Vice logo lit-up.

Vice Media offices display the Vice logo at dusk on February 1, 2019 in Venice, California.

(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

'Unspeakably Grim': Vice Latest Media Company to Announce Mass Layoffs

The news comes as more than 500 news workers were laid off in January, not counting the more than 300 who lost their jobs when The Messenger shut down on the last day of the month.

Vice CEO Bruce Dixon sent a memo to employees on Thursday announcing that the company was laying off hundreds of workers and would no longer publish on its flagship website, saying it was "no longer cost-effective" to do so.

This marks the latest round of layoffs in what is shaping up to be a brutal start to 2024 for the news industry. A total of 528 news workers were laid off in January, not counting the more than 300 who lost their jobs when The Messenger shut down on the last day of the month. A day after the Vice news, Washington, D.C.'s NPR affiliate WAMU announced it was closing down its DCist website and laying off 15 staffers, as Axiosreported, though it said it would add new positions in audio.

"Is it 'ethical' to be teaching journalism right now?" Scientific American senior media editor Tulika Bose asked on social media Thursday.

"People lay all the blame on the vulture funds that buy up these news sites to try and turn a profit, and yes they're bad and culpable, but the damage Google and Facebook have done to the news industry is far worse."

Vice in particular has faced numerous business difficulties in the last few years. At its height, the company employed around 3,000 people and was worth $5.7 billion, according to Variety. Yet, in May 2023, the parent company filed for bankruptcy and its news division laid off dozens of employees, Hell Gatereported. Immediately before the bankruptcy, reporting revealed that executives had awarded themselves massive bonuses.

Vice was then purchased by private equity firm Fortress Investment Group. In the fall, it combined its five divisions into two, Variety said, and laid off even more people, leaving it with a staff of more than 900.

"As we navigate the ever-evolving business landscape, we need to adapt and best align our strategies to be more competitive in the long term," Dixon said in Thursday's memo.

These changes include shuttering the website and instead partnering "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, 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," he continued.

Dixon also confirmed that Vice was in talks to sell Refinery 29, a women's publication that it acquired in 2019 for $400 million.

"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," Jeff Weiss, edito-in-chief at POW Mag and theLAnd, posted on social media. "And now private equity is going to strip it for parts to make a bunch of outdated nostalgia meme pages. Unspeakably grim shit."

Current and former Vice staffers blamed its woes on mismanagement.

"The journalism has been exceedingly sound; the durable upper management has just been the most embarrassing collection of doofuses on Zoom calls showing off their scarves or whatever," one anonymous senior newsroom staffer told Hell Gate.

Former Vice worker and union member Paul Blest recalled on social media that the company had appeared to spend "90% of the snack budget on milk."

Aaron Gordon, another former employee and union steward, told Hell Gate: "The company raised $1.6 billion in venture funding, according to Crunchbase. It launched a TV channel in 2016 just as cord-cutting and streaming was rattling the industry. It went bankrupt in 2023. And now the website is dead. Management's work speaks for itself."

Yet the news from Vice comes amid an accelerating decline in news work: Between 2005 and 2023, the U.S. lost nearly one-third of its newspapers, at a rate of more than two each week. It also lost nearly two-thirds of its newspaper reporters. A total of 2,681 news media jobs were axed in 2023 alone, the highest number since 2020.

Some have blamed takeovers by private equity groups like Fortress Investment Group.

"I think it'd be good for more people to know that the exact same private equity executives responsible for destroying hundreds of jobs at Vice—Fortress Investment Group—are also responsible for destroying thousands of jobs at Gannett newspapers," journalist Megan Greenwell, who is currently writing a book about private equity, posted on social media.

Freelance labor reporter Kim Kelly bemoaned the "hundreds of jobs lost" because of more "shithead media executives who wouldn't know value or journalism or basic humanity if it bit them in the ass."

Author and Labor Institute executive director Les Leopold wrote for Common Dreams in January about how private equity takeovers can harm media outlets:

Leveraged buyouts, which have negatively affected so many journalists, are another form of financial pillage. When private equity firms and hedge funds buy up companies the deals are financed largely with borrowed money, debt that is then put on the books of the company that was purchased. Servicing that debt becomes a major corporate expense, most often paid for by cutting costs through mass layoffs.

Yet there is another factor as well, which is how large social media and tech platforms have cut into the revenue news outlets would otherwise make from advertising, as Columbia Journalism Review(CJR)explained:

Publications that used to rely on advertisements now have to compete with tech giants. The Columbia report argued that Google and Meta should pay news outlets $14 billion annually in revenue for their search traffic and content. As technology companies incorporate AI-enhanced search experiences, which create answers to the user's question in the sidebar, some fear that users will opt for these short answers. This would further damage the news business model: News consumed on platforms means no traffic to news sites, which means no ad revenue, no brand affiliation, and no chance to convert paying subscribers.

Also on Thursday, NiemanLabreported that Google has experimented with removing the "News" tab from its search results.

"People lay all the blame on the vulture funds that buy up these news sites to try and turn a profit, and yes they're bad and culpable, but the damage Google and Facebook have done to the news industry is far worse, and they seem to be escaping a lot of the blame," Laura Bassett, executive vice president at Big Lou Holdings, wrote on social media in response to the news.

Victor Pickard, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, told CJR that years of media layoffs prove that the for-profit model is not working for journalism, and that the U.S. should move toward a public-funding model.

"We should think of journalism, not as a commodity whose worth is determined by its profitability in the market, but as a public service," Pickard said.

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