Tuesday's launch party for CNN and Vice's new content partnership, which starts with this week's premiere of The Vice Guide To Liberia, was a true walk through the looking glass, with CNN execs rubbing shoulders with the Vice team and Williamsburg's plaid-clad masses who thronged Public Assembly.--
Though the brands make an odd couple, both CNN and the Vice brain trust praised each other effusively as masters of story-telling. Of late, CNN has battled declining ratings by doubling down on vivid on-the-scene reporting that stretches TV news conventions, like Anderson Cooper’s dramatic rescue of a Haitian child this week that seemed to cross over from journalism to participation.
VBS, under creative director Spike Jonze, uses a similarly personalized reporting style. The Liberia film, screened on January 13 at the Crosby Street Hotel, held spellbound a crowd of downtown mediaphiles including Chris Wilson, Sloane Crosley, Neel Shah, Jamie Peck, Jessica Pressler, Scott Kidder, Richard Blakeley, and Foster Kamer. In it, Vice founder Shane Smith wades deep into a Hobbesian world where preteen children smoke cocaine before being sent into battle, and a mass-murdering insurgent known as General Butt Naked (who claims fighting nude protects him from bullets) boasts of drinking the blood of sacrificed children, only to stage a religious conversion that gulls his victims into protecting him from a war-crimes trial at The Hague.
CNN’s Jen Martin said that Vice’s “boots-on-the-ground journalism” – fresh episodes from VBS.TV will debut on their site every Wednesday – will help the network reach a younger demographic who “need to know how the reporter relates to the news as a person – we’re also human.” Unconcerned that the network’s older viewers might find Vice’s post-gonzo approach jarring (don’t fret, Larry King is still in the house), she spoke admiringly of Vice’s “innovation,” saying the joint venture will allow CNN to “tell really complex stories” and “seek the truth.”
Although Vice is “50 percent adoration and 50 percent vitriol,” according to executive producer Eddy Moretti, he and co-founders Smith and Suroosh Alvi are gratified that CNN’s audience seems to be responding, with virtually no negative comments from visitors to Vice’s CNN page.
The highlight of the night was the Handsome Furs set. The married duo, who filmed their recent Asia tour for CNN, won over the media types in attendance as well as their local fans, with powerful guitar and vocals by Dan Boeckner while Alexei Perry Cox worked the dials.
Through the din, news filtered in of the Democratic loss in Massachusetts, which Vice’s communications honcho Alex Detrick (formerly press aide to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo) called a “death knell” for health care reform. I reflected sadly upon the blow to Obama’s agenda on the first anniversary of his taking office – across the river, John Carney was taunting his liberal friends by holding a “Martha Coakley victory party” at Professor Thom’s. My last CNN party had been at the Time Warner Center media reception on election night 2008, the night Williamsburg’s streets were thronged in celebration. Now, the Williamsburg streets were empty, but CNN was here. Oh well. I’m still glad to live in a world where a grownup like Barack Obama is president and where CNN believes salvation lies in dry-humping with Vice.