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Vice to lay off hundreds of staffers, stop publishing content on its website

<i>Jae C. Hong/AP via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Vice Media's office building is seen in Los Angeles in May 2023.
Jae C. Hong/AP via CNN Newsource
Vice Media's office building is seen in Los Angeles in May 2023.

By Oliver Darcy, CNN

(CNN) — Vice Media will cease publishing to its website and lay off several hundred staffers as the beleaguered publisher makes “fundamental changes” to its “strategic vision” under its new private equity ownership, chief executive Bruce Dixon announced Thursday in a memo to staff.

“This decision was not made lightly, and I understand the significant impact it will have on those affected,” Dixon told staffers in the memo obtained by CNN, adding that employees impacted will be notified early next week.

Dixon said that Vice Media had determined it is “no longer cost-effective” for the company to distribute its digital content the way it has in the past. Instead, Vice Media will “look to partner with established media companies to distribute our digital content, including news, on their global platforms, as we fully transition to a studio model,” he said.

Dixon said the women’s lifestyle-focused site Refinery29 will continue to operate independently, and that Vice is in “advanced discussions” to sell the business.

“Our financial partners are supportive and have agreed to invest in this operating model going forward. We will emerge stronger and more resilient as we embark on this new phase of our journey,” he said.

Ahead of the announcement Thursday, the mood inside Vice Media was grim. Staffers struggled to work amid rumors circulating about the outlet’s fate, likening doing so to “the violinists playing aboard the sinking Titanic.”

“I think most of us have seen the writing on the wall: there are simply not enough lifeboats, and highly unlikely that the skeleton crew of us on digital news will be invited onboard one,” one employee said.

A senior Vice staffer said the news was “crushing.”

“It’s devastating to have a group of reporters who have made such a significant impact in the world have their jobs end in this way,” the person said.

Vice Media, once a high-flying digital media startup valued at billions of dollars, has struggled immensely in recent years. The company was acquired out of bankruptcy by Fortress Investment Group and two other creditors last year for a mere $350 million.

The radical strategic shift announced by Dixon effectively marked the end of Vice Media as the industry has known it. Once held up as the future of the business, Vice Media has rapidly contracted over the last 12 months, ending several news programs and laying off staffers.

Vice’s news division was acclaimed for its journalism, capturing the industry’s most prestigious awards for its gritty on-the-ground reporting from around the world. In 2020, it shared the first-ever Pulitzer Prize for audio reporting on a kidnapped asylum-seeker in Mexico. It led the news and documentary Emmy Awards in recent years, competing and at times outpacing well-established news organizations. And just this week, Vice News won the Polk Award for television reporting for its coverage of Russian mercenaries.

While its news division captured praise for its reporting, Vice found itself ensnared in various business difficulties and executive changes, including the 2018 resignation of co-founder Shane Smith and the departure of his successor, chief executive Nancy Dubuc, earlier this year.

As the company explored a sale, it also continually restructured and slashed its workforce. Last year, it canceled its flagship “Vice News Tonight” program before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in mid-May.

Vice Media joins a long list of digital publishers that have announced painful layoffs in recent months. Startup news outlet The Messenger shut down last month, Business Insider cut 8% of its staff and BuzzFeed said Wednesday that it will slash 16% of its workforce as it plans a new strategic direction.

The hemorrhaging comes as the business models that kept much of the news and media industry afloat for decades collapses amid a soft advertising market, plummeting social media referral traffic, and the looming threat of artificial intelligence.

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