Hannah Strange, Managing Editor of VICE News EU, on reporting on the blindspots in traditional media, managing the fastest growing channel on YouTube and how PRs and NGOs can provide essential access.
Talk us through your role at VICE News
I am the Managing Editor for Europe on the editorial side. My role is about running editorial coverage from the London side of the operation, which is Europe and the UK, but also Africa and the Middle East too – areas that really fit broadly within our timezone. It can also be dealing with territories beyond that when everyone else is asleep. We’re trying to get it to be a rolling, 24-hour operation.
I run all the correspondents in that area, and commission on a daily basis, as well as editing and looking forward for our longer term planned projects.
I also work with the video teams, and the Head of News and Supervising Producer who specifically take charge of video. That’s more in terms of co-ordination and ideas, as opposed to dealing with video directly.
How many countries do you have correspondents in?
About 10 European countries, five or six African ones and another 10 or 15 in Latin America. It is about 50 countries altogether.
Is it difficult to get reporters on the ground in certain regions?
We are very careful about the safety aspect. We do pride ourselves on getting correspondents into places where people aren’t going, but you do have to be extremely careful. We are very strong on security consultations and risk assessment.
In terms of negotiating access, we place a lot of importance on cultivating relationships often with local reporters and NGOs. We make use of our alliances like that. Instead of dispatching British journalists to cover the story, we try to work a little bit more from the inside out.
What makes the ideal story for VICE News?
Something unreported. There are huge regions of the world where stuff is going on unnoticed, and is only covered in local media. I like those stories where we can get under the surface and report what’s happening.
We published a story in Ethiopia about the massacre of the Suri tribe, allegedly carried out by government security forces; we got the first photos of the massacre documented.
There are things beneath the surface like that, that aren’t getting reported a lot. It’s about getting to the bottom of things.
How would we spot a VICE reader?
Smart, savvy, inquisitive and cynical 16-34 year olds who no longer approach or consume news in a traditional sense. Our audience is global, they read their news on mobile devices and want stories beyond the headlines.
Why do you think VICE News speaks to a younger generation?
It’s our coverage. We’re not doing anything flashy or youth-targeted. For me, we are going beyond what traditional media is looking at. It’s not about trying to be cool or dazzle young people with special effects.
I come from a traditional media background at The Times and The Telegraph. One of the experiences I had as a correspondent was that there are huge areas of the world that were blindspots for traditional media.
They often have a set sense of who their reader is, and they don’t go beyond that. There are so many stories out there that fall off the map because of traditional perceptions.
We’re proving that young people are thirsty for information and are interested in the world. They want to get a bit beyond what they’re hearing day-in, day-out.
Do you think the idea of this generation being attention-deficit is wrong?
I think it is. Young people consume news in a different way in a digital age. We tend to flit between things online, as opposed to reading one paper like our parents did. That is a general trend. The media is catering to that – everyone is doing their news in smaller bits. I think we are showing that isn’t the case, and we are putting out documentaries that are longer. We’ll put out five segments in ten minutes, and then we’ll put out the whole video. You get a choice of how you want to watch it. The ability to consume it in the way that suits you as a viewer is good for people in the modern age.
We’re finding our YouTube documentaries are very successful. We’re the fastest growing channel on YouTube at the moment. We had 180 million views since our channel launched in March last year. The viewers are there, it’s just about the content needing to be good enough. People are obsessed at the moment with what medium gets the most traffic; I think that sometimes what we forget is that the good traffic comes from a really good story.
What tends to drive viewers to the site?
At the moment it is predominantly through social media. I think Facebook is our biggest driver. It is the way so many young people read their news.
How can PRs help VICE News?
We are interested in speaking to NGOs. We do a lot with Amnesty and Reprieve and people like that, and security consultancies who might have done investigations, as well as think tanks.
We try and make use of NGOs because they have great access. It goes back to those relationships, and getting access to people on the ground. What’s more, we will actually read your releases!
When are your key planning meetings?
Our main meeting is 2pm GMT; 9am in the US. We have a conference call and it’s all done on Google Hangouts. By that time I’ll have got the day going and will have things underway and published, so I’ll fill them in on what’s going on and what’s broken that morning.
Before that, I’m in touch with my correspondents individually. We do also have UK office meetings on a Monday, where we get together and look at what’s going on that week, anything up people’s sleeves and that’s when we talk about co-ordination across video and editorial.
Is there anything about a release which is guaranteed to catch your eye?
It always should have a catchy subject line, as you don’t have a lot of time to read these things. It’s important to lay out in very clear, certain terms, what is the story – nothing too indepth and complicated.
VICE News tends to follow stories for longer than most traditional media outlets – why is that?
We are not so tied to the news agenda. We cover the main stories of the day, but we do continue to dig at a story longer than other people. An example of this is the coverage of the missing students in Mexico, which to a lot of media, would be a big story for a few days. As long as there’s a story to look into, we will continue to investigate it regardless of whether it’s the ‘top’ news story of the day. We don’t think something like this can be told in 500 words or a two-minute video.
Our Ukraine series, Russian Roulette, is onto Dispatch 87, and has been amazingly successful. It’s had about 37 million hits on Youtube. It shows that people want to know what happens once the main news stories have switched off.
Since launch, how difficult has it been to convince people that VICE News is as authoritative as other more established outlets?
Coming from a youth magazine background meant that people looked at us and wondered if we’re a news organisation. We’re confident in what we do, and we believe we have something to say about stories that people are interested in. We’ve done a lot of good hard-hitting editorials. We have shown time and time again that we are authoritative, and our readers like that we’re not telling them what we should be interested in. We’re not imagining our readers to be a certain person that wants certain things to be packaged for them in a certain way. We trust them to be interested and want to know about the world.