There is one question on the mind of media folks these days: What works online? And at the moment, the website that seems to have the answer is BuzzFeed. Its editor, Ben Smith, 37, is at the center of an experiment that tries to fuse the most entertaining and viral elements of the digital age with a commitment to old-fashioned journalism.
It’s not an easy balance, but so far, Smith, who made his name at the website Politico, seems to be doing something right. BuzzFeed doubled its traffic in Smith’s first year, hitting 40 million visitors a month by the beginning of 2013. And though on any given day, the site is bursting with “listicles” (articles posing as lists) like “The 15 Most Patriotic Dogs in America,” these jostle against political and even international coverage that can be described only as serious. Most people get their news today on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, where articles are shared, and Smith’s BuzzFeed has figured out how best to harness that news-consuming habit by creating the most shareable posts possible.
Before delving into the world of political blogs, Smith worked at the New York Sun and was even briefly an intern at the Forward. He grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and now lives in Brooklyn. From those roots onward through Politico, his reporting has always shown a deep interest in the American Jewish story — and particularly Israel’s role in American politics.