t think that’s a really effective way to make good things. And even when I was talking about the job at Businessweek, I knew that there were a ton of people more qualified than I was. That magazine jobs come up about as often as NFL coaching jobs, so you take what you can get and you try and work with it. But I wrote out like a really long document that said very specifically, here’s what I would do with this property. And by the way, if it’s not what you want to do that’s totally cool.
It’s really hard. These jobs are so tough and so emotionally draining that you don’t want to have to fight over the premise. And so I think you have to be really clear with people what you see as the opportunity, and really unemotional if they say, “Well, we see it differently.”
So let’s talk about how you got from there and these various waypoints. You grew up in Baltimore?
I did, yeah.
You get to Time Inc. and Time Magazine back when that’s still a thing, and TIme Magazine still has weight and you are a rising start there. At some point you start managing all of digital. And then everyone says, “Oh, Josh will be the next editor of Time.”
A leading indicator that you will not be the next editor of Time Magazine.
Did you want to be the editor of Time Magazine?
Yeah, of course.
This is the late ’90s.
Yeah. For a time in sort of the mid 2000s. What I saw was that I felt like I was the young guy in every room. There’s always one who’s like an ambassador to whatever it is.
“Josh is from the future!”
Yeah, whatever it is that executives don’t understand, there’s always one person who’s supposed to be the sort of great oracle of the future, and I was that guy for a while. And I thought at the moment that I was that guy, that there was still time to shift this vaunted American brand into the reality of new media.
Were the people that you were in the room with, the older people, were they aware that the concept of a weekly news magazine was obviated by 2005? Or did they still think this was a thing?
I think some were very aware and others … The way I put it to one person in particular was like, “Look, there’s just a huge difference between people who want to work another three years, and people who have to work another 30.” And so if you want to work another three years but you’re looking at the revenue of Time Magazine in 2004 …
You just kick the can down the road.
… you’re like, “Well, you know, we’ll manage the decline.” If you want to work another 30, you’re like, “Let’s not defer any pain. Whatever has to come, let’s do it. Let’s get to the new thing as quickly as possible.” And now that I’m a little bit more mature, I realize I was probably a huge pain in the ass about that.
Right, because by the way it’s not easy to make that conclusion, but it’s really hard to actually do it and almost no one says, “We’re going to retool, we’re going to take a loss now and we’re going to retool our business.”
I’ve followed the music business forever, they were unable to do it. The TV guys are struggling with it now. It’s just a really hard thing to do even when you can see it.
100 percent right. I knew, shortly after there’s the rumblings that I’m going to be the new, young editor of Time, I was like, “Well I better get used to the fact that one, that may not happen because there are a lot of other people interested in that job. And two, my vision for what I think can happen here may not be synced up with what the company wants to do.” And I probably was aggravated about that for like two or three months. At which point …
What was your plan to blow up Time Magazine?
Well it wasn’t to blow it up, it actually was to carve out territory that it could own. I mean, one of the frustrations, and you know, my friend Jill Stein who is still a columnist there, we used to joke about the kind of perfect Time Magazine story. And I think what we came up with was how Jesus taught your babies the science of sharks, [PK laughs] which just sort of touched it all, right?
Yeah. Jesus on the cover is famously a great thing for News Weekly.
It always works, right? But the problem is that if you’re covering everything you’re not really covering anything. And in an era when all these specialty publications were coming up, a lot of what I thought about is, it may be painful for Time Magazine not to cover sports, nobody’s reading Time Magazine for sports. What they’re reading it for are just a couple of things and you have to be better at those things that everybody else and build a firewall.
It’s similar really to the challenge you’re talking about for news, right? Like there’s no point in a weekly news magazine to tell you what happened earlier that week, and there’s no point in a daily newscast to tell you what happened last night.
Right, and look, when I say nobody needs this thing, you know, David Remnick at the New Yorker, the world could live without the New Yorker, what it does is add value. The stories are great. They’re incredibly well written if not always timely. So you have to find your way into that. And mine for Time Magazine was own a couple of subjects in a narrative way that would make you untouchable. You’ve got to own American politics, you’ve got to own certain parts of the world. For Time, science is a huge deal. Science and medicine. So I was advocating you gotta really carve those things up.
