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BuzzFeed gets Ben Smith and soon, original reporting

Image of the BuzzFeed logo

Source: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

BuzzFeed has hired Ben Smith away from Politico and is apparently using the hire as an opportunity to launch BuzzFeed in a somewhat-new direction as a “social news organization.” Business Insider’s Jay Yarrow pointed out that that sounds an awful lot like Huffington Post 2, and after reading Yarrow’s IM exchange with BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti… it still sounds an awful lot like Huffington Post 2.

From what Peretti says, nothing about BuzzFeed is changing per se, it’s just getting a Smith-led newsroom tacked onto it. Scott Lamb will continue as the site’s managing editor and Smith will “lead the editorial team… hire talented reporters, launch new content sections, and build a newsroom.”

Anyway, the real hook for how Ben Smith changes BuzzFeed, and how BuzzFeed changes for the better is this series of IM’s from Peretti:

Social is what makes stories “go”

Part of it is being incredibly engaged in the world

Reporters contacting me about Ben have been saying “on twitter someone says X, what is your reaction?” In a way this proves our thesis.

There is also a way of packaging, presenting, and promoting content that works for social sites

Making content people are proud to share

not click baiting but making something that people will read and want to give to their friends

Since my background is as a reporter, it’s natural for me to be skeptical of any notion that BuzzFeed, now with 100% more Ben Smith will be a journalism game-changer, but Ben Smith is definitely a game-changer within the confines of BuzzFeed itself. It’s also a gamble anytime a company says, “We’re going to make a fundamental change and it’s all going to be based around this one guy.” I don’t know if that’s what’s happening here — BuzzFeed may have been laying plans to build a newsroom for months and Ben Smith just happened to play into that — but Smith is being asked to “build (the) newsroom,” in Peretti’s words, which makes him pretty much the guy with regard to this new venture.

All in all, I love BuzzFeed, and I read Smith’s columns when I notice an interesting headline attached to them on Twitter, so despite my skepticism, I’m looking at this as a “one good thing plus another” type of a deal. Is there any huge downside, other than if Smith gets cold feet, BuzzFeed’s newsroom is kind of in limbo?

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