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BusinessFebruary 5, 2019

Vice NZ looks set to close as part of a massive wave of global redundancies


Sources suggest the New Zealand editorial arm of the global youth media giant is shutting down, reports Duncan Greive.

A huge round of redundancies being rolled out worldwide by youth media giant Vice has reached the New Zealand office. Staff were told today that the team faces being slashed to one to two positions – with potential losses likely to include the entirety of its award-winning editorial staff.

The head of HR in Australia flew in Monday, The Spinoff has learned, telling staff in a series of meetings today that their positions were under review. Vice Australia is not immune from the cuts, with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting that its own layoffs will be announced on Thursday. These form part of a wave of redundancies Vice CEO Nancy Dubuc has rolled out worldwide in an attempt to rationalise the company, stem losses and justify the gaudy US$5.7 billion valuation it received after investments by the likes of Fox and Disney.

Last week Dubuc – a TV veteran appointed in the aftermath of Me Too allegations levelled at previous executives – announced 250 job losses worldwide, representing 10% of Vice’s global workforce. The wave began in New York before heading to London, and now arrives in Australia and New Zealand. They form part of a sobering start to 2019 for digital media, which has also seen Buzzfeed cutting 220 jobs of its own, including 11 at its Australian office.

When asked about the cuts a spokesperson for Vice referred The Spinoff to a Hollywood Reporter story for information. Vice NZ editor Frances Morton told The Spinoff that “nothing is finalised yet and I feel like I can’t make a statement until it is,” while saying her staff’s focus is on the release of Thursday’s episode of its original series Zealandia – ‘Deportees of Tonga: Gangsters in Paradise’. The Spinoff understands that a two week consultation period is underway, and Vice’s spokesperson said it would be “following local market protocols” in the redundancies.

The reorganisation is part of a company pivot away from its prior emphasis on digital editorial toward a “focus on growth areas like film and television production and branded content,” according the the Hollywood Reporter story.

Vice’s spokesperson also claimed that it “will continue to report on the issues young people in NZ care about.” The Spinoff asked how it would accomplish this without editorial staff here, but has yet to receive a response at the time of publication.

Vice New Zealand opened under the management of Dave Benge in 2015, gradually expanding to encompass both text and video content. It kicked off in earnest in 2017 with the launch of its Zealandia local content hub and video series, soon after launching the Viceland channel through the Sky platform.

It was a small team, with numbers in flux, but editor Frances Morton recruited talented feature writers like Tess McClure and James Borrowdale, who crafted superb stories examining parts of New Zealand often ignored by mainstream media outlets.

Highlights included a window into the decaying remnants of a Coromandel commune, coverage of the Hikurangi medicinal marijuana operation, examining the ravages of synthetic cannabis and a documentary on LGBT Pacific dance collective FAFSWAG. Collectively these meant that despite its remote ownership, the local operation had a distinct and authentic flavour, while also ensuring that these stories ran out into the world through its huge network of international and genre sites.

It also received NZ on Air funding for three series of Zealandia, a set of short documentaries covering gender equality, criminal justice and more, with a focus on issues relevant to young New Zealanders. As recently as last December it won an RFP jointly administered by RNZ and NZ on Air to provide a podcast series “exploring the experiences of young urban Māori today”.

The local editorial team’s signature achievement was a win for McClure in the feature writer of the year at the 2018 Voyager Media Awards – one of the most important awards in New Zealand longform journalism – off the back of an outstanding portfolio covering the politics of the homeless, far right grave robbers and the reality of life for sex workers.

Vice NZ also ran a successful commercial operation, which created events, video and sponsored text pieces for brands and government entities. The Spinoff has approached present and former employees for comment, and will update this story should we receive it.

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