Ben Smith, the former political blogger who built BuzzFeed News into a digital powerhouse, announced Tuesday that he is leaving the website and joining The New York Times as the newspaper’s media columnist.
“It’s been the privilege of my life to do this job, in its many iterations, for more than eight years,” Smith said in a memo to BuzzFeed staff Tuesday, announcing his departure.
Smith will start at The Times on March 2nd, according to a memo sent to Times staff.
“Ben not only understands the seismic changes remaking media, he has lived them — and in some cases, led them,” said the memo, written by Executive Editor Dean Baquet, Managing Editor Joe Kahn, and Business Editor Ellen Pollock.
“He joined BuzzFeed as editor in chief in 2012 and built a newsroom of more than 200 reporters and editors, including international bureaus, content verticals and investigative teams that produced prize-winning projects,” Baquet, Kahn, and Pollack added. “His desire to experiment with new digital forms and his drive to break big news have long fueled his career.”
BuzzFeed did not immediately announce Smith’s successor, and might not do so right away, since he will remain at the news outlet for the next month. A person familiar with the matter told CNN Business that the search will include both internal and external candidates.
Smith said in his memo that he anticipated his departure would prompt a news cycle about the status of the company. Smith described the newsroom “and the company as a whole” as being in a “strong position.” He added that Jonah Peretti, the chief executive and founder of BuzzFeed, “fundamentally believes in news.”
In a separate memo, Peretti said, “I will miss Ben and I know everyone at BuzzFeed will, too.”
“He will always be our founding editor,” Peretti added, “and the best way to honor him is to continue our important work, to make sure our best work is still ahead of us.”
Smith will take over for Jim Rutenberg, who has helmed the Monday media column for The Times for the past four years.
Last week Rutenberg shifted into a writer-at-large role at the newspaper and the Times Magazine.
“The role of media columnist is essential at The Times,” Baquet, Kahn and Pollock wrote in Tuesday’s memo. “It was pioneered by and largely shaped by the late David Carr, who with passion and insight captured the rise of digital outlets and the collapse of the newspaper advertising model, the power of WikiLeaks and the misconduct of medial moguls.”
One of Carr’s daughters, Erin Lee Carr, tweeted in reaction to Smith being named as the newspaper’s media columnist, “I think my dad would like the hire. Give em’ hell Ben.”
The editors said Rutenberg “further deepened” the role and “brought investigative energy and analytical power to subjects ranging from the Murdoch empire, the reverberations of the #MeToo movement within media, and the relationship between The National Enquirer and the president.”
Smith may take the column in new directions, since he brings the point of view of a digital newsroom boss.
Before he ascended to BuzzFeed News’ top editor, Smith was a prominent reporter at Politico.
At BuzzFeed, Smith drew then-President Elect Donald Trump’s ire when he published the Russia dossier just days before Trump took office. Smith fiercely defended the decision to publish the document.