Vice Media boss Shane Smith is one heck of a character. Known for his outsized character, Smith often attracts media attention not to the work Vice has done (their international coverage is superb; almost everything else is subpar), but to himself for his antics. This time around, it’s no different.
According to a Bloomberg report, Smith dropped $300,000 on a dinner for 12 (or 25, or 30, depending on who you ask) at Bellagio casino’s Prime Steakhouse in Las Vegas. The bill is so exorbitant and out of the ordinary (and we’re talking about Vegas – of all places – here) that on Tuesday, executives at MGM Resorts International took the time out from the company’s conference call to highlight Smith’s bill – in response to a question from an analyst regarding consumer spending in the casino. When executives at what is arguably the world’s most well-known casino is shocked at how much you’ve spent on a dinner, you’ve probably screwed up – and in this case, Smith seems to have outdone himself.
The Michael Report discovered that the most expensive dish on the menu for the Jean-Georges Vongerichten owned steakhouse runs up to only a relatively paltry $85 for a 28-oz. bone-in rib eye… meaning that the majority of the bill came from the free flow of alcohol. And by alcohol, we mean alcohol that cost as much as $20,000 per bottle, according to people familiar with the situation. If the number of guests – 12 – provided by MGM International’s spokesperson is accurate, that means that each guest could have had a $20,000 wine bottle to him/herself in the dinner to come anywhere close to the $300,000 overall tab.
But of course, none of this would’ve mattered if Smith was a benevolent boss who pays the employees of his content mill fairly. Except he isn’t. In fact, record shows that he’s the furthest thing from that.
To understand this, let’s take a look at how Vice pays its employees.
For a long time in the New York media circle, Vice was seen as a cool place to work in: it’s fantastically rich (its latest financing round in September valued it at $2.5 billion) and it’s insanely cool – company parties are often held in grand buildings (such as the former Williamsburg Savings Bank) and decked out with top-tier runway models (illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin often make an appearance in these parties too, we’ve heard).
However, there’s a heavy penalty for working at a “cool” place like Vice: you earn next to nothing.
This isn’t an exaggeration: Vice is one of the lowest paying – if not the most – media companies in New York. Employees are often forced to trade a living wage for the sheer coolness of working for Vice. Instead of eyeing a promotion up the ranks or a pay raise, employees are often told to aim for a coveted Vice ring if their performance justifies it.
What is a Vice ring, you may ask? Well, it’s a gold plated ring that spells out VICE, which probably costs less than $25 to produce. But by making the ring difficult to obtain, Vice artificially increases the value of the ring… and thus, you have interns who are willing to slave away for hours late into the night in hopes of getting one of those rings. If you think that’s insane, here comes the real kicker…
Vice Media is foremost an advertising company, with an editorial operation to give it some legitimacy. Therefore, it should surprise no one that Vice pays its editorial employees very poorly – just because it can get away with it. In the Vice empire, editorial employees are seen as second-class citizens, and the pay structure shows just that.
Obtained by Gawker, this chart (which Vice had to submit to qualify for public subsidies (!)) shows the stark difference in salaries for an editorial employee versus an ad sales employee…
On average, an employee working for the company’s ad sales (“Sales and Business Development”) department earns almost twice as much as the average editorial employee. Gawker also cites an anecdotal example, whereby an intern employee working for the company two years ago was excited to have been offered a full-time position… for $20,000.
For all the trouble a Vice employee has to go through, the very least the company can offer is editorial freedom right? Yeah, no.
As said above, Vice Media’s primary function is to sell ads, not educate readers about the world. When writers cross the line, executives often ask their editors to kill or edit the story to fit a particular brand’s tastes – a brand which Vice is either angling for or is running a campaign with.
Writers we’ve talked to said that if an article is written about a specific company that is running a campaign on Vice, that particular article will have to go through at least two to three editors to screen for content that may potentially offend the company. Editors often pull or edit stories without consultation with the author the moment someone in the upper-management starts whining. Vice is, in short, a nightmare to work at for any aspiring journalists.
Anyone looking for an editorial job at Vice should ask themselves one question: how would I feel if my boss spent my whole year’s salary on a single bottle of wine?