Hi, I'm Ben Hazell. I used to blog here about the media, but now I work there I don't write here anymore.
I'm the Web Publishing Editor at - I find better ways to tell stories, developing tools, training and practice for journalists.

You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, LibraryThing, Spotify, and occasionally writing on

The Blog

Rarely updated now, used during Journalism MA at the University of Sheffield.


Saturday, 10 November 2007

This is the second part of my thoughts on Vice magazine. You can read part one here.

Before it was Vice, it was the Voice of Montreal. Then Voice. Then Vice.
This seems appropriate to me, because behind the veneer of fashionable sleaze, it's the voices in Vice I want to read. The serious content in the magazine takes two forms; local voices and immersive journalism. In both cases the emphasis is on storytelling. Both are hugely powerful forms.

Where other publications can seem a little earnest, a little knowing or a little cynical, Vice delights because the content is often unexpected. It doesn't just contain a mixture of articles; each article can contain both humour and tragedy, usually catching you off guard for profound effect. You never quite know where things are going with each tale or anecdote. Local contributors usually have a wearily detached outlook on terrible events, enabling a clarity of description which is more startling than the tired, laboured prose usually used to describe tragedy. The writing trusts to the readers values for effect. The plain descriptive style and heavy use of photo-journalism results in a show don't tell approach, where the maturity of the reader to draw conclusions is trusted and depended upon. This promotes a shared respect between the reader and the narrative voice, and lends an inclusive profundity to the issue in hand.

Of course, the writing is not unique in style or content. A great deal of similar writing could be found online. The distinction is in the delivery method. Vice packages remarkable stories and presents them in a palatable context. You might say it hides the serious content behind the jokes, the news behind the "in other news". The grand effect of an issue of Vice is something close to Bathos; the juxtaposition of sublime and ridiculous for effect. It's a very seductive effect.

The editorial choices behind each issue are as significant as the writing. Unlike most mainstream media, Vice makes extensive use of first hand accounts and local reporting. There is a priority on carefully selected amateur content. And as amateur writing, most readers will imagine it more true, or more real than the polished presentations of the ordinary news. Vice always seems to prefer the inside, subjective account, even when they use their own writers to facilitate the account. There is no pretence towards objectivity, simply transparency. The articles nearly always take the form of directly reported speech or plainly laid out interviews with little preamble. Occasionally they send their own reporters to report the experience of being immersed in different sub-cultures; but these reports too are highly subjective and personal reflections. It's all a buffer against lazy reporting, attempting to share interesting experiences rather than mere facts.

Blogging from Iraqi homosexuals, Puerto-Rican convicts or US military deserters is probably available if you look, but in reality most of Vice's 80,000 UK readers don't look, or didn't know to look. It is the selection of content by Vice which is significant. The editors find hidden issues and neglected voices, send writers to places where misery isn't urgent enough for mainstream attention, and generally search for fresh perspectives. This is what's most important about the writing for me; the willingness to direct attention to areas outside the narrow focus of main news coverage. Every issue opens my eyes in some way, and moreover, the humour and human voices are a perfect antidote to the news fatigue caused by obsessively factual, statistical reporting.

So it's the voices I love about Vice. It's the diversity of voices and the wealth of experiences in each issue, packaged up with humour and style, that bring me back each time. It's not perfect, and perhaps sometimes a little too aware of it's own power, but on the whole - Vice is good.


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