Shane Smith: Vice of Truth

portrait by Diggy Lloyd

Call him Citizen Shane, the media mogul of our time. Love it or hate it, we've all pawed through countless issues of Vice since Smith cofounded it two decades ago, glued to the sexy, scuzzy underworld it depicted. These days the focus has shifted from Do's & Don'ts to smart, hardcore, risky dispatches from Sudan and North Korea. And although HBO and Fox have climbed on board, Smith shows no signs of losing his affable, half-insane edge.

Personal OGs:
Tom Freston who built MTV created a revolution, established the world's biggest youth platform and then left when it became shitty. Kelly Slater is still killing it. He's the Michael Jordan of surfing.

Who has inspired you in your career?
Tom Freston for sure. John Reid who used to run Island/Def Jam and would let Suroosh and I sleep on his couch when we came to New York in the early days. Spike Jonze because he is the best at whatever he does, be it music videos, commercials, TV or feature films because he gives a shit. Ben Anderson who is in my estimation the best conflict journalist alive today. Errol Morris, Suroosh Alvi, Suroosh's mom and my mom.

What made you succeed when many other pioneers did not?
The answer is very simple: fear. I grew up with very little money, then left home at 14 so my fear of poverty pushes me. Poverty makes good discipline in that it forces you to work harder than everyone else.

What were you like as a child and teenager?
As a child I was happy as fuck. A bit of a momma's boy and an all-around nice kid. It all went to hell when I turned 13, got a mohawk and got into drugs, booze and general skullduggery. My teen years can be summed up as, "There but for the grace of God go I." Lucky to be here. If I hadn't grown up in Canada I probably wouldn't be.

What has your experience been like with your supporters?

 I used to say that fame is only good when you start out because you actually give a shit about what your peers think. When we first started in Montreal and our buddies at Le Bifteck (a punk bar where everyone hung out) loved us, it meant so much. It meant we weren't shitty. But now I think that when we try something new like VICE NEWS and get 100s of millions of video views right out of the gate it means something more. It means that we are doing this together. We feel a close kinship with our audience.

What do you consider to be the biggest success of your career thus far?

Working for myself for the last twenty years and doing whatever I want and getting to do it with my best friends. That is an unbelievable gift. To love your job is a blessing. The rest is all gravy.

You are a very creative person. How do you deal with the business side of your career?
I think that every creative person has to know about business; otherwise you leave yourself open to being exploited by lawyers, managers, agents and various other sundry MBAs. No one should let other people drive their brand, be it personal or professional. You have to take responsibility for how it's run or, in my experience, it will be run incorrectly. 

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