BuzzFeed, which has spent its life building an encyclopedia of other people's greatest Web hits, has hired away one of the key reporters from the website Politico, to be its new editor-in-chief and build their own original news division. Smith, who was one of the first hires at Politico five years ago, said there are plans to hire a dozen more reporters.
The surprise moves signals a huge change in direction for the popular site, that mostly relied on aggregation and typically avoided serious news in favor of funny memes, bizarre videos, and random images. The goal was to chronicle (and hopefully predict) the spread of social content and make it easier for others to spread it further. But traffic has surged in recent months, recently bursting over the 1 million visitors per day mark, according to Quantcast, and site's owners have decided that it's time to direct that viral potential at hard news.
By hiring Smith — who made his name by writing for and then taking advantage of the "social Web" — and giving him the mandate to build a news team, the company is making a bet that they are big enough to challenge news sites like The Huffington Post, but that aggregation of the work of others will no longer be enough. (By the way, BuzzFeed's founders Jonah Peretti and Kenneth Lerer, also co-founded The Huffington Post.) While the sudden turn is surprising, it's part of the natural evolution of websites that want to control the world of social media.
Smith will continue to publish political stories on Politico through the presidential primaries and will remain a columnist on the site, according to The New York Times.