Last week HBO and Vice announced the signing of an ambitious new deal that although potentially groundbreaking, passed largely under the radar. Surprising, because in my opinion and with my hopes, this could change everything.
HBO and Vice Media not only extended their weekly Vice documentary program to 35 episodes per year, along with 32 new documentary specials over the next four years, they also, and this is the kicker, announced a daily half-hour Vice evening newscast, five days a week, for 48 weeks. All of this available on a new HBO Now service that will include a Vice channel available for streaming online.
This is big. Could be huge.
The Vice you may have once known has left the world of online hipster magazine and slowly transformed themselves into Vice Media, a brash and brave news organization with 30 offices worldwide and staff of 1,500. Over the last two seasons the Vice news magazine show running on HBO, along with their online news content, has reported on world events with such courage and persistence and attention to the bigger picture that they have proven themselves serious news people who will search for a deeper understanding of the issues and focus on how these finer points affect our world. While other media agencies scale back their news departments to skeleton crews, Vice is expanding their news teams, camping out on a crumbling glacier in Greenland to see climate change's effects first hand, and embedding themselves with ISIS for 3 weeks.
While other mainstream news organizations cover big events and then move on following the news-cycle, Vice seems committed to stay with the issue, devoting substantial resources to covering the long term consequences of the situation. As reported in this Huffington Post piece, long after the rest of the mainstream news agencies have moved on from Russia's aggression into Crimea, Vice has stayed with the story for months, producing over 100 online video segments on Crimea, sending correspondents deep into the field and the issue. When they consider a story to be important, they'll stick with it despite the apparent lack of commercial payoff.
My passion on this subject runs deep. I am a strong believer that we should not pay for content by consuming ads, that it not only pollutes the mind but negatively influences the quality of the product. To pay for the production of art by having to suffer through manipulative fake-art whose only purpose is to convince you to buy something is ridiculous to the point of satire; to produce and deliver the crucial news of our times by this same model is counter-productive to the point of peril.
The events that we call "news" are not disposable commodities that simply drive ratings so that you may sell more ads; they're real life situations, affecting people and politics with often long-lasting and far-reaching consequences. The importance of the issues does not disappear once a sales-driven calculus says it no longer pays to cover it.
There was once a time when the evening news had a more vital and hallowed role in our society. Always a part of corporate media, the news departments were however seen as separate institutions, beholden to the overall well-being of the company but not obligated to make money themselves. They were freer to pursue their purpose, which used to include such antiquated and unprofitable notions as "public service" and the "common good".
Today this no longer exists, or survives in such small amounts that the rare cases of pure journalism are small flashes drowned in the dim of the mainstream news media's obligatory rush to be noticed among others rushing to be noticed. The perpetually looming menace of viewers/ratings/ads becomes the driver of the content being produced, rather than the merit of the story or its social consequences. This is a model antithetical to the concepts of journalism and news reporting.
And the harmful effects of the current news media structure don't end there. Not only do we get a sponsor-influenced, ratings-whoring, below-standard news industry, but because the subjects covered -- politics, war, foreign policy -- are of the utmost important to our world, a superficial and influenced presentation of these events spills over negatively in countless other ways.
The major issues of our time are all born from the actions or inactions of our leaders, and their ability to act or not act is dictated by the level of an informed public. And so the facts presented to us have a far-reaching importance that is impossible to measure. If newspapers owned by ideological corporations skew their editorial sections to promote a specific agenda, if cable "news" shows use the day's events as fodder for ratings and keeping a certain demographic riled up and watching, if your nightly newscast has become a watered down headline-machine devoid of serious journalism, then you'll end up with a misinformed public. The environment, poverty, health care, civil rights, election of unfit leaders, going to war unnecessarily, all of these crucial issues and the millions of daily lives affected by them will feel the effects of a sub-par news media.
And so if Vice can bring the same level of dogged truth-seeking to this daily newscast as it has to its weekly documentary series, and if HBO can keep its industry-changing commitment to quality content production, then other news agencies will be forced to follow their trend and the landscape of news delivery might be changed for the better.
A daily newscast put on by an upstart young company seemingly devoted to digging for the truth and presenting the bigger picture; a network that consistently raises the bar for brave programming; a hybrid television and online subscription-based model not beholden to advertisers or externals influences...
This is big news.
This piece originally appeared on HeadSpace
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: