Here's an outside-the-box media move from inside the Beltway: Ben Smith, the well-regarded Politico writer, is leaving the influential D.C. publication to become editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, a site focused on highlighting buzzy social content on the Web. Smith starts at BuzzFeed Jan. 1.
John Harris, Politico's editor-in-chief, says the Brooklyn-based Smith--who has been with publication since 2006--will remain a weekly columnist for Politico through the 2012 presidential election. Dylan Byers, who recently left Adweek to join Politico, will take over Smith's daily duties.
BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti told the New York Times that Smith will have the budget to hire a dozen reporters when he arrives. The plan for BuzzFeed is to supplement its aggregated social content with real reporting.
"We want to create a real newsroom," Smith told Yahoo News from Manchester, N.H., where he is on the ground following the Mitt Romney campaign. "It'll be a combination of experienced, well-sourced reporters and smart kids who want to learn."
Smith said the site will have relatively traditional verticals--like sports and politics--with other, non-traditional news categories mixed in.
Buzzfeed's network of sites averages about 110 million unique U.S. visitors per month, according to Quantcast.com estimates; BuzzFeed's flagship draws about 9.6 million. (Politico had roughly 6 million unique visitors in October--the last time it was tracked publicly by Quantcast.)
Interestingly, Smith initially turned Peretti's offer down, but after recounting the conversation with his wife, Liena Zagare, a director of special projects for AOL's Patch, had a change of heart.
"She said, 'You said no to what?'" Smith recalled.
The intersection of news and social media is a "fun, compelling place to be a reporter," Smith said. "It's like what blogging used to be."
He added: "Buzzfeed is way ahead of everyone else in terms of content geared toward the social Web. It's a huge advantage."
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