Saturday, May 01, 2010

Vice and Real Journalism

A long, long time ago I used to read Vice magazine. Frankly, I don't even remember many of the topics. Just recently I subscribed once again. But why? I will answer that question in a bit.

For the past half decade or so many bloggers, including myself, have excoriated journalists and the journalism profession in general - with good reason. The typical journalist of today seems to be more a political hack (or just a hack in general) than a true "journalist". Many can't even put proper sentences together. I admit that I am guilty of not possessing the best grammar skillz, but on the other hand, I am not getting paid for plying said skillz either.

So what is journalism, then? Websters says (emphases mine):
1 a : the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media
b : the public press
c : an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium
2 a : writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine
b : writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation
c : writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest
In my eyes, the typical journalist of today is a college grad who has almost zero real life experience in most topics of which they write. When I see an article about HVAC (my field of expertise) in the paper I can almost quote verbatim the manufacturer's advertisements where the journalist has gotten most of their info from. Since the journalist has no education on HVAC or air movement or anything they are subject to online research on the subject. Typically these articles come out every spring and fall, and their point is to try to get people to maintain their HVAC systems or to caution the masses on carbon monoxide issues if there has been a local poisoning. These articles come out like clockwork and they repeat themselves every single time. On topics I am not as well versed on, I find it entertaining to "reverse google" a story. In other words if I feel that the reporter is uninformed on something (say, a manufacturing process) I like to take key terms from the story, google them, and many times - voila! - you can reverse engineer the whole story. Many blog items are able to be reverse googled as well.

Since most journalists haven't held a real job (or, at least what I would consider a real job), they tend to insert opinions into their stories that are misinformed, or just plain old partisan. I can't count how many gun stories I have read where the story is slanted to the gun control side. That is just one example.

Not knowing what you are talking about and being slanted to one side (typically left with most journalists) are the two things that, to me, have made journalism today a complete and total joke. Very few reporters actually take the time to learn about a subject before writing or care very much about what they are writing about. Perhaps this is because to get paid, they need "x" words by "x" date or their editor/boss needs that Sunday paper filled up with a story, no matter how lame. But that isn't my issue. The fact is that modern reportage is in a sad state - and that goes for both print and screen journalism.

A few months ago I stumbled upon VBS TV, the video version of Vice Magazine. I was blown away by the very high quality of the documentaries there. Each and every story includes a reporter or group that actually immerses themselves into the subject. From the Vice Wiki:
Vice has championed the "Immersionist" school of journalism, which it regards as something of a DIY antithesis to the big-office methods practiced by traditional news outlets, and has published an entire issue composed of articles written in this manner.
Shane Smith, co-founder, says:
We're not trying to say anything politically in a paradigmatic left/right way...We don't do that because we don't believe in either side. Are my politics Democrat or Republican? I think both are horrific. And it doesn't matter anyway. Money runs America; money runs everywhere.
From what I have seen so far, this seems to be true. The documentaries I have watched on the VBS.TV channel have all been pretty much straight up reportage. In the stories I have seen on Liberia, North Korea and other places they don't really ever say whose fault something is or why a certain situation is like it is - they just show the scene and let the viewer put the pieces together later.

Perhaps the fact that I have been exposed to so much lame "journalism" for so long makes me so excited to see someone like Vice go to a dangerous and insane place and bring it to me in color.

I have probably spent 12 hours or so on the VBS.TV site watching their shows (some of them have adult content, so nsfw) so I decided to patronize them by subscribing to Vice magazine. I should receive my first issue in a few weeks and hope to do a follow up post when I get it.

If you are interested in some real journalism I would suggest the VBS.TV website if you have some spare time this weekend.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz.


Carl from Chicago said...

I couldn't agree more on Vice. Let me know about the magazine and I will jump on if you like it.

It is amazing that a snarky NYC magazine morphed into something that I believe is actually some of the most powerful reporting out there.

Carl from Chicago said...

I just watched that North Korea show on Vice. NUTS! I like how they met those generals who told them to buy North Korean clothes and pay their respects and then everything changed.