BuzzFeed Is Ready to Step Up Its Game in News Video

In Reorganization, News Video Falls Under Editor Ben Smith's Purview

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BuzzFeed News video is receiving greater emphasis under the re-org announced in August, 2016.
BuzzFeed News video is receiving greater emphasis under the re-org announced in August, 2016. Credit: BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is associated with a lot of things, including shareable listicles, hard news reporting and snackable food video content (through standalone brand Tasty). But news video, like the kind produced by the major broadcast networks and digital players like Vice, has not been one of them. That's going to change, according to the company.

As part of a larger organizational restructuring announced earlier this week, news video will be housed in BuzzFeed News, under Editor Ben Smith's remit, and will get more attention.

"I'm personally putting a lot more emphasis on news video," said Henry Goldman, who moved three months ago to New York from Los Angeles, where he worked on production arm BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. He's heading up the news-video effort, and said he plans to hire a few more people to add to the five-person news video team already in place.

The reorganization, which divides the company into two groups, BuzzFeed News and BuzzFeed Entertainment Group, is intended to make it easier for news reporters to tap into the organization's video capabilities.

For reporters, the barrier to entry for video production has theoretically never been lower. "It's 2016. My six-year-old is shooting video," Mr. Smith said.

But previously, BuzzFeed News journalists would work with BuzzFeed Motion Pictures staffers to facilitate video projects. "It's been a tough thing for them to do before this," said one executive familiar with the company.

Prior to the reorganization, Mr. Goldman said, "It was really just a separate mindset. One part of the company did video, and one part of the company did news."

When the reorganization was announced, there was some external speculation that BuzzFeed News reporters would become hybrid writer-producers, tasked with both taking videos and pumping out text stories. But that's not the case, Mr. Goldman said. Video will be "something that is practiced throughout the newsroom" and something that should be on the mind of reporters, Mr. Goldman said, but it won't be a natural fit for some beat reporters.

"We're eager to avoid what's happening to a lot of television news, where they've basically cannibalized reporting for production," Mr. Smith said.

Asked about a model for BuzzFeed News' video ambitions, Mr. Goldman said it's still difficult to produce video that resembles TV networks' work without putting in the same level of resources.

"What BuzzFeed likes to do is learn about platforms and learn to make the best content that connects with people on that platform, and grow from there," he said.

Mr. Smith said the goal is to master both short, quick-to-make videos and longer, deep dives, when warranted, but not to get stuck in the middle. As an example, he mentioned a video produced to accompany a story by senior writer Charlie Warzel about having a microchip implanted in his hand. "If you have surgery for a story, that's one of the rules, we'll do a video on it," Mr. Smith said.

BuzzFeed News is still hiring "at a pretty good clip," Mr. Smith said, despite a report that the company is stepping back from its journalistic ambitions. "It's a good moment to hire, because some of the organizations are retrenching a bit," he said.

People familiar with the company told Ad Age that the reorganization announced this week is part of natural progression, and is less of a game-changer than it looked to some observers.

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