His last day will be in March, and he’ll aid in the search for a successor. Smith will replace Jim Rutenberg at the Times, who shifted to a position as a writer at large.
In a speech to staff after the announcement, Smith said he started talking to the Times about a job starting in December, after realizing during his most recent vacation that he wanted to get back to reporting, according to an insider. When asked about the surprising timing of his departure, which comes just as the Democratic primary season kicks into full gear, Smith said, “It’s never a good time to leave.”
Smith left Politico in 2012 to run BuzzFeed’s burgeoning editorial operation. In 2016, the company created a separate BuzzFeed News division under Smith, which launched its own URL as BuzzFeedNews.com in 2018. During Smith’s tenure, BuzzFeed News published the now infamous Steele dossier, as well as major investigative pieces ranging from Russia’s targeted assassination on British soil to actor Anthony Rapp’s allegation that Kevin Spacey made a sexual advance toward him when Rapp was 14. He also oversaw some defining internet moments at BuzzFeed, including viral sensations like The Dress, and the creation of BuzzFeed News’ successful morning show on Twitter, “AM to DM.”
Smith’s departure comes a year after BuzzFeed underwent a punishing round of layoffs that dismantled BuzzFeed News’ entire National and National Security desks, and dramatically reduced its entertainment news coverage. In the ensuing months, Smith presided over an arduous negotiation process to recognize the newly formed BuzzFeed News Union that insiders say sapped morale at the company, and seemingly put Smith at odds between his staff and BuzzFeed founder and CEO, Jonah Peretti. That union announced on Jan. 27 that it started its first official day of bargaining for an employment contract.
In his email to staff, which Smith posted to Twitter, Smith said he was “eager for a spell of writing and reporting and thinking,” and that Peretti “fundamentally believes in news and has proven again and again that he’ll stand up for the toughest stories, about anyone.”