WASHINGTON — BuzzFeed, a website which has built a cult following with links to oddball videos and offbeat stories, is hiring a star political reporter in a bid to produce more original content and send it viral.
Ben Smith, who has been a senior political writer at Politico.com, a site for Washington news junkies, since 2007, will join BuzzFeed.com on January 1 as editor-in-chief, BuzzFeed co-founder Jonah Peretti announced Monday.
“People come to BuzzFeed to find things to share with their friends,” Peretti said. “More and more people are getting their news from Facebook and from Twitter and from social platforms and from sharing with their friends.”
Peretti told AFP he sees “a huge space to create an amazing social content site that combines reporting with entertaining content and informative content.”
Peretti, who also co-founded the news and opinion site The Huffington Post, said BuzzFeed is already producing original content but Smith would hire “up to a dozen” editorial staff right away and preside over an expansion of the site.
“If we have more people creating content we know that those things are going to circulate widely across the Web,” he said. “Social is what moves stories.”
“It’s really an art and a science,” Peretti continued. “The first thing is creating really amazing, engaging content that people are proud to share.
“Maybe they’re proud to share it because it’s smart content, maybe they’re proud to share it because it’s emotionally intelligent, maybe it’s humorous.”
“And then there’s some science to it,” he said. “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 said the plan for BuzzFeed, which currently receives more than 20 million unique visitors a month, is to create something new while adhering to journalistic principles.
“It’s definitely something new but I think it combines things that already exist — the values of journalistic excellence and reporting and timeliness and finding out and uncovering new information and exposing it to the world,” he said.
Smith, who will continue to write weekly on politics for Politico, said BuzzFeed’s goal is to build the “first real social news organization.”
“BuzzFeed is the best in the world at distributing content on social sites, and it is a tremendous opportunity to join BuzzFeed — and its millions of readers — to build a new model for high-quality reporting,” he said.
BuzzFeed chairman and Kenneth Lerer said the evolution of BuzzFeed is 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 in a statement.