In a memo to staff on February 22, Vice Media’s CEO, Bruce Dixon, revealed plans to lay off several hundred employees and cease publishing on its Vice.com website. The company, which faced bankruptcy last year and was subsequently sold for $350 million to a consortium led by the Fortress Investment Group, is also considering the sale of its Refinery 29 publishing business.

“With this strategic shift (transition to studio model) comes the need to realign our resources and streamline our overall operations at Vice. Regrettably, this means that we will be reducing our workforce, eliminating several hundred positions. This decision was not made lightly, and I understand the significant impact it will have on those affected. Employees who will be affected will notified about the next steps early next week, consistent with local laws and practices,” Dixon wrote to staff.

Vice’s decision reflects ongoing financial challenges in the media industry. Over the past year, digital sites like Messenger, BuzzFeed News, and Jezebel have closed, while traditional media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal have experienced job cuts, an AP report noted.

Shifting Distribution Strategies

Dixon acknowledged the difficulty of saying goodbye to colleagues but said changes are necessary for Vice’s long-term creative and financial success. He stated that the current distribution method of digital content, including news, is no longer cost-effective. As a result, Vice plans to focus more on its social channels and explore alternative content distribution methods.

As part of its strategic shift, Vice will transition to a studio model. This move follows the cancellation of the “Vice News Tonight” television program and a series of layoffs before the company filed for bankruptcy protection last year.

“Moving forward, we will look to partner with established media companies to distribute our digital content, including news, on their global platforms, as we fully transition to a studio model. As part of this shift, we will no longer publish content on vice.com, instead putting more emphasis on our social channels as we accelerate our discussions with partners to take our content to where it will be viewed most broadly,” said Dixon in the staff communication.

“Separately, Refinery 29 will continue to operate as a standalone diversified digital publishing business, creating engaging, social-first content. As you know, we are in advanced discussions to sell this business, and we are continuing with that process. We expect to announce more on that in the coming weeks,” he added.

Reactions to the News

The news saw reactions on social media from staff and netizens alike. Vice reporter Anna Merlan confirmed the news and shared Dixon’s message on micro-blogging site X (formerly Twitter), adding: “I had a great, great run and I feel fantastic about my work. Thanks for the kind words today and for everyone who ever spoke to me for a story and put their trust in me as a reporter. Working at Vice has been… so interesting and I will certainly look back on it. I think the ruckus today and the digging by media reporters encouraged a lot more transparency and more quickly than the company would have otherwise done, so thank you all for that.”

X user and Editor-in-Chief of POW Mag Otto Von Biz Markie blamed Vice’s decline on private equity interference, posting: “A few years ago, Vice was valued at $5.7 billion. They published some of the smartest, most interesting, and fearless journalism of the last decade. And now private equity is going to strip it for parts to make a bunch of outdated nostalgia meme pages. Unspeakably grim.”

“Looking forward to the future where no one communicates with actual words, just TikTok dances, memes passed down from generation to generation like sacred scrolls, and the occasional selfie filled with hidden symbols to juice the algorithm,” he added.

Financial Background

Once valued at $5.7 billion in 2017, Vice, a New York-based media company, aimed at a younger audience with a dynamic storytelling approach across digital, television, and film outlets.

Dixon did not provide specific details about the layoffs but mentioned that hundreds of employees would be affected, with notifications expected early next week. According to The New York Times, the company currently employs about 900 people.

“I know that saying goodbye to our valued colleagues is difficult and feels overwhelming, but this is the best path forward for Vice as we position the company for long-term creative and financial success. Our financial partners are supportive and have agreed to invest in this operating model going forward. We will emerge stronger and more resilient as we embark on this new phase of our journey. Thank you for your continued dedication to Vice and support during this time of transition. Together, I am confident that we will overcome any challenges and achieve our shared goals,” Dixon said.

(With inputs from AP)

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Published: 23 Feb 2024, 08:39 AM IST


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