New York Times media columnist Ben Smith is leaving the outlet to create a global news start-up, but it remains uncertain if he plans to divest any controversial stock before working for the new outlet– an issue that lingered throughout his tenure at the Times.
The Times announced this week that Smith is leaving the outlet and teaming up with Bloomberg Media’s chief executive, Justin Smith, to create what has been described as a “new global news organization,” where he will serve as the top editor. According to the Times, the vision includes a newsroom that will break news and experiment “with new formats of storytelling.”
I’m so excited about this https://t.co/471vIOgsqt
— Ben Smith (@benyt) January 4, 2022
Nobody should ever be forced to read a verbatim transcript of his own words, but this does include many of them. https://t.co/gXnF7fQP68
— Ben Smith (@benyt) January 4, 2022
“There are 200 million people who are college educated, who read in English, but who no one is really treating like an audience, but who talk to each other and talk to us,” Ben Smith said. “That’s who we see as our audience.”
“The pressures of social media and polarization have a lot of news organizations talking down to their audience,” he added, deeming the “talent model for journalism” as “pretty broken.”
“Audiences feel really connected to the person writing the story or making the video. That’s a challenge for big institutions,” he continued.
The transition comes a year after Ben Smith left BuzzFeed, where he worked for eight years, to work for the Times. However, he faced controversy over what Breitbart News Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow has described as his”incestuous” relationships with the outlets he covers — a common theme explored in his New York Times bestseller, Breaking the News: Exposing the Establishment Media’s Hidden Deals and Secret Corruption:
Ben Smith accused journalist Ronan Farrow of playing fast-and-loose with his reporting on scandals that occurred at NBC. Farrow had suggested the peacock network had covered up the Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer sex scandals. NBCUniversal happens to be the largest outside investor in Buzzfeed, where Smith was previously editor-in- chief. Smith retained stock in BuzzFeed at the time the Farrow piece was published.
It is ironic, though unsurprising, that Smith is the Times’media columnist considering he was the first to publish the bogus Trump/Russia “pee pee” dossier. And that he took issue with Ronan Farrow’s treatment of NBC—one of Smith’s most important patrons—was a particularly brazen move.
Interestingly, Smith failed to disclose his ties to NBC in his regular reporting, but he eventually provided a disclosure in the Farrow column, noting that he does not cover BuzzFeed extensively in the piece because he retained stