Serbia is the first former Yugoslav country to have opened a Vice.com department. Located above the headquarters of the commercial Prva TV, which mainly airs reality series, Vice wants to change the Serbian media landscape with stories about taboos and the unknown.
By Tomas van der Heijden
Belgrade, Serbia – Four months ago Daniel Bukumirovic, the editor-in-chief, and a group of young writers and reporters installed themselves in an office far afield Belgrade’s city centre, all the way in Novi Beograd, a part of town at the other side of the Sava River built during the communist era. Close to the highway, on a small office area, it’s not exactly the spot where you’d expect a contemporary Vice office, but the inside leaves nothing to the imagination.
A poster of an old camera wrapped around with meat decorates the wall. In the middle of the newsroom stands a big bird’s cage stuffed with pillows. The function: unknown. With a poster of the play The Great White Hope, a giant furry beanbag, Vice stickers, and an odd fluffy lamp, the space resembles an adolescent’s room. And that’s not weird at all, considering that the target audience mainly consists of twenty-year-olds.
Vice is worldwide known as a website focused on arts, culture and news topics. By often provokingly reporting on the strange and unfamiliar, they cover topics with a very young target audience in mind.
“Serbia really needed Vice, so when the opportunity arose a few months ago, I immediately said yes”, Bukomirovic explains. Although Serbia’s media environment has become highly politicized under the ruling of prime minister Vucic, who indirectly controls media outlets and shouts at journalists during press conferences, it isn’t Vice’s goal to write critical stories about politics.
“We’re a completely independent outlet, but we’re very simply not interested in daily politics. It’s not something for Vice to write about that.” Although Vice isn’t very likable from a government sense of view, they haven’t experienced any incidents with them so far. “Vice’s goal is to make stories our young target audience wants to read and cannot find elsewhere in Serbia’s unilateral media offer. We want to give people neglected by society a chance to talk about their problems.”
Serbia’s culture is full of taboos. “Gays, lesbian transgenders, drugs, sex: they’re all unmentionable, you know. Unlike other media, we write about those subjects, with our fearless reporters who understand their generation.” Bukumirovic hopes that Vice will change the mind set of young Serbs, making them aware of the upsides of differences. “In the end, I hope we make the young asking questions we can answer,” he proudly sets out.
A few weeks ago Vice published a documentary about the Serbian army’s first transgender officer, generating a lot of comments on their social media channels. “Of course there’s an editorial policy, and we apply the ethics of journalism in our work everyday, but there’s also a lot of freedom to make whatever you want.”
The youngest reporters
Stefan Veselinovic (23), the team’s youngest journalist, is writing about the lack of quality weed in Belgrade. He’s ambitious and wants to keep growing in what he’s doing. With his small beard and earring he looks exactly like the audience you’d expect Vice is writing for.
“With time I want to dig deeper in corruption and crime, Serbia’s two biggest problems. I’m really into that stuff,” he tells Euroviews. He has done that before, for another website, but at Vice he can elaborate on all the subjects young people want to know more about, in both serious and funny ways.
“I’ll first go with the flow and write about whatever feels good. The stories I’m telling about drugs are important too, breaking-down the absolute taboo surrounding it.” People on Facebook have called Veselinovic a foreign mercenary, spy, and traitor, because some think his stories are too provocative, not fitting the country’s culture. “But I don’t care.”
Working on her laptop, Petra Zivic (24) sits opposite of Veselinovic. She’s typing, staring at her screen. It’s the last working day before Easter, and deadlines need to be met. “Serbia is very closed and traditional. I’m proud of what Vice is doing.” Zivic hopes to write about ordinary people who are negatively affected by politics. “Someone symbolizing a bigger story.”
Contemplating on how the country is lacking provoking media, both reporters see a bright future for Vice in Serbia.
Every Friday the outlet airs an hour of television on the channel of Prva TV, which is becoming increasingly popular. Bukomirovic: “Last week we had around 730 thousand viewers. That number will keep growing. On a population of around 8 million people, that’s a great result. Vice was ranked number six on popularity that day.” Having in mind that they have just started, that’s impressive. “We have days that we have over 100 thousand unique visitors on the website. Now let’s persevere.”