404: VICE Not Found

Photo by Sharon Attia

The first half of 2023 saw a series of serious blows to digital media ventures: Buzzfeed News shuttered, National Geographic laid off all staff writers, internet-breaking PAPER folded and VICE, once the enfant terrible of digital media, filed for bankruptcy (UPDATE: Now shuttered in all but name!). Though news outlets blamed the “digital media market” and sluggish ad dollars, executives still got their $100k+ bonuses while staffers lost their paychecks.

But now former VICE senior staff writer Joseph Cox sees opportunity in the chaos: along with colleagues Jason Koebler, Emanuel Maiberg and Samantha Cole, they’ve left the VICE technology vertical Motherboard to form 404 Media, an independent tech news web-site. “We wanted to see if we could create a new media outlet that wasn’t burdened by the overhead and bizarre spending [like offices] that so many huge legacy outlets have to deal with,” Sam Cole tells me. “We liked the idea of being directly in conversation with our readers; if people like what they read, and want us to continue doing the work, they can help keep us afloat by subscribing.”

Along with exclusive content and ad-free viewing, 404 attracts subscribers by delivering specialized journalistic work. Their mission is “tech but for humans,” as Cole summarizes it. They investigate the experiences of the public in relation to cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI), consumer rights and privacy, among other issues. Referencing the 404 article on how Harry Styles fans may have been scammed by AI music, Cole says, “Everyone knows AI-generated music is a problem, but here it is destroying a very specific fandom from the inside out.”

The focus isn’t on corporations and industries, but individuals in a community. The article also includes accessible tips on how to differentiate between human-generated and AI-generated music, building bridges in understanding new technology. Corporate media breeds skepticism, and while criticism is justified, the distrust in journalism as a practice is dangerous stuff. Doubly-so for tech reporters, on the frontline of our dystopian-now, digital malfeasances and online haters. Independent ventures funded directly by readers are, at least theoretically, free from big money meddling.

This, in turn, can hopefully lead to rebuilding trust between readers, writer and publication. As an example, Cole was the first to report on pornographic deepfakes in a 2018 VICE article, where celebrity and civilian alike could wake up to find their faces on PornHub. Her track record, and the diligence of her peers at 404 web-site not only establishes credibility — but also highlights the importance of human-centered tech journalism. I don’t care about all the crypto money billionaires are gaining and/or losing. With tech developing every day, I want to know what the hell is going to happen next in my life.

You can find 404 Media at www.404media.co