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Inside Television: Traditionalists get a bit of bad news with the launch of VICE News

  • @MsEllenEJones

I like my TV news like I like my morning eggs; sunny side up, before 8am, and delivered by a handsome Oxbridge graduate. Unfortunately for me, the traditional model received a blow this week with the launch of VICE News, a new video-driven online channel with 35 foreign bureaus worldwide and a potential audience of 129 million 16-34 year olds.

What does that mean? It means that right now, somewhere in Caracas and Crimea, as the old guard correspondents compare war stories at the hotel bar, there’s a new kid elbowing his/her way up to the press line. Like a real-life Zoe Barnes, the fast-rising young reporter in House of Cards, VICE News presenters need only an internet connection to get their story out to the world.

In the US, media commentators are growing cautiously excited. As The New Yorker's Lizzie Widdicombe writes, “It’s hard not to be impressed by VICE’s vitality.” In Britain, VICE News enters a different climate. In contrast to the likes of MSNBC and Fox News, British broadcast news has largely held on to the goal of objective journalism. The BBC, ITN, Channel 4 and Sky might be staffed entirely by stuffy old farts in ill-fitting suits, but they’re our stuffy old farts and we like them. More to the point, we trust them to deliver the news free from bias.

If this kind of assumed objectivity is the sacred cow that VICE most wants to slaughter, then maybe we should be offering it up for the kill. In place of ‘authoritiative’ we could have provocative, immersive reporting which avoids the creeping inanity of the 24-hour news cycle. Recent VICE videos include dispatches from Syria, Russia, Venezuela and, most controversially, exclusive access to Kim Jung-un in North Korea via former Celebrity Big Brother contestant Dennis Rodman. Much like mainstream media, VICE isn’t telling the full story. The difference is that VICE isn’t pretending to.

That doesn’t mean that all those who refuse to hail VICE as the savior of on-the-ground reportage can be dismissed as ‘legacy media’ luddites. On last count the channel still included too many presenters who seem plucked from Dalston and plonked in Darfur with barely enough time to change their skinny jeans, let alone develop insight worth sharing. TV news reporting doesn’t need any more privileged Westerners - even the young ones. It needs voices with a real connection to the issue and a perspective that’s truly alternative.

So, lest all the Zoe Barnes wannabes forget how their hero ended up, here’s the real story: She lost her integrity, became the stooge of the corrupt and powerful, and ultimately got thrown under the bus (train) by the very establishment she thought she was out-smarting. The real danger presented by VICE News is not a change that’s too radical, but a change that’s not radical enough.

Dogs on TV (140)

They say every dog has his day, and this week it seemed that all the Dog Days had come at once. Television opportunities for up-and-coming canine talent have never been so plentiful. Not only did Crufts 2014 start its daily broadcasts on Thursday, but Top Dog, the show where dogs and their celebrity owners compete in a variety of pointless challenges continued on BBC2 to surprisingly positive reviews. Sky Arts even got in on the act, announcing a new drama called The Dog Thrower featuring Friends star Matthew Perry and Independent columnist Tim Key. Key stars as a nervous young man who attempts to become popular by throwing his pet in the air. Or should I say ‘co-stars’. The real star, of course, will be whichever four-legged thesp bags the role of the dog missile.


37 Days, iPlayer

This three-part miniseries about the diplomatic crisis the run up to WW1 might not be the BBC’s centenary season flagship, but it’s terrifically well-written. The dialogue does an excellent job of conveying the prevalent political mood. If that doesn’t grab you, there’s also a forest of extraordinary mustaches to marvel at.

Crufts, 4OD

For the fifth year running, More4 are providing live coverage of the world’s biggest dog event, presented by Liza Tarbuck and Clare Balding. Don’t worry if you’re more of a cat person. As anyone who’s seen the Christopher Guest mocumentary Best in Show, or Channel 4’s recent Doggy Styling will know, these shows are really all about the people.

Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle: Shilbottle, iPlayer

Stewart Lee’s musings on modern life are often bitter, but always brilliant. This first episode of the third season takes on internet porn, creative urges and middle class guilt. Watch out for Chris Morris replacing Armando Iannucci as ‘the hostile interrogator’. It’s his first time in front of a TV camera since The IT Crowd in 2008

Revolution in Ukraine: Dispatch from the Presidential Palace, VICE News

When President Yanukovych’s Ukraine estate was recently opened up to the public, the VICE News team made sure they were first in line to get a look. This 6-minute-film is a good example of their news model; on-the-ground foreign reporting, packaged to suit MTV viewers. In VICE news editor Henry Langston’s own words, “It’s like a dictators episode of Cribs”.