Conventions won’t feel like infomercials in collaborative coverage from NY Times and BuzzFeed

The New York Times and BuzzFeed announced today that they’ll be collaborating on video coverage of the 2012 conventions.

Jim Roberts, assistant managing editor of the Times, thought of the idea shortly after talking with BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith at a Times social media panel. Throughout the past several months, Roberts has started following BuzzFeed reporters on Twitter and has admired what they’ve done from afar.

“I think they have really good ears, and that they know where the social conversation is going,” Roberts said in a phone interview. “I also think they’re good at understanding what the audience is interested in. I hope that they can help inform what we do.”

The videos will include segments with Smith, as well as other BuzzFeed staffers covering politics. BuzzFeed and the Times will also collaborate on segments for TimesCast Politics, a twice-weekly live show that launched last month.

Collaborating with a legacy news organization lends fresh legitimacy to BuzzFeed, a site that has been gaining attention for hiring Web-savvy journalists and publishing more serious news coverage than it once did.

Smith said he’s “thrilled and honored” to collaborate with an organization that “values online reporting.” Smith left Politico to join BuzzFeed in January of this year. At the time, he said, “I’ll be trying to help build the first true social news organization.”

The convention videos, which will appear on both sites, could turn out to be good examples of how social media can inform quality journalism.

“The way journalism works on social is that really high quality content tends to succeed, while mediocre and aggregated content that might have done well in a search-dominated era fails — which is I think good for both the Times and BuzzFeed,” Smith said in a phone interview.

Too often, he said, conventions feel like three-day-long infomercials. The videos are meant to provide people with a different style of convention coverage that’s more conversational and interactive.

“I think these events where people are in front of their televisions are just made for an alternative live channel where people can get a very smart, honest conversation, and talk back on Twitter,” Smith said in a phone interview. “The social conversation around the conventions is going to be huge.”

Smith would like to create a hashtag that people can use to pose political-related questions. The chatter on Twitter, he said, will give BuzzFeed and the Times a better sense of what topics and ideas they should address in the videos.

Roberts hopes the collaboration will ultimately help strengthen the Times’ experimentation with video.

“This was really about looking for someone who might be able to contribute some energy and insight to what, for us, is a new experience doing live video,” Roberts said. “There’s a lot we have to learn.”

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