Ben Smith, the founding editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed News, is leaving the website eight years after helping to launch its US newsroom.
Smith told staff yesterday he is “eager for a spell of writing and reporting and thinking” as he revealed he will start as a media columnist at the News York Times on 2 March.
He said he is leaving Buzzfeed in a “strong position” under chief executive, Jonah Peretti, who “fundamentally believes in news and has proven again and again that he’ll stand up for the toughest stories, about anyone, and colleagues across the organisation who share that view”.
Peretti hired Smith from his role as a reporter at Politico in December 2011 after deciding the website should begin creating its own journalism.
In his message to staff, Smith said: It’s been the privilege of my life to do this job, in its many iterations, for more than eight years.
“The notion that Buzzfeed could play a major role in shaping global news, and the news business – from tweets to streaming shows – sounded crazy in 2012. Now it’s just a fact, the product, most of all, of your hard work, creativity, aggressiveness, and judgement.
“I could endlessly list all the memorable stories and projects and fights and crazy moments that we’ve lived through together. I’ll never stop bragging, nor should you, about how far, far ahead we’ve been on story after story, in the US and around the world – from marriage equality to misinformation, race and incarceration to sexual assault; Russia to Trump.”
New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, managing editor Joe Kahn, and business editor Ellen Pollock called Smith a “relentless innovator who helped change the shape of modern journalism” in announcing his appointment yesterday.
“Ben not only understands the seismic changes remaking media, he has lived them – and in some cases, led them,” they said.
In his own email to staff, Peretti said he was “sad” to leave Smith as a “partner and collaborator” but that he is “happy he is going back to his first love” of writing and reporting.
He said: “Ben built a team and created a culture that will allow Buzzfeed News to thrive into the future.
“Young people know Buzzfeed News is fighting for them. Our audience can tell we are different from the traditional news companies, we understand the internet, we speak their language, we break the big stories that matter to them, we find the original documents, share the receipts, and build trust through transparency.
“We recognise that news organisations are no longer gatekeepers deciding what the public gets to know – we exist to make sure they know as much as possible, always.”
Buzzfeed News drew intense media criticism in January 2017 after it published the full “dirty dossier” that included lurid allegations about Donald Trump, although it reported that the files included “unverified and potentially unverifiable allegations”.
Buzzfeed staff have faced cuts in recent years, with the newsrooms among those affected by a 15 per cent slash to the global workforce in early 2019 which halved the UK newsroom and followed redundancies a year earlier.
But Peretti said the “best way to honour” Smith would be to “continue our important work, to make sure our best work is still ahead of us”.
Picture: Reuters/Gus Ruelas