Pick a couple of things, do great in-depth stuff, make it indispensible for people who want that stuff and then leave the rest.
2008/2009 you go to Businessweek which faces the same problems as Time, is doing even worse. It’s doing so badly that McGraw Hill sells it to Michael Bloomberg — for a dollar plus debt, I think was the deal. And you take that job. Who recruited you for that?
I had worked with Norm Perlstein at Time Inc. And Norm is, you know, he’s one of those godfather-like figures. And so I got a call from Norm on a Sunday night at 11 o’clock, and he asked if I could go to breakfast with him the next morning at 8. I was like, “Oh, okay, well this will be interesting.” And he sort of leaned over the table at Balthazar, he’s like, “So, what do you think of Businessweek?” And I sort of paused for a second and was like, “Well, I haven’t read it in five years.”
Which is the correct answer.
As soon as I said it I realized, “Okay, this meeting is about to go one of two ways.” And Norm sort of paused. He has this voice that comes up from the bottom of his boots. He’s like, “Neither have I.” And then he just laughed. And I was like, “Okay, this could be interesting.”
So he talked to me. I must have met 18 people at Bloomberg along the way, which is sort of par for the course on a Bloomberg hiring process. I submitted this very long document that just was a roadmap. Like look, here’s what Year 1 of this is going to look like. Here’s what you’re going to get. Here’s how the subjects are divided up. I think that was pretty persuasive but it was also incredibly useful to me because as soon as I’d thought it through, I then was able to give it to my creative director who I hired the next week and he was like, “All right, let’s do this.” And you can move so much faster once you’ve articulated stuff.
And then you did this great magic trick. You did this great transformation in that magazine. You made it a must-read, it was a great title, they had these eye-popping covers so you got great attention there. And then great in-depth reporting. It’s really sort of the model for how you make a weekly magazine interesting. And you did great there and I would assume you could have stayed there as long as you wanted. Did you have a TV ambition? Did you have a next-thing ambition?
I had a great time there, and I will say I was treated like a princeling. People treated me so much better than I deserved to be treated. I do think these are zeitgeist gigs. And so I’ve watched magazine editors over the years stay forever because they’re such good jobs. But it’s not actually fair.
Even in 2014/2015 they’re great jobs.
They’re great jobs. You get to be creative. You still get to have impact on the way people think about the world. They’re great gigs. But you can begin to reach a point of diminishing returns creatively. As a writer I found that when I was covering the same subject for the third time it’s like, “Jeez, I got nothing to say here.” And so I originally sort of put in my head — Norm and I talked about it — maybe after five years, success for me is getting something out the door that looks and feels really different and the grooming people to come along.
And the truth is by Year 5, more stuff had changed. And so I am really curious about visuals and their impact. It’s a different muscle that I’d like to exercise. And yeah, I’m not doing as much good for that title and for Bloomberg as I could have been doing before.
So you were itchy.
I was itchy. But I also felt that at a certain point I would be doing the job poorly. Or less well. How many Warren Buffet covers can one person do? We didn’t do a ton of them but the task never changes in some ways. You’re always dealing with different ingredients but you’ve still got to bake that pie once a week. And digitally the same thing. And I’d been working on digital for 12 years at that point too. The idea of taking on a very difficult mission with a new form with a tolerance for risk which both Vice and HBO have, you know, that’s pretty tough to find.
So did Shane Smith call you up and say, “Let’s go to breakfast at Balthazar?” I’m assuming it’s drinks and it’s not in Manhattan, if he’s true to form. Or maybe he flips it around.
No, we met here [in New York]. I came to the office, Shane and I sat down.
What was your perception of him prior to showing up?
You know, I thought he was obviously very ambitious and very aggressive. I thought that he had sort of gamed the media system pretty well. I didn’t know whether he was smart, I didn’t know whether he cared about journalism. And we just sat down and started talking.
There was no ceremony, there was no boozy nights out. I think both of us understand just how rare the opportunity is to try and make something new out of something old with a premium audience that seems to be interested in what you do. So we had like a two, two-and-a-half hour conversation right off the bat. Talked a little bit about what things you would need to do in order to make this different. And we were just sort of off from there.
Reputationally — especially then, right? — Vice is still sex and drugs and sort of violence tourism maybe in some degree, right? “We’re going to get a young guy with a certain kind of facial hair and strap a camera on him and hope he comes back alive and it will be some crazy stuff.” Did you think, “All right, we’ve got to tweak that,” or, “That’s the energy I want and we can bring that to a newscast.”
I mean look, I thought the “Weekly Show” was great. I’d watched a bunch of it, it certainly had generated enough headlines and I think it had taken more of a pivot, almost a too serious [pivot]. I love the mischief that’s involved with the seriousness of the reporting and I think the balance of that is crucial to Vice being Vice.
The way I put it to him is like, “Look, you have done the two hardest things in journalism. You cover conflict and you cover extremism very well. And by that I literally mean you cover war and you cover people at the fringes of politics and culture and religion in ways that nobody could ever imagine. I presume you want to take this HBO deal because it will allow you to take more of that mainstream. But you have to keep the kernel of that in everything that we do.” And we both agreed that somewhere we would eventually find the right needle of how much of it you need and how much of it you want to diversify with.
And you said in the beginning, “I told Shane Smith who runs Vice and Richard Plepler who runs HBO, you guys don’t need this.” So are you reporting to two people at the same time and building a new show?
No no, I’m a Vice employee.
You’re a Vice employee. You guys are making a show and HBO’s basically said, “We’re going to put it up on air.”
Yeah, and HBO is client No. 1, right? So we are in touch all the time, but they came to Vice to do this. They could have done it anywhere. They came to Vice to do it because of what Vice had already accomplished. And because there’s a lot of belief that Shane can make it happen. But it’s just the regular amount of back and forth between two people invested in success.
I know you’re heads-down, I know you’re making a show, I know you don’t have time to read stories about what’s going on with Disney or whether you’re going to go public, but it has to be a distraction. There’s a Disney discussion that goes on and off. If that doesn’t happen something else is going to happen.
It’s not. And I’m not saying that to be coy about it. It’s just not.
It’s not a distraction for you.
It’s not a distraction for me. I don’t think it’s a distraction for other people. What happens happens. Most of our staff is younger than me. I mean, I’m fucking Methuselah around this joint, which is sad but it’s true. I lived through one acquisition, right? I was at Time when AOL and Time Warner merged.
That’s right. You’re very old.
I saw the worst issue of a magazine ever produced that week. I mean, people were buying summer houses. They were running out the door — they’d been there a long time, they were celebrating. That’s not this. And I think while people are sort of interested in if there’s an acquisition, I just don’t think that one … they’re old enough or invested enough for it to be meaningful to them personally. It’s not that they’re uninterested, but …
Right. It’s a different culture than 1999 where there’s an expectation that, “I’m going to get some of this dot-com money!”
Yeah, that’s just not what people are thinking about.
That said, Shane’s doing profiles of his $26 million house in the Journal, so everyone gets that there’s money.
Yeah, but look, there’s money and there’s wealth. And more power to the guys who founded the company and got it here. But I just don’t sense, as I walk around the building, that there’s a bunch of whispers about, “Oh, do you think it’s going to be this?”
I’ve been in those companies where that happens. I think people are pretty like, “Yeah, if it happens, great. If it doesn’t happen, great.” They’re pretty comfortable no matter what that this is a Williamsburg-based Brooklyn company and the character of it is pretty strong. I don’t hear a ton of like gossip in the halls about it.
Again, you’re busy making a show.
I’m busy making a show. It’s possible I’m oblivious and there’s actually an acquisition that’s been formed amongst rank-and-file staffers, but I think I would know and I don’t see too much of that.
Like I said many times, you’re busy making a show. I will let you go make that show. Josh, thanks for your time.
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