Politico's Ben Smith becomes BuzzFeed editor


Ben Smith says at BuzzFeed, "I’ll be trying to help build the first true social news organization – that is, an outfit built on the understanding that readers increasingly get and share their news on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms." Dylan Byers, who recently moved to Politico from Adweek, will take over Politico's blog about media and politics.

Shortly before Byers moved to Politico, he wrote about how Twitter was challenging Politico. He noted that Smith, who was used to having a five-minute lead on his competitors, was worried about whether Twitter was stealing traffic from his blog:

Twitter, Smith says, is “sort of draining the life from the blog.”

“Where people were hitting refresh on my blog because they wanted to see what my latest newsbreak was, now they’ll just be on Twitter, and I’ll tweet it out and they’ll see it there,” he says. “What I’m doing right now is just incredibly old school. I might as well have ink all over my fingers and be setting type.” ...

The idea that Twitter could be a promotional tool, driving traffic back to his blog and to Politico, doesn’t reassure him. “I now have as many followers—40,000—as the number of unique visits I get on a slowish, average day on the blog,” he says. “At what point do I have more people reading my tweets than reading my blog? I don’t know.” (He actually has almost 50,000 Twitter followers, which may answer the question.)

Through the election, Smith will continue to write a weekly column for Politico. Politico Editor-in-Chief John Harris praised Smith and outlined the new arrangement in a staff memo:

When we launched this place, no person was more instrumental in helping shape our thinking about the intersection of news and technology than Ben Smith. His intuitive feel for the rapidly changing needs and demands of readers guided our initial burst into blogs--and his entrepreneurial passion has helped stir us ever since. …

Lucky for us, and for our readers, Ben wanted to test this new frontier, and keep his perch as a star writer for POLITICO. So starting early next year, Ben’s blog will disappear but he will write weekly for POLITICO on politics, with a special focus on the 2012 election. … This new organization can learn from Ben's knowledge--as one of the very first people we hired in December 2006--about how we launched POLITICO. And we think we can learn from Ben and his colleagues as they experiment at BuzzFeed, which has already proven adept at using social media and understanding how stories and videos go viral.”

Brian Stelter reports that Smith "will hire more than a dozen reporters right away" at BuzzFeed. "The idea," writes Nieman Lab's Megan Garber, "is to continue the type of work he’s been doing at Politico — reported blogging — and to combine that content with the social elements of Buzzfeed." Or as Melissa Bell put it in her Washington Post story, BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti "thinks there’s room for both LolCats and longform, in-depth journalism on his site."

The Atlantic Wire's Adam Clark Estes notes similarities between BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post, both of which Peretti co-founded. A key difference: BuzzFeed's starting point is the social Web, not Google.

Earlier: Buzzfeed Poaches Two from Gawker (Fishbowl DC) || Related: Smith's move means "there's no longer what was once so clearly a 'pyramid' of desirable media jobs, with the [New York] Times right on top like the eye on the pyramid (The Awl) How Buzzfeed got its biggest traffic day…ever (Nieman Journalism Lab) | Smith tells CJR he's "scoop-driven" and reflects on one of the times he had the wrong scoop (CJR) | How Politico has changed in five years (AJR)

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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