Shane Smith, who has just been named Cannes Lions media person of the year 2016, embodies Vice’s commitment to edgy, immersive journalism.
As co-founder of the company, he worked as a journalist on its original product – a print magazine – but has continued to chase down stories in his role as CEO of an expanding multimedia business. He has just returned from a reporting trip to Iran during which he gained access to the country’s nuclear reactors.
This is typical for Smith, who has reported from some of the world’s most dangerous locations. In recent years his trips have included North Korea, Crimea during the Russia-Ukraine conflict and Libya during the uprising to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi.
Smith insists that despite these challenging assignments, he is not being “needlessly adrenaline-junkie or danger-mongering”. Instead, he says it is important for him to set an example to his employees.
“Too many content companies are run by lawyers or [business graduates] who have come at it through media acquisitions and banking,” he says. “It’s important that I put my money where my mouth is, but also that my journalists and producers see that I understand their frustrations and what they go through.”
Smith reveals Vice is in talks with the Committee to Protect Journalists in the US, following two cases in the past two years in which its journalists were kidnapped in Turkey and Ukraine. He adds, however, that the joy of reporting continues to spur him and his journalists on.
“You only live once and it’s fun – it’s why I got into the business and I don’t want to spend my time in boardrooms with lawyers and accountants.I would rather be out in the field with my crew, shooting.”