Vice Media, which is still playing footsie with the world's media conglomerates in search of a huge investment, is a global company. We've heard tons of complaints about low pay from their workers in the U.S. Employees in London say it's just as bad there.
After our story in May about low wages, poor working conditions, and kowtowing to advertisers at Vice Media, the UK magazine Private Eye ran a short blurb (inset) noting that conditions at Vice's London office were similar—low salaries in return for "phenomenal hours," while a handful of people at the very top got rich. That's exactly what multiple former Vice UK staffers told us, too.
"You should know everything in the US VICE office happens in the UK one," one employee who left Vice UK recently wrote to us. This is, perhaps, not a surprise, but it's worth putting it on the record—particularly at a time when Vice boss Shane Smith is reportedly negotiating a deal that would value his company at many billions of dollars.
The complaints of Vice employees across the pond echoed those of Vice employees here: shitty pay, stressful work, and a "boy's club" atmosphere that's not so fun if you're not one of the boys. One person who worked at Vice UK in digital marketing and left just last fall says she was paid £12K (about $20K) per year. Another person, to illustrate how Vice UK treated freelancers, forwarded us an email that the company sent out to potential freelance photographers asking for riot photos (for no pay) and noting, "It's to be noted that this day could be particularly violent so bringing along a crash helmet won't be a bad idea." Another person, who spent several years toiling at Vice's London office and left in 2012 at a salary of £23K, told us "One Christmas party my bonus was a bag of coke – I don't do drugs. Another Christmas bonus I got a Vice ring. Exactly what you want when you can barely buy any presents and you hate the company you work for!"
Finally, we leave you with some thoughts from a business-side Vice UK employee who left the company at the end of last year.
I started on nothing, 3 months zero pay. I had left a paying job to do the internship, and was by no means fresh out of uni.
3 months later, after the reneging on the promise of a full paid job, I got travel paid for (zone 1-6) and £5 for lunch. (this is now standard for all internships)
I once had to cover the front desk (whilst trying to meet a bunch of deadlines and being totally stacked - i didn't take lunch for a year and a half) and had the pleasure of one employee discussing with a contractor the possibility / cost of putting in three flat screens above the desk to the tune of £14k. It was like, what ? but you can't pay me at all?
After 6 months then, I was given £18,000 starting salary (£1266 a month after tax - rent is 650, bills 150, so you get the point, living in London isn't cheap) - and this was a pittance, considering the sheer amount of work i was doing. This was also pretty good for VICE - mainly because of the volume of work and my previous experience, I was 'lucky' to get this. Most starting salaries are £13-15.5K...
To put it in to context, in my current job I earn over £7k more than my previous role, and this role isn't a big step up at all, it's actually more a step sideways, I just had to get out of there. I was offered a job £16K more than my VICE salary to do the exact same job, the company just wasn't a good fit. It's a joke.
The problem is that no one makes any money and you're basically letting some fat cat who now lives in NY get rich off our youth, sweat, tears, ideas, connections, experience, innovation and energy for nothing. We all really struggled to make ends meet and we spent our lives at weekly free parties either for brands or for issue launches or whatever because there was no where else you could afford to go. but then it was cool to be at a VICE party, so you never felt cheated. So you ended up only spending time with VICE people, because they're the only other people who were working as hard as you and had so little! But VICE people, are not nice people. Ok, there are some exceptions, but to survive there you have to be cutthroat, a liar, totally out for yourself, and ready to reinvent yourself at a moments notice.
You're asked to pull in so many favours - I had an ex boyfriend who was an amazing photographer. Because of how savage the profit margins are - we had to make over half profit on every budget (now it's a lot more) we had to ask our friends and lovers to do so much for free. He did so much just to help me. They didn't care that you were really struggling to manage a project or deliver because of the financial restrictions, you were just told to make it work. The pressure was personal - you didn't succeed, you fucked up? you were fired. So many people were fired so many people 'asked to leave'...
People think VICE has this magical formula, they don't. They just overcharge brands because they say they have the ear of the youth, charge for shoots and series like content agencies / ad agencies but actually shoot on a shoestring, pocketing the profit and tossing some pennies towards the people who have actually made it all happen...
They can say all they like about journalism salaries, yes these tend to be lower-paid jobs (not that this is ok) but when you're working in the commercial arm of a business which could be any other comms agency and you're actively aware of how much your work is bringing in because you're managing budgets and asked to make huge profits and you're still paid peanuts because they "can't afford it?" that's when you begin to question a company's integrity.
The other thing they said was that it was old, disgruntled employees giving you tips. I left in December last year, another of my friends who wrote to you left in October, another November. The redundancies I referred to were in July/August last year. So it's BS.
[Image by Jim Cooke. You can reach the author of this post at Hamilton@Gawker.com]