When Ben Smith left BuzzFeed to join the New York Times two years ago, there was a widespread wisdom in media circles that the move would signal the emergence of a once-new media startup market. As disturbing as BuzzFeed could be, it turns out, the installation media lacked the resources and ambition to displace.
And the Times, in particular, which looked shaky at the beginning of the decade, fixed itself. It was because it was a prosperous business model Advertising dollars have been exchanged for reader subscription dollars. It was creating excellent journalism, and it was creating the best talent. “The New York Times feared BuzzFeed. Now it has been assigned its biggest star, ”He said This guy.
Now, Smith is leaving NYT For a new media startup. Together with Justin Smith, who has been running Bloomberg Media for eight years, it’s still a well-known outfit. Time for a new, new narrative?
Maybe not. Since Smith’s departure from BuzzFeed, the Times has been aggressively pursuing expelling ambitious journalists from digital and traditional outlets. We at Vox are particularly aware of this, since NYT Recruitment List includes Ezra Klein, who co-founded Vox in 2014 and moved to the Times in late 2020.
So I asked Smith myself what we would do about his move and return to the most established Establishment media. I got a cited version of a Shrug emoji: “Accordion accordion,” Smith told me today. “The pendulum is swaying.”
My translation: Ben Smith and Justin Smith are both incredibly ambitious – ambitious enough that holding on to the media’s top two gigs wasn’t enough for them. By creating their own things – financing other people’s money – they will own, not just employees. It’s a pitch that many startups made a few years ago, but now it’s much less persuasive for most journalists because we’ve seen a generation of media startups put their heads in the ceiling.
Which means Smiths are very confident that they can scale this thing from the beginning. David Bradley, who owns the Atlantic and hired Justin Smith as its top business executive there, has already told the Wall Street Journal that he wants to invest.
But Bradley sold most of his stake in Atlantic to Lauren Powell Jobs because he did not have unlimited funds to support journalism. So Smith will probably need more than his cash. Powell Jobs himself is not an investor in new ventures, a person familiar with his business told me.
Ben Smith was reluctant to tell me more about his supporters: “We’ll announce it when we’re ready.” (If you want to understand how difficult it is to find something useful when Smith is in genomic mode, check out his lovely and insane interview with him New Yorker.)
Speaking of translations: What exactly do the Smiths want to create? That would be big, they say, and they focus on the theoretical audience of “200 million college-educated people worldwide” – a curious narrator Ben Smith used in the New York Times, and David Bradlio in the journal Justin Smith.
And beyond that, it’s pretty vague. “I think there’s a lot of room for innovation in the newsroom,” Ben Smith told me.
Huh? I understand that the positioning comes from Justin Smith, who has spent the last eight years with a publisher who finds it hard to present himself as a bone-dry, truth-telling news distributor for a business audience. Much less than Smith, who is happy to tweak the convention of journalism. He is the famous person In 2017, the so-called “Trump Dossier” was released, Which angered mainstream publishers at the time and To this day.
I also don’t think that whatever Smith says about their new publication is very important, even for those who support it or go to work for it. Before starting journalism they will sell new establishments based on their resume and output. And once it’s actually started making things, that’s the thing that’s important.
If you want to hear more of Justin Smith’s thoughts, you can listen to this recorded media interview I conducted with him last autumn – when it turned out, he was talking to Ben Smith about launching this new venture.
And let me give Ben Smith one last word: in response to my suggestion that his term in the Times, which began on March 1, 2020, was short. “Does the time starting March 2020 seem too short for you?” Said Smith.