Veteran editor Katie Drummond joined VICE Media in March 2019 as Senior Vice President of VICE Digital. In addition to leading content strategy, Drummond oversees growth across platforms with a focus on brand alignment, talent development, and the unification of video with editorial goals.
I joined VICE at a time of massive change for the company, and the media landscape at large. My goal was to offer the direction the digital team had been missing, and to instigate change for the better. It’ll be for the best, but it won’t be easy. To succeed in online media today, I’m convinced you need to satisfy one criteria over any other: you need to be vital every single day. That means you need to break news. You need to start conversations. You need to provoke. Not once a month, or when you get lucky. Every day, and in multiple formats for all kinds of platforms.
There are plenty of ways to do all of that, many of which our team and VICE more broadly is perfectly suited to execute on (and in some cases, already is). What we’re all here to do is turn VICE Digital into a unique and absolutely vital daily experience for online audiences.
We need to do a hard reset, and work towards building an audience that’s loyal, engaged, and excited about what we’re offering, or we’ll never survive. And to do that, we need to offer them something better than we do today and distinct from other online news outlets.
Broadly speaking, you can divide those outlets into two buckets: There’s the old guard, like the New York Times or the Washington Post. Relative to us, they’ve got enormous global newsrooms, and the capacity to break huge stories and pump out heaps of original reporting on every topic imaginable. Then there’s the new wave of digital outlets, places like Vox Media or Refinery 29. Those teams are small, but they’re full of innovative digital brains and a lot of creativity.
As I see it, we compete with both old guard and new, and our opportunity to stand out is clear: VICE has the ambition and global scope of the big leagues and the creativity of the new guys, but at our best, we’ve got a fearlessness that’s unlike anything else out there. We need to harness that everyday, and do it while holding ourselves to the highest editorial standards. In short, we need to go where others won’t and say what others can’t. We’ll never be experts in everything (more on that later) but we can offer expertise in certain subjects, from security to identity to music, that’s leagues beyond what our competitors are capable of. And we should approach those subjects boldly and without apology.
We should throw punches. We should provoke. We should call trends months and years before anyone has even heard of them. That means more investigations, more scoops, more provocative ideas. Make people talk! Rile them up! Have the bulletproof reporting and the rock solid arguments to back it up.
And then there’s the fun. I want to scream this next sentence: VICE needs to be fun. Yes, we cover some heavy stuff. No, we shouldn’t make jokes in every story or video. Nor should we make jokes just to be assholes or because we can (trust me, those don’t land, and our audience does not like them). But my god, we take ourselves far too seriously right now. And for a digital presence that’s all about the future and what’s next, we need to be a voice of hope, not cynicism.
We need to be a little louder, a little more excited. Give our audience something to be happy about, to be hopeful for. Give them an irresistible headline and a clever kicker. Make them smile. When we can combine the fearlessness and the fun, I promise we’ll all see it on the page (and on YouTube, and on social) and our audience will too.
The new VICE Digital editorial newsroom is shaped by five teams, each covering beats that will be core to our mission.
News & Issues: Our home for beats in the national and global space that are vital to our audience. We can and should expect this desk to adapt as the news cycle shifts, but we’re kicking off with a focus on environment, identity, health, inequality and drugs.
Technology: With the Motherboard and Waypoint teams joining forces under one desk, expect more of the same great coverage from both, with an emphasis on staffing our tech team to tackle even more. Some core areas here are security/privacy, big tech, and gaming.
Lifestyle: In short, this desk is all about adulting. Most lifestyle coverage is either mediocre service journalism, or feel-good pablum that involves great abs and jade eggs. We will be neither, but instead tell great stories and develop irresistible franchises, all with an eye toward genuinely useful guidance for readers to, well, be grownups. Our lifestyle coverage should give people something to aspire to, but never feel condescending or shaming. Our beats here are work & money, sex, relationships, wellness, vices, and horoscopes.
Culture: This desk spans food (Munchies!), music (Noisey!), and TV and film, and I also expect it’ll inevitably be the catchall desk that taps into the zeitgeist when we find the right story and capture the right moment (social trends, nightlife, memes, amateur wrestling). But the basics are food, music, TV & film, and celebrity.
Features: This team will be pivotal in breaking down silos between digital editorial and digital video and multi-platform teams, by encouraging reporters and editors to think beyond simply text, and execute on the best format for a given story. This is the home for our most ambitious work, from a profile to an investigation to a multimedia series, and ideally an experimental hub and IP engine for the company, too.
All of these desks approach storytelling with urgency, and a mandate to participate in the daily news cycle. At 8 a.m., every person on these teams should be asking themselves (and talking as a team) about what’s in the news and what they’re doing about it today. The days of being allergic to the day’s news, or doing relentless aggregation in search of viral Facebook traffic, are over. We participate in the news cycle. We emphasize quality. The end.
We’ll combine that workflow with longer lead time reporting and evergreen pieces in a variety of formats, more creativity with form and an emphasis on scoops, compelling human stories, and forward looking, we-said-it-first coverage.
Our video and multi-platform groups, meanwhile, will pursue projects that largely map to the coverage areas defined above, and be working closely with desk leads to define what the best versions of this coverage are for video, Snap, Instagram, and beyond. Each piece of our digital presence attracts a different audience, and we’re savvy enough to create distinct content for each. But distinct doesn’t need to feel disconnected, which is how our digital presence feels right now.
In the near future, I see our digital group defining both coverage areas and editorial standards across digital teams globally, and acting as collaborative role models across VICE Media. I’ve been told many times that the digital group at VICE has long been the most experimental and forward looking of the entire company; if we get our house in order (which we will) and if we level up our work (which we will) I have no doubt we’ll lead the rest of VICE to do the same.