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An interview with Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed may be best known for its listicles and clickbait, but the media company is more than that. It has made politics more accessible to the public. Headed by former Politco reporter Ben Smith, BuzzFeed is a sharp contrast to the more traditional media giants. I was able to briefly chat with Smith about his advice for an aspiring journalist.

Q: I think the main thing I want to ask is what is the reality of getting/having a job in the journalism industry? Everyone always tries to soft-pedal things for young people, but I want to know the truth. I am very passionate about journalism, I think I'm talented, and it's what I want to do. But how hard is it to get a job and keep it? Would you encourage someone like me to go into journalism? What advice do you have?

A: I think if you are willing to work hard and don't need to be in New York and Los Angeles and don't care too much about money, it's not a bad time to get into the business. There are newspapers and web outlets all over the country. Many are struggling-- but that can be an advantage for someoen starting out, because you get big stories even as a junior person.

Q: Secondly, where do you think the journalism industry is headed? I feel that BuzzFeed is always on the cutting edge as far as finding new ways to keep the audience interested without sacrificing content. I know that more traditional journalists have characterized the majority of its content as clickbait, but I think it's amazing how you guys have covered complex issues in an accessible way. Because of BuzzFeed, my friends are aware of current events that they otherwise would have been oblivious to. Granted, they mostly come to BuzzFeed for quizzes and listicles, but they stay for the heavier and more serious stories/information. Obviously, everyone is whispering about the death of journalism. In my eyes it looks alive and well; it seems to merely be shifting to digital and placing more emphasis on voice rather than objectivity. But what's the insider perspective? What skills so you think are important to have in order to survive in the changing industry? You've also spoken about how Trump has "breathed new life" into journalism/media. Do you think that this is temporary or will it have a lasting affect?

A: I think there are many different paths and skill sets but I'd say curiosity and a certain level of aggression in fighting to get answers are the key qualities. It also helps to love the internet and try to crack why some stories get big audiences.. Everything else-- writing, editing video, etc --you can learn by doing it.

Q: What kind of background should you have in order to succeed in journalism? From what I garner, experience is the most valuable tool, but how much weight is placed on education/degrees? Basically, as a high school junior, what should I be doing now and in the next few years to prepare for a career in journalism?

A: It's more important to have clips than to have a degree. If you're passionate about it, write for school papers or local papers, contribute whatever they'll let you-- sports is sometimes a good place to start --and study things that actually interest you in college. Better to learn a language or be an expert in a subject than to have a journalism degree, if you're doing it.


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