Shane Smith is the founder and CEO of VICE, an international youth multimedia company. Smith was born in Ottawa, Canada in 1969 and graduated Carleton University with a degree in English literature and political science. Smith launched VICE in 1994 as a magazine with two cofounders. Since 1994, VICE has grown and diversified into a global network of digital media brands that cover topics such as news, music, technology, sports and fashion. Smith is also the executive producer and host of HBO’s news series ‘VICE’. An award winning journalist, Smith has travelled to and reported from the world’s most challenging places, including Liberia, North Korea and Afghanistan (2017, under “Biography”).
As an aspiring journalist, Shane Smith is an important role model to learn from because of significant contributions to globalised media. His unconventional approach to reporting and interviewing around the world is edgy and exciting, appealing especially to the youth. He transformed a small magazine startup into a globalised alternative media conglomerate, and has used technology and innovation to inform audiences around the world of issues that mainstream media do not cover. I am passionate about technology, creative innovation, and working to improve how knowledge is communicated. Therefore, as an individual who has merged journalism and technology in an innovative way in order to report on global issues, Shane Smith is an influence for my future as a journalist.
Shane Smith’s professional career has been significantly influenced by the trends of media convergence. Media convergence refers to the merging of boundaries between different elements of the media system, and interaction between different elements of media systems (Turrow 2009, 99). The access the internet gives us to content from different types of media is part of a process called convergence. Convergence takes place when content that has traditionally been confined to one medium appears on multiple media channels (Turrow, 2009, 99-102). As VICE was originally a magazine, Smith’s articles were confined to print medium. However, Smith has taken advantage of the increase in digitalised media, using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to distribute content. VICE also has partnerships with other media and technology companies, such as Intel and HBO, putting Smith at the forefront of media and technology convergence (2017, under “Biography”).
Shane Smith’s career has been driven not only by media convergence, but by globalisation as well. Media globalisation is defined as the increase in transmission of media content across international boundaries (Flew 2005, 66; Reese 2010, 344). As an executive of a globalised media conglomerate, Smith produces content that is available worldwide. He has worked in nearly every continent, owns media in more than 50 countries worldwide, and has reported from inside some of the world’s most dangerous places, all of which are the direct effect of media globalisation (2017, under “Biography”). VICE media is a perfect example of the effect that media globalisation has had on journalism, with Shane Smith being a perfect example of a journalist who has overcome the adversities of a forever changing media landscape.
Fourth estate is the belief that the central role of journalism, and the media in general, is to act as a watchdog on behalf of society, and monitor the activities of powerful institutions. The fourth estate refers to journalisms ability to keep check on government, business, and important social institutions, such as the education system, the police and the courts. According to Hampton, “The great contribution of the ‘Fourth Estate’ ideal may well be that it provides a vision to which journalists often aspire, and an obligation that is met frequently enough to force governments and corporations at least to consider the public response of their actions” (The fourth estate ideal in journalism history, 2009). In YouTube video entitled “#FreeRasool: Shane Smith and VICE Media Call For Journalist's Release”, Smith called for a VICE journalist detained in Turkey to be let go, declaring that, "the very existence of democracy relies on a free and thriving fourth estate”. Smith has contributed to the fourth estate by reporting on corrupt governments and abuses of power by officials around the world. An example of this contribution includes a VICE HBO episode in which Smith interviews Barack Obama, and accompanies him to a federal prison in Oklahoma in order to shed light on the current state of the criminal justice system in America. Furthermore, Smith, and VICE Media in general, defend the rights of citizens, and give audiences around the world the necessary information to draw conclusions on who should be responsible to account for these injustices. Smith has reported on the injustices of citizens from South Sudan, to Afghanistan, to refugees fleeing war torn Syria.
Similar to the fourth estate, the public sphere is a fundamental concept when attempting to understand the relationship between media and democracy. The concept of the public sphere is derived from the ancient Greek concept of the market place, where men of importance would gather to discuss issues of importance. Now the public sphere is argued to exist primarily in the media as a metaphor where people can come together equally to understand and contribute to real-world issues (Alan 2005, 2-5). Shane Smith as a journalist, and VICE as a media conglomerate, are powerful contributors to the public sphere in modern society. The public sphere is argued to exist as a metaphor in which individuals can exchange ideas and debate issues in order to reach logical conclusions about matters of importance. It is therefore imperative that these platforms are free from social distinction and prejudice.
Smith created VICE as a media company that reports on both sides of a story, not necessarily free from objectivity, but instead written in way that sheds light on opposing ideas. In an interview with ET Tech, Smith recognised that as journalists, “we are subjective, and we go in and tell both sides of the story, letting the viewer decide for themselves.” Smith, with the creation of VICE, has contributed significantly to public life by designing a worldwide platform that report on, and publishes rational and open-minded articles, thus creating discussion on important issues. The collusion of mainstream media and governments means that rationality and open-mindedness are often not applied to current journalism (Alan 2005, 10). Smith has reported on issues around the world that mainstream media generally doesn’t consider, such as North Korean Labour Camps and cannibal warlords in Liberia. Smith has even infiltrated and reported on the Islamic State, therefore providing worldwide audiences with a look inside issues that are either unknown, or hardly understood.
Both the public sphere and fourth estate tap into the relationship between governments and individuals in society, and the value of public discussion of issues in a democracy (Alan 2005, 3). It could be argued that Shane Smith has degraded the integrity of the public sphere and fourth estate by partnering with multinationals such as Rupert Murdoch, who in 2014 bought a 5% stake in the company. Partnerships such as this may affect the credibility of content published due to political bias. However, Smith has quashed any claims of conservative bias, and continues to report in a way that benefits the public sphere and fourth estate, stating that VICE ‘maintains control’ (2014 under paragraph 6).
Overall, Shane Smith has had an incredibly successful career. He has travelled the world, shared his work globally, and created VICE, a multinational media company that reports news differently to most others. Additionally, Smith has a dealt with the adversities brought on by the changing media landscape in a positive way. He has used media convergence and globalisation to his benefit in order to report on issues from around the world, then publish the subsequent articles and video around the world.
The media landscape is constantly changing, therefore it is important that as an aspiring journalist, I use media convergence and globalisation to my advantage. I intend to take advantage of social and digital media in order to create content that is not only informative, but available across a range of platforms. Furthermore, it is imperative that I contribute significantly to the fourth estate and public sphere by presenting both sides to every story, working to hold people with power to account, and defend the rights of people around the world.
McKee, Alan. 2005.The Public Sphere: An introduction. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.
Flew, Terry. 2007. Understanding Global Media. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Isabel Evans ‘Shane Smith IMDb’ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2448288/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm Accessed 5 May, 2017.
Turow, Joseph. 2009. Media Today: An Introduction to Mass Communication. New York: Routledge.
Calcutt, Andrew and Hammond, Phillip. 2011. Journalism Studies: A Critical Introduction. Hoboken: Routledge.
Hampton, M. 2009. “The fourth estate ideal in journalism history.” In Allen, Stuart. 2009. The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism. Hoboken: Routledge.
VICE News. 2009. " #FreeRasool: Shane Smith and VICE Media Call For Journalist's Release" YouTube video, posted Oct 21 2015. Accessed 5 May, 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=Gh9cju-8b4k
Reese, Stephen. 2010. “Journalism and Globalization.” Sociology Compass 4 (6): 344-353.
Heather Saul ‘Vice Media sells 5% stake to Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox’ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/vice-media-sells-5-stake-to-rupert-murdochs-21st-century-fox-8772501.html Accessed 5 May, 2017.