BuzzFeed the site best known for offbeat stories (“what cats want for Christmas”), gossip and viral videos has hired a star reporter from US politics site, Politico.com, with the aim of building what is being described as the “first real social news organization”.
Ben Smith, who was a senior political writer at Politico.com, will be editor-in-chief at BuzzFeed and will be responsible for building a news organisation that will produce original content and have a focus on how best to share this via the social web.
Smith will join BuzzFeed’s co-founder Jonah Peretti who also co-founded The Huffington Post, which has led some pundits to say that he is attempting to create the Huffington Post mark II. Smith will begin by hiring up to a dozen reporters to produce quality content as opposed to pages of LolCats, which helps generate 20 million unique visitors a month for BuzzFeed.
Peretti’s argument is that the web is changing and that more and more people are getting their online news via social networks, via Facebook and Twitter, rather than search engines. For that he says a new type of online news organisation is needed.
“If we have more people creating content we know that those things are going to circulate widely across the Web. Social is what moves stories. It’s really an art and a science. The first thing is creating really amazing, engaging content that people are proud to share.
“And then there’s some science to it. We have amazing real-time stats and the ability to see what people are sharing and where they’re sharing and to do things like adapt our pages and our layout and our sharing buttons to maximize the distribution through social sites,” Peretti told AFP.
Smith put it this way, saying that BuzzFeed’s goal was to build the “first real social news organisation…a new model for high-quality reporting”.
BuzzFeed chairman Kenneth Lerer said the evolution of BuzzFeed was part of a wider news transition from “print to the traditional web to social.”
“Social sites are where everyone is getting their news, entertainment, and information and BuzzFeed’s technology platform, combined with original reporting will accelerate this massive shift,” Lerer said.
The appointment of Smith has led some to joke about the career move he was making from an organisation known for breaking big serious stories to one that makes money out of cats “doing the funniest things”.
Reuters social media editor Anthony de Rosa tweeted: “Mr. President, Ben from @BuzzFeed, what are your top ten Honey Badger mashups?”