Subrata De at the end of Vice News

Subrata De at the end of Vice News

One of the few remaining senior executives overseeing news at Vice Media Group announced she will be leaving the company this week following the company's decision to close most of Vice's news business.

Earlier this week, Semafor was first to report that Subrata De, Vice's executive vice president of news and global head of programming and development, would be leaving the company after leading the news division for six years. In an interview and subsequent email, Vice's news director reflected on what she described as the evolution from “bro-ey gonzo reporting” to a segment that led to Vice winning multiple Edward R. Murrow Awards, won two duPont-Columbia Silver Batons and a George Polk Award, three Peabodys, 30 News and Documentary Emmys and a joint Pulitzer for audio work, among other honors.

Still, she said, it's “surreal to be in a room with people telling you that the company that's been funded the most and is at the core of the brand isn't working and can't continue.”

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Why are you leaving now?

“There is no longer a position for me in the company. As a global news organization, I led a team of nearly 250 people. And that no longer exists in this current version of Vice. My time at Vice was all about what I think is a kind of core identity, which is news. And under this new ownership, that is no longer the core business.”

Was it her decision? Did they tell you, “Hey, we’re basically not doing this anymore?”

“From the beginning, in every boardroom, with every board member, or with anyone who would listen, I have continued to advocate for the need to invest in news and how to succeed as a business and how it is a foundation of democracy. We have new owners. I presented this case to them. It's not that they weren't receptive and didn't recognize Vice News' success. But no matter how this business evolves, there is no room for a news business.

“We have built an incredibly secure and successful company. And so I went into those rooms and said, 'If you want to rebuild the Vice News brand after this really terrible time and period that we've been through, it's going to take some investment, but we're going to deliver.' But we have to agree with a lot of people who didn't get everything they were promised through layoffs and other things. But if we do all this right, we can rebuild this business. And you can't run a successful news business like us if you don't protect the team. You need owners who want to see it through. And in the world of a basically broken company that really needed to reaffirm that trust with its new owners, I don't know if there was really a discussion of, “Let's put more money into this company to see what they do.” .” Do.'”

Are you clear about the direction they are taking in terms of preserving journalism? Will there still be any journalism at Vice, or is it completely over?

“That's a good question. I don't have any clear idea of ​​what the future will look like. But the kind of journalism that we've done, which is based on an independent, robust newsroom – that's not going to happen.”

When did it become clear that things were going wrong, and what impact did the bankruptcy have on the ongoing intelligence gathering you were maintaining abroad?

“It's been almost a year now [then-CEO] Nancy Dubuc has left the company. And that was, in many ways, a moment where Vice's financial position became much clearer. This surprised me as much as anyone else. [On the news side], we ran a pretty successful business. We were doing really well. We started Vice World News. Within three years it was incredibly successful, we created a lot of content. So I think bankruptcy was obviously scary and frightening. And when I was told that we were going to be making these very difficult decisions around Vice News Tonight, I didn't realize that the company was facing bankruptcy. So, you know, these are really difficult decisions for someone running a news organization. But I was told there is no more money to support this team and this program.”

“I tried to find external financing. I looked for pennies in the seat cushions and got money wherever I could to try to send us to Israel, Gaza and Egypt. And I tried everything, but I couldn’t do it.”

And when [the bankruptcy] There were still people who found themselves in really tricky situations. There were people in Ukraine, there were people in Iran. So I got worried and did what you always do in journalism. You start to get very creative. In this industry, we all know this situation: you hold on and believe that someone will believe in the work. We were at the Emmys with “Vice News Tonight” and winning all these awards, and the show had just been taken off the air. We just won a Polk Award this week. Completing my week is winning a Polk Prize for this incredible investigative work [on] conflict with [the] Wagner Group. And now I’m leaving the company.”

You were there for six years. What went wrong?

“I think we’ve gotten too big. We were creating 120 hours of content per year based on investor engagement, and obviously the company was very focused on getting acquired and was always very anxious about that. To achieve this, they acquired other companies. I think basically I've forgotten what the brand's core identity is and I have a lot of respect for my colleagues at Refinery29. Do I think they belong in a world of vice? I don't. Vice is not an isolated case, media companies do this, they kind of resort to other companies to get acquired. But I think a truly successful media business is like survival. Vice survived as a news organization for 25 years but lost sight of its core business.”

I think the other thing is that Vice News became a media darling because it was so unique and different. So it became the beneficiary of these huge unicorn deals – the HBO deal, the Antenna Group deal. And these are great as a starting point. But then you have to pivot and build a sustainable business. The entire organization must get to work [one] We stand on our side and agree: “This is our core business.” But these unicorn deals no longer exist. So you have to figure out what you want your business to look like.”

Did you feel like you got the support you needed from the top of the company?

“I felt quite liberated when I joined Vice News because everyone supported my leadership. They said, “You believe in this, this is a good story, you deliver this, we trust you.” There was no editorial interference. Essentially it was a story-first environment, and it was global, which was amazing. I've led things through the pandemic and through some really difficult times. The unrest following the murder of George Floyd and during the fall of Afghanistan. This took a lot of resources and everyone supported it. We have done a lot to get our teams and other Afghans out. And it was incredible to be able to do that – to have a holistic approach to running a journalism organization.

A lot has happened over the years – legal cases, people have been arrested, people have been injured. And I always felt like I had that support. But as we got to bankruptcy and there were just so many more financial advisors and layers of people who were so far removed from journalism, I think I really started to question whether we're going to peak according to a risk news organization that feels like this “Not so sure.”

Do you think Vice adequately supported your team when Showtime decided to cancel an episode of its series with Vice over concerns about its coverage of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis?

“They fought [Showtime] in court, but I think we were in a weakened position because we were facing bankruptcy. All in all, we did not emerge from a position of strength as a company. I don't feel like anyone [at Vice] I thought we didn't have the support we needed. But maybe we didn’t have the full focus of the company.”

What's the big picture here? What can be learned from the end of Vice's news operations?

“We need to start asking the hard questions about platforms and investor expectations of digital media and stop blaming reporters. Surely we have enough collective brain power to figure this out? The platforms are an essential part of this conversation and I would argue that they will thrive best in a democracy with a free press.”