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BuzzFeed (buzzfeed.com), which brands itself as a “social news organization,” has perfected the art of posting heavily visual content that people are compelled to share. Witness a recent post, “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity,” which has garnered more than 9 million page views. “There’s something interesting and profound about the shift that’s happening, from publishers and broadcasters having a huge amount of influence [to] seeing people have a lot of influence over their friends,” explains BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti. But the company has also broadened its reach to include original reporting and breaking news. In January 2012, Ben Smith, a former reporter for Politico, signed on as BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief. Under his watch, the company has launched several sections (such as the women-focused Shift and techcentric FWD) and expanded its political coverage. “We’ve changed what we’re doing here a lot,” says Smith. We spent some time in the trenches to see how this start-up operates.
Wanna work here?
Many employees whom we spoke with offered this piece of advice: If you want to write or work for BuzzFeed, become active on the website. “A lot of people we’ve hired have been our users,” notes senior editor Whitney Jefferson. “Anyone can publish. A lot of people come in as interns, or they’re hired full-time from being users and posting really good content on our site.” It’s also important to be enthusiastic about covering a particular topic or beat. “We hire for such different jobs, and [for] most of them, we just look for the most talented people we can find,” explains Smith. “I tend to be biased in favor of people who love the content.” Peretti also notes that the company recently launched a fellowship program, a paid internship that gives participants experience creating the type of shareable content that BuzzFeed does best. “We’re bringing in guest speakers, and helping to train and mentor people, so they can really understand how to make things for the social Web,” says Peretti.
Career advice from the Buzzfeed crew
“You don’t have to be good at everything. If you’re passionate and good at one thing, that’s actually more valuable. If you’re passionate about the Web culture, you’re passionate about reporting, you’re passionate about advertising, you’re passionate about whatever it is, I think you end up learning more every year. The knowledge you have compounds, and you get better and better at things.”—Jonah Peretti, founder and CEO
“It still pays to have a blog or Tumblr. It gives you clips, it gives you a place to show people [your work]. Tweet a lot. If you’re someone who’s looking to get a staff job somewhere, it does help to intern. Intern at multiple places. That can be a really great way to get a foot in the door, more so than just realizing you want to work places.”—Anna North, Shift senior editor
“It’s really important to be open to new forms that you probably weren’t taught in journalism school. The Web is changing really fast and you can adhere to the values of traditional journalism while doing stuff that looks nothing like it at all, and not turning your nose up at forms that seem really weird and different.”—Ben Smith, editor-in-chief
“People do respond to e-mails if you pitch them enough. Whatever your age or background is, I think people will still listen if you put yourself out there. There aren’t actually a lot of barriers to entry—you don’t need a certain degree or pedigree. If you can do it, you can do it. If you don’t, you can’t. You just have to start somewhere.”—Hillary Reinsberg, Shift associate editor