By Joe Konig
Vice has come a long way since its days as a community-oriented, government funded magazine based in Montreal. Today, it is a steadily growing media empire thanks to its youth-centric content and skilled navigation of new media avenues. And its Williamsburg, Brooklyn headquarters are exactly what one would imagine a hip, pop culture media company’s headquarters would be like.
Students from Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism visited the Vice offices at 49 South Second Street in Brooklyn on Friday as part of the Professional Fridays program. Eighteen students, Professor Jon Friedman, and Professor Jonathan Sanders were taken on a tour of the Vice newsroom by Matt Phillips, the editor-in-chief of Vice Money.
“It’s definitely more casual here,” Phillips said. A former Wall Street Journal and Quartz reporter, he answered dozens of questions from students about Vice, the media landscape, and his experiences. “It’s nice not having to wear a tie every day.”
Flannel shirts, knit hats, thick rimmed glasses, and skinny jeans were a common aesthetic trend among the employees throughout the office. Some reporters lounged in pajamas. Even marketing executives, who wore suit jackets and polished shoes, emerged from a meeting in nearly identical grey skinny jeans.
Just past lobby security, employees milled about, sitting on couches or at the coffee bar, working on their phones or laptops. The in-house brewery was on the left of the security checkpoint and the herb garden was just outside the lobby, with a great view of the East River and lower Manhattan.
“It’s more media culture here than newsroom culture,” Phillips said. However, regardless of the newsroom environment, he had a key piece of advice. “Don’t type and wear headphones in the newsroom. You’re throwing away a whole education. I’ve learned so much by listening to other reporters.”
Students who went on the trip had a high opinion of Vice’s content beforehand. They were not disappointed.
“I loved it,” junior Kunal Kohli said. “As someone who wants to work at Vice in the future, it was awesome to see the environment I am going to work in.”
Aleeza Kazmi, a sophomore, was concerned that her idealistic view of Vice would be shattered.
“That’s what happens when you meet your heroes,” Kazmi said. Instead, she walked away with an even greater appreciation for the organization. “I would be friends with every single person I saw there.”
The students credited their guide with making the visit enjoyable and informative.
“He was a really awesome dude,” Kohli said. “A super knowledgeable guy.”
Phillips, who once shared a desk clump with Friedman at the Dow Jones, did not have a formal education in journalism or finance.
“I got an internship at an alternative weekly in my hometown in upstate New York,” Phillips said. Comparing it to the only other job he worked at that point, dishwashing, Phillips said he knew he wanted to do journalism because “at the internship it wasn’t even like working. The days went so fast.”
When he graduated from SUNY Binghamton in 2000, Phillips kept getting turned down for news jobs. He had not studied journalism or had been active with the school paper. Finally, he got a job at a business weekly.
“Nobody wanted to cover business. At the time, it was considered really boring. It was like the backwater of the paper,” Phillips said. He credited an editor who was passionate and helpful, but also talked about how he had to teach himself to fill a niche no one else was in.
Persistence and depth of knowledge were points of thematic emphasis throughout the two-hour tour and Q&A session. Phillips recalled advice Jill Abramson, the former New York Times executive editor, had when she came to speak at Quartz when he was still working there.
“She said don’t market yourself, learn stuff. Know something. You want to be the authoritative source on something,” Phillips said.
Sanders chimed in on the subject as well. “Part of it is also going out and showing you can work whatever they give you to do. The best practicing journalist today, I think, is [the New Yorker’s] David Remnick. Be the energizer bunny.”
Phillips took the students on a tour of the newsroom and then spent more than an hour with them in a conference room, allowing students to pepper him with questions. They discussed everything from engaging young people in finance to the editorial structure of Vice Media to the current conflict over objectivity and President Donald J. Trump across the media landscape.
Students caught a glimpse of Vice founders Suroosh Alvi and Shane Smith leaving a meeting and, as the group left for the day, saw Krishna Andavolu, host of the Viceland documentary show Weediquette.
“Krishna head-nodded at me,” Kohli said. “So now I’m gonna be on Weediquette.”
Matt Phillips quotes recorded by Desiree D’lorio.
Photos by Jessica Chin