Ben Smith of BuzzFeed Named New York Times Media Columnist

Ben Smith of BuzzFeed Named New York Times Media Columnist


Ben Smith, the editor in chief of BuzzFeed, who built a hard-hitting news operation within a digital media organization better known for clickbait and listicles, will be The New York Times’s next media columnist.

Mr. Smith will leave the digital news outlet to replace Jim Rutenberg, who recently became a writer at large at The Times, splitting duties between the politics desk and The Times Magazine. Before Mr. Rutenberg, the columnist position was held for years by David Carr, the prolific media columnist who died in 2015.

An announcement on Tuesday — signed by Dean Baquet, the executive editor; Joe Kahn, the managing editor; and Ellen Pollock, the business editor — called Mr. Smith “a relentless innovator who helped change the shape of modern journalism.” He is expected to start on March 2.

“Ben not only understands the seismic changes remaking media, he has lived them — and in some cases, led them,” the editors said.

BuzzFeed hired Mr. Smith in 2012 as editor in chief to help start its news division, BuzzFeed News.

Some investors questioned the viability of a news operation, which might struggle to bring in enough revenue to outpace its costs. Last year, BuzzFeed laid off about 15 percent of its work force — around 200 employees — in several departments, including the news division.

It is not clear how Mr. Smith’s imminent departure may affect the future of BuzzFeed News.

In a note sent to BuzzFeed’s staff on Tuesday, Mr. Smith said, “this place is built to last.”

“I fully expect you will keep on breaking news, telling the stories others won’t in ways they haven’t thought of, and doing the hard work that’s made us who we are,” he said.

He added, “I’ve been here for eight years and (as I’m sure many of you have picked up) am eager for a spell of writing and reporting and thinking.”

Jonah Peretti, the chief executive of BuzzFeed who helped found it in 2006 and has championed the news operation, said in a note to its staff on Tuesday that Mr. Smith helped grow BuzzFeed from “a digital news start-up to a world-class, global news organization in less than a decade.”

“With other news organizations existing for over a century, it is hard to express how incredible an accomplishment this is,” Mr. Peretti said.

BuzzFeed News was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in international reporting in 2018 for its work investigating operatives with apparent ties to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia engaging in targeted killings in England and the United States. In 2017, Chris Hamby, a reporter at BuzzFeed News, was a finalist for the Pulitzer in international reporting for an article about how multinational corporations undermined environmental laws.

But in January 2017, Mr. Smith had to defend BuzzFeed News after he was the first editor to publish an unverified dossier containing salacious reports about President Trump compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr. Smith argued that it was worthy of release in part because its contents had been shared with Mr. Trump and others “at the highest levels of the U.S. government.” Providing that level of transparency, he argued, was “how we see the job of reporters in 2017.”

Many of the dossier’s more lurid claims proved false or unprovable.

Mr. Smith was hired by BuzzFeed from Politico, where he had been a senior political writer since 2007. He had previously been a reporter at The New York Sun and The New York Observer. He was also a political columnist at The New York Daily News.



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