Media in the new age: VICE Associate Producer alumnus Aaron Barksdale ’13 discusses career path, gives advice to students pursuing career in media during Global Film Festival workshop

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CLAIRE HOGAN / THE FLAT HAT

As part of the the College of William and Mary’s Global Film Festival, Aaron Barksdale ’13, an associate producer at VICE Media, hosted a workshop titled “A Career in Digital Media Production.” Barksdale called in from his apartment in Brooklyn, New York to talk about production tools, pitching video ideas and producing news in the age of social media.

The workshop started with a quick introduction by Barksdale, where he chronicled his life between graduation and his job at VICE.

“I majored in English and I minored in art and art history, so my background actually wasn’t in video production, nor was it in journalism,” Barksdale said. “At the time, those weren’t things that William and Mary offered as potential majors, so for me, finding this industry and finding this work actually was not a linear path, but more of a winding journey.”

After graduation, Barksdale worked as a fellow for the Huffington Post before becoming a freelance writer and producer. Eventually, Barksdale joined VICE Media on the recommendation of a friend, working his way up to his current role as an associate producer.

“One thing that I would always recommend is hard work, dedication, perseverance and looking for opportunities where they exist, and connecting with the people who can provide you a chance to get your foot in the door so that you can eventually have a seat at the table,” Barksdale said.

As a primarily digital media company, VICE often publishes unorthodox stories, a trait which Barksdale admired.

“We’re telling stories that push boundaries, defy conventions and break the rules for traditional journalism,” Barksdale said. “Essentially, the type of stories that you’re going to see at VICE are the stories you won’t see anywhere else.”

Barksdale also talked about the unique qualities of VICE Media’s audience.

“It’s unlike working anywhere else,” Barksdale said. “I would say that what sets VICE apart from other media companies is that we’re specifically a youth media company, so we’re targeting people who are somewhere within the ages of 18 to 24. The idea is always to engage younger audiences, because you want to make sure that your media company is able to sustain an audience that will last over a longer period of time. You want people to grow with your brand, rather than grow out of it.”

For some students like Marriya Schwarz ’20, Barksdale’s relative youth and work at a youth-focused media company was a plus.

“I think it was interesting to have someone from the perspective of this changing environment, and he seemed to have gotten in more recently in the switches between standard media and digital media,” Schwarz said. “I think it was really important to get more of a current take on how the industry is, rather than traditional cable television and stuff like that.”

In his wide-ranging discussion, Barksdale emphasized the differences between social media platforms, gave advice on pitching ideas and answered student questions about the media industry.

For Brooke Rees ’20, a film and media studies and psychology double major, Barksdale’s presentation followed in a long line of advice about the media industry.

“I’ve been to a lot of these, and I was also in the DC Summer Institute in News and New Media, so I’ve had probably over 50 people in the industry give me great advice,” Rees said.

Rees said that Barksdale’s specificity in detailing his day-to-day work life made him stand out as a presenter.

“I really liked how he gave a specific industry perspective from VICE; I’ve actually talked to someone before that also worked at VICE who went to William and Mary, but he just seemed very open about the specifics in the day-to-day process, which I feel like is something we don’t always get,” Rees said.

At the end of the workshop, students got to put what they learned into practice, with a series of 90-second pitches for an original video idea. Among them a “Fear Factor”-style show with celebrity contestants, a cooking show for people who don’t cook and a drag queen talk show. Barksdale then offered pieces of advice for the pitches, relying on his years of experience in the digital media world.

In the room full of students, some were film and media studies majors, some had experience with school publications and some were completely new to media and production. They did have one thing in common, though: a love of digital media.

“For me, I really like the idea of digital media because media is constantly changing,” Schwarz said. “I think it’s something that’s very current and it’s also something with a lot of possibilities, like people are writing things for Snapchat and Instagram, which, a few years ago, I would have not believed that at all. Now there are just so many opportunities.”