Isobel Yeung and Gianna Toboni are the most prolific correspondents on the news magazine show, “Vice,” on HBO.
They are young, razor-sharp journalists chasing big stories across the globe, often in chaotic and dangerous places few Western reporters will go. They’re brave, but not braggadocious, and it’s hard to look away from their compelling work.
Toboni and Yeung spoke with The Frame recently about the new season of their show. It’s produced by Vice Media and could be considered HBO’s version of "60 Minutes."
On what separates Vice Media from other news outlets:
TOBONI: One thing that's really exciting for both Isobel and I is that we get to go to the center of where these big news stories are unfolding. We're getting to walk through villages and meet people on the fly and, for us, we feel like that's the most genuine way to learn what's happening in different parts of the world. Isobel's been traveling quite a bit and I just got back from Somalia where we were in different parts of the country looking into the crisis there. There's a drought and they're on the brink of famine. That's one of the things we did. We walked into the villages and the camps and talked to people to learn what was happening there.
YEUNG: I think what our show brings to that spectrum of journalism at the moment is showing these stories in an immersive and long-form style where you're able to diversify the type of content, and to show people a situation that other people are in — both within the country and around the world — to try and understand that and to empathize with people. We do feel like we're on a mission to show this content in an entertaining and engaging way.
On being women correspondents on an outlet with a hyper-masculine reputation:
YEUNG: I think that Vice has — or had — a reputation, which was rather bro-y and male testosterone-y. I think that to our executive's credit, and to [founder Shane Smith's] credit, they've done a really great job at diversifying. Not just including women, but including people from all different walks of life.
On Isobel's interview with an Afghan lawmaker who threatened her:
YEUNG: That was a particularly rough experience because I didn't realize at the time actually that "to take your nose off," which is what he threatened to do, actually means to give you to a man to rape you.
I don't know if that particular politician, Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, would have granted an interview if I had been a man. Sometimes it helps because I think that in those sorts of situations, they underestimate you because you are a woman. They don't expect you to ask the tough questions. They don't expect you to hold them accountable.
On the benefits and hurdles of being a woman reporting around the globe:
TOBONI: It's often all-male crews that we're traveling with and so sometimes you walk into situations where you have to stop for a second and remember that you are not the same as your colleagues. You are the same as them in every other way, but some of the risks are different when you're a woman, just inherently. Like Isobel said, it can be beneficial to be a woman in those situations.
YEUNG: We talk about it quite a lot, as well in terms of going into those situations and feeling like your vulnerabilities can often be worn as credit to yourself and as a form of allowing someone to open up to you. And if you're in a dangerous position, getting beneath that bang bang and getting to a story that really tells of the humanity and the situation that real people are going through. I feel like sometimes opening yourself up to those vulnerabilities allows you additional access.
On the jokes made about Vice's dangerous reporting practices and hipster aesthetic:
TOBONI: Thank you so much for bringing this up. I want people to know that we crack up about this stuff probably more than others do. I think we find ourselves in the field parodying ourselves. I think the old Vice sometimes went into areas ill-prepared and taking on risks that maybe they weren't fully prepared for. Isobel and I are very frank with each other and our crews and our management about what our concerns are with the places that we're going and to make sure that we're fully prepared and have the best security and are really understanding the places and the culture that we're going to. I think it's a new company now and I encourage more parodies, but I think we've turned a page thankfully.