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'Vice News Tonight' Seeks To Reinvent TV News For Millennials


The show "Vice News Tonight" aired its one 100th episode last night on HBO. The show mixes the edgy style of the Vice Media Company with the familiar format of the "Nightly News." NPR's David Folkenflik went to Brooklyn to meet Vice executives and learn more about how their experiment is going.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Vice CEO Shane Smith created a media empire out of a magazine he co-founded more than two decades ago in Canada. It was roguish, rough, macho and young. That last one was becoming a concern.

SHANE SMITH: Frankly, we're aging with our demo. So when Vice magazine started, we were a Gen-X company. When we started putting video online as an experiment, everything changed.

FOLKENFLIK: Video made Vice young again.

SMITH: When we started news, it was a given that millennials didn't give a [expletive] about news. And they sure as hell didn't care about international news, right? So we started doing short-form. It had to be short-form. It had be snackable content.

FOLKENFLIK: And yet when Vice posted longer-form documentary work online it exploded. A weekly HBO documentary series ensued. Smith often serves as his own correspondent for it. Last July, he interviewed President Obama in El Reno, Okla.


SMITH: This is the first time in history a sitting president has visited a federal prison. Why? Why now? Why today? Why is it important?

BARACK OBAMA: Over the last 20 years, we've seen a shift in incarceration rates that is really...

FOLKENFLIK: HBO struck a nine-figure, multi-year deal with Smith for its very first daily program, "Vice News Tonight."

SMITH: I don't want it to look like anything else. I don't want it to sound like anything else. I want to be my own thing.

FOLKENFLIK: Smith hired Josh Tyrangiel, a former senior executive at Time magazine who reinvented Bloomberg Businessweek. Smith asked him to invent "Vice News Tonight" from scratch.

JOSH TYRANGIEL: The very first thing I said to Shane was like, well, let's start from this premise, that nobody's going to need a nightly newscast because when you look at the world right now, people are inundated by information. Our job is to actually make them want it.

FOLKENFLIK: Step one - Tyrangiel declared it was time to ditch the anchor.

TYRANGIEL: There is something inauthentic about it, OK? You've got a person, however smart - and I have a lot of respect for the anchors that are out there. But the audience knows they didn't write all the stuff they're reading. They certainly didn't report all the stuff that they're tossing to. Why would you insert any modicum of inauthenticity into it before you even start?

FOLKENFLIK: So no anchor. Instead, each story is introduced and finished with a swipe right onscreen, like dating choices on the Tinder app. Sure, there are plenty of stories on weed and animated segments for lighter treatments. Yet as Tyrangiel says, there's a mix, with a focus on such issues as immigration, politics, global warming and human rights.

TYRANGIEL: When you just tell somebody the things that matter to their ZIP code and you microtarget them, you're limiting who they are. Nobody wants to be patronized - nobody. And so what we're trying to do is just say, yeah, we get it, you know? I mean, last night we led the broadcast with the Philippines story.

FOLKENFLIK: Our conversation took place after a day of violence linked to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. A Vice reporter interviewed a Filipino senator, one of Duterte's most outspoken critics.


LEILA DE LIMA: Is that my phone?


DE LIMA: You know, many of my calls are actually hate calls on this phone. All of these unidentified numbers, these are trollers. These are haters.

FOLKENFLIK: The senator said she was receiving death threats after Duterte said she should hang herself.


DE LIMA: Well, they've been saying that they're going to destroy me within the year. So I tell them if I have to go down, I have to go down fighting.

FOLKENFLIK: "Vice News Tonight" is often urgent, alternately knowing and earnest, a blend of the BBC and BuzzFeed.

TYRANGIEL: What's hilarious to me is I think the perception of Vice is this kind of, you know, crazy, young, marginal, risk-taking - it's like, yeah, well, we do do that. But undergirding it is something as sort of quaint and predictable as a Holiday Inn. I mean, it's just like, we do journalism. We ask people questions. We separate fact from fiction.

FOLKENFLIK: "Vice News Tonight" draws more than 500,000 people for each episode. More than 3 million watch the longer-form Friday night show. A considerable number are millennials. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.