By Sally Rawsthorne
Some of the headlines to stories on Vice.com under the byline of editorial director of Vice Australia and New Zealand Royce Akers are “Some guys made a game called Muhammad Sex Simulator 2015”, “What’s it like pulling refugees out of Australian waters?” and “Julian Assange talks to Vice about Bradley Manning and political payback”.
Speaking to Mediaweek, the Australian head of the international media juggernaut explained that Vice – which counts an Emmy for its HBO series on a basketball game in North Korea, a foray into virtual reality and albums from Bloc Party among its achievements – prides itself on writing eclectic stories from a different perspective to the mainstream news outlets. “The way that we look at ourselves and our target audience is that millennials are kind of globally oriented and globally minded people. We won’t write about a plane crash just to say that an Australian was killed in it. The story is the story, and it’s legitimate because it’s important rather than because of any localisation. We syndicate a lot of stuff from our overseas offices, we try to leverage our international network as much as possible. A bunch of the offices are English speaking which makes it really easy. But we also have great stuff coming in from everywhere – from France and Romania and Greece and Japan, all over the place. Our European offices do a really great job of that translated in a really timely manner so that we can put it up. We also try to cover important things happening here. We’ve been writing a lot about the issue of protesting outside abortion clinics in Canberra,” he said.
Vice is clearly meeting its objectives – currently, the brand reaches 42% of Australian millenials with 1.9 million unique views per month of Vice.com in Australia and 9.5m views of Vice partner channels. The site has experienced 350% year-on-year mobile growth since 2012, and has over 900,000 social media followers. Akers attributes the brand’s success to authentically speaking to its audience. “We are young – our audience is young, but so is our in-house team. Our writers are young, the people making our documentaries are young and our editors are young. It’s a different voice to the mainstream news sources. It’s the real key to our ongoing success. We’re not something that’s been developed for young people. It’s inherent in the Vice brand.”
Vice is an incredibly wide-ranging brand, with a number of verticals across print, digital, video and social. “Vice has been in Australia since 2003, but Vice News launched here last year. We’ve really been building up a new audience through that – it’s been great. It’s been a licence to talk about more serious issues.
“Then there’s Vice.com, which is what I look after. It’s the mothership. Vice started out as a magazine in Canada 20 years ago, and it’s gone online and spread to other countries. Australia was the third or fourth market to get Vice. Since then, it’s grown to 35 other territories around the world. Vice is the central pillar that writes about culture and youth and millennials. We also operate a bunch of other channels. We have two music channels – one is normal music, rap and guitars and things, and the other is electronic. We have News, we have Vice Sport and we have the Creators Project, which is a creative technology platform. We have Motherboard which is a tech, news and culture site. We have Munchies which is our recently launched food platform. We’ve also just launched Broadly, which is our women’s vertical. That was our biggest launch in a very long time, and it’s very good.
As to Vice’s future, Akers has big plans. “We’re really looking to expand more. We’ve got all these spare desks in our Melbourne office that we’re looking to fill. We’ve also just built a photo studio and a booth for sound recording. We just hired a bunch of people in Sydney where we have about 15 in our office, and we have also got a few new people in Auckland. There are more verticals launching soon – sport is on the cards, as is Broadly. That’s it for this year, but we’ve got more lined up for 2016. I’m looking at next year doubling our current output.”
>> The Incarceration Issue
To coincide with its upcoming panel at Sydney’s annual Festival of Dangerous Ideas, Vice has themed its upcoming print edition around the concept of incarceration. The Incarceration Issue, which will contain all-Australian content, will touch on a number of important social issues. “We were looking at a lot of the issues that we feel most strongly about that also get the best traction with our readers. Generally, they are social issues that in the end result in some sort of incarceration. It could be immigration detention, drugs, family violence, indigenous disadvantage – with a lot of these issues, you’ll find prison for someone involved in the end. As such, we thought it would be pretty interesting to examine Australia through the lens of incarceration. It involved some of the biggest and least-discussed issues in our country. Obviously these are very complex social issues – we don’t have an answer for any of them. But we wanted to tell as many stories as possible, and that’s resulted in a themed issue,” he noted.
Thematic consistency informs a lot of Vice’s print issues, he continued. “A lot of them are themed at the very end. Every year, we have a set number of themed issues that come out of the US office – things like the Photo Issue, or the Fiction issue which features incredible short stories. Then there are the more topical issues, like The Syria Issue and The South Sudan issue. We also do broader themes, like Hate.
“We also do special themed weeks online. Recently, we did the Mental Health week which was fascinating to work on – it’s such a massive issue for young people. When we relaunched the site earlier this year, we did a Guantanamo week of content with a number of documentaries and a lot of great stories. We theme because otherwise you’re just writing about everything. We have all these writers, and it’s great to have them all and see them seek out a direction. But when an order comes down for everyone to write about the same topic, it’s really cohesive. We have a lot of brains, a lot of really good young writers who are all really focusing on an issue that we care about. It’s a beautiful thing!”
[blockquote style=”3″]CV: Royce Akers
Before heading up Vice in Australia and New Zealand, Akers worked as a copywriter. “My first career was in advertising, I worked as a copywriter. I really liked it, but it wasn’t very meaningful. Then I actually decided to take some time off, and thought that I’d consider whether or not I wanted to get back into advertising. Around the same time, I thought that I might try and do more writing. I was friends with the then-publisher and editor of Vice, we used to go fishing together. That’s how I started here in 2008, and it’s been the best place that I’ve ever worked. It’s constantly changing every day. While headquarted in Melbourne, Vice also has offices in Sydney and in Auckland.[/blockquote]