Freelancers—writers, photographers, illustrators, and otherwise—tell us the rates are low, and that Vice (like many other publications) is often slow in paying them. Salaries at Vice Media and the company’s pay rate for contract work were described to us as “a pittance,” “a fucking joke,” and “so low I couldn’t even consider it, it was offensive.” -Gawker, Working at Vice Media Is Not As Cool As It Seems
I’ve never worked with Vice, but have plenty of friends who have, and I’ve heard horror stories about their pay rates and frequent payment delays. This Gawker piece alleges that the Vice empire has been built on wages and assignment rates that freelancers and staffers describe as a “pittance,” and which they often wait months to receive. A former intern told Gawker that they were offered a full-time job at Vice in Brooklyn with an annual salary of $20,000. A high-level editor at one of Vice’s highest-trafficked sites earns under $40,000 per year. Vice has responded to Gawker’s piece: VICE to Gawker: Fuck You and Fuck Your Garbage Click-Bait ‘Journalism’ but does little to dispute the facts of Gawker’s piece beyond some ad hominem attacks and writing that “entry-level salaries range by department and are competitive with comparable emerging media companies in the digital space.” All of Gawker’s sources are anonymous.
Vice has been doing a lot of things right these days. Vice on HBO is a thought-provoking and wide-ranging series. Vice News has been impressive to watch over the last year or so; the reporters there tackle hard news with depth and wit, often on topics and regions undercovered by other outlets. Simon Ostrovsky’s Russian Roulette series on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is not to be missed. There are creative, weird, and informative pieces periodically published by Vice, such as Mitchell Prothero’s Paintballing with Hezbollah. Vice’s Media Kit (direct pdf link) claims that Vice has over 650 million views on YouTube and the highest watch time of any YouTube channel with original content. Across television, print, and many online publishing outlets, Vice is one of the big successes of the digital media era. The Nieman Journalism Lab had an insightful article about the launch of Vice News which includes some information about the companies financials; selling a 5% equity stake to 21st Century Fox earlier this year means the market value of the company was about $1.4 billion at that time.
Since the Gawker piece came out last week, I’ve seen it posted a few times on social media, and each time have seen comments from freelancers complaining about low rates and long-delayed payments.