- Four top journalists have left Vice to start a new tech outlet, 404 Media.
- It’s part of a trend of journalist-led news startups that have eschewed institutional funding.
- The founders discussed their plans to expand into filmed entertainment as well as other media.
Following Vice Media’s bankruptcy, which resulted in numerous layoffs and exits and left remaining employees demoralized, four senior writers and editors have left to launch their own independent tech news outlet, 404 Media.
Jason Koebler, the former editor in chief of Vice’s tech vertical, Motherboard, is behind the new venture, as are its executive editor Emanuel Maiberg, senior editor Samantha Cole, and senior staff writer Joseph Cox.
As advertising and institutional funding for journalism dries up, and high-flying upstarts like Vice fail due to unrealistic valuations, a number of journalists have gone on to launch lean, subscription-based news startups.
404 Media will begin small and will concentrate on areas in which its founders have extensive experience, such as hacking, sex, artificial intelligence, consumer rights, cybercrime, and surveillance.
They intend to put articles behind a paywall (starting at $100 per year) and explore advertising sales in the future.
They also intend to publish some of their work as books, documentaries, feature films, and podcasts.
To develop ideas, 404 Media is collaborating with Derek Mead, a producer with Earthbound Pictures, a documentary production company. Mead is a fellow Motherboard alum; he and Koebler are also executive producers on “Encounters,” a docu-series from Steven Spielberg’s production company Amblin Television, which will premiere on Netflix on September 27.
They’re also working on pitches about the Right to Repair movement, which gives device and equipment owners the right and access to repair them, as well as cyber-crime themes based on Cox’s reporting.
While they all worked on stories that were turned into filmed projects at Vice, the founders of 404 believe they will have more leeway and control over what projects they pursue at an independently financed publication.
At Vice, they worked on “The Most Unknown,” a documentary directed by Ian Cheney about scientific mysteries that aired on Netflix; “Sold Out: Ticketmaster And The Resale Racket,” which aired on Tubi; and the YouTube doc series “Cryptoland.”
“We have a history of working with these types of companies,” Koebler explained. “I’m extremely proud of our Vice work.”There is a specific procedure for turning something into a documentary.”
Vice’s financial difficulties were also a factor in their departure. Vice’s bankruptcy proceedings revealed large bonuses for executives, while severance payments to laid-off employees were delayed and vendors were not paid. In July, an investor group led by Fortress Investment Group purchased the company out of bankruptcy for $350 million, a fraction of its one-time valuation of $5.7 billion.
“I never had an issue with editorial freedom,” said Cox of his time at Vice. “Now that we have financial freedom, we can build on this idea if we think it’s a good one.” We can be quick and agile.”