In a talk which was originally titled ‘How Not To Make Crap’ before being sanitised to ‘Making Content We Care About’, Shane Smith joined filmmaker Spike Jonze and TIME’s Joel Stein to talk all things VICE.
VICE makes no bones about the fact that some of its journalists take drugs — not in an intentionally provocative way, but simply as a fact of modern life. “[Brands] won’t touch weed because they think its controversial,” says Smith, “but to a whole generation it’s not controversial at all. They know it’s going to be legal.”
When journalists are on the ground, surrounded by conflict, Smith thinks it is ridiculous to not expect their emotions to colour their work: “They’re not the voice of God, they’re human beings.”
Smith and Jonze revealed in their panel that they actually have sleepovers, so that they can continue talking and sharing ideas right up until the moment that they fall asleep.
“We like failing,” says Smith. Whereas in mainstream media, production via executives can feel like death by a thousand cuts, Viceland just goes ahead and makes stuff. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, they move on.
Smith is constantly asked for the secrets of VICE’s success, and all he has to say is that it’s crucial to invest in youth: “Every decade or so we hand over the company to the interns.”
Part of VICE’s success is due to its innate understanding of its core audience. “People say millennials are a hard audience to reach, but they’re the largest media consumers in history,” says Smith. “If you’re afraid of their language, you’re not going to reach them.”