Vice files for bankruptcy, the youngest digital media pioneer falls

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The once-successful Vice Media Group filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday, beginning a court-supervised restructuring process that the company said in a statement it was preparing for a sale.

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The Chapter 11 filing follows consecutive rounds of grueling layoffs at the former media giant, which was once worth more than $5 billion. But after early success with a digital-first model — heralded as the future of the industry — Vice has struggled financially in recent years.

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“To facilitate the sale, VICE has filed voluntary Chapter 11 reorganization motions with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York,” the company said in a statement Monday. Executives said a consortium of potential buyers, including Fortress Investment Group and Soros Fund Management, have offered to buy the company for about $225 million.

All of Vice’s individual brands, including Vice News, Refinery29 and iD, will continue to produce content throughout the filing process, the company said, adding that its international entities were not part of the court filing.

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Executives said they hoped the accelerated sale process would allow them to continue paying employees’ salaries, protect the company’s business position and secure its long-term future. The aim is for the company to emerge “financially healthy” this summer, it said.

“We will have new owners, a simplified capital structure and the ability to operate without the legacy liabilities that have weighed on our business. We look forward to completing the sale process over the next two to three months and beginning a healthy and prosperous next chapter at VICE,” co-CEOs Bruce Dixon and Hozefa Lokhandwala said in the statement.

Shane Smith helped found Vice magazine in 1994 before later growing it into a digital giant whose skyrocketing traffic at times eclipsed its more established competitors. The site’s journalism appealed to a younger audience, aged 18 to 35, who preferred using the phone for news.

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Vice was also an early adopter of digital video journalism, producing documentaries about North Korea and interviews with cannibals.

Despite its digital-first focus, which is now the norm across the media landscape, Vice has struggled. Executives announced in April that they were shutting down their popular TV show Vice News Tonight, Reuters reported.

The Vice union estimated that about 100 employees would be laid off as a result.

The bankruptcy filing comes a month after BuzzFeed, another digital media pioneer, announced it was closing its news division after 12 years.

The site’s co-founder and CEO blamed the challenges posed by BuzzFeed’s free digital journalism model — including the COVID pandemic, a “tech recession” and overall declining ad revenue.


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