With this move, it seems that it is placing emphasis on producing high-quality video in New York City, and in its news department--and not just in its Los Angeles studio, which is run by Ze Frank. The company also seems to be placing a greater emphasis on "entertainment" content in general.
That entertainment programming now all falls under Frank, the president of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, who's now head of BuzzFeed Entertainment. And editor-in-chief Ben Smith is head of all of BuzzFeed News, according to a staff-wide memo first published by Vanity Fair. Both still report to chief executive Jonah Peretti, who's based in Los Angeles.
The separation of "news" and "entertainment," after many years of blurring lines in digital media, may cause observers to scratch their heads. On one hand, it's entirely logical; on the other, it seems like a throwback to simpler times, when everyone was talking about the death of classifieds rather than the value of CPMs.
For BuzzFeed, the reorganization means that a small arm of the massive video organization built out from a central hub in Los Angeles by Frank will be absorbed by the New York City-centered BuzzFeed News. And dozens of employees formerly managed by Smith, including those who specialize in viral quizzes without immediate news value, will now report to Frank. That's, very roughly, around 300 employees left in the news funnel, after an estimated 100 move over to entertainment.
Depending on who's talking, this is either a "big change," (that's Peretti, in a company-wide email) or a simple "untangling of the org structures," (that's Smith, in an interview with Inc.com).
"I'm ultimately a news guy," Smith says. "As we've grown, my organizational purview has gotten a little tangled. I had been bossing around people who had been technically reporting to Ze." He's referring in part to Henry Goldman, one of Frank's early hires who has moved from Los Angeles to New York, and a video-news team in New York.
But the loss of editorial employees coming in the wake of a report this April that BuzzFeed generated less than half of its projected revenue for 2015 and slashed its projection for 2016 in half accordingly, may argue for a longer-term shift in resources towards entertainment, which is an easier sell to advertisers. (That story about BuzzFeed's results shifted the narrative from previously sunny news of NBC Universal investing in the company at a $1.5 billion valuation.)
Smith says he still feels confident BuzzFeed is investing in his team, and is dedicated to reporting around the globe--both in text and video form. (And--one presumes, since this is BuzzFeed, in list and quiz form, too.)
"From the day I started, people were surprised Jonah [Peretti] hired a journalist," Smith says. "It's a huge tribute to the reporting that my team has done that we feel like we do have an ability to be a generationally-defining news organization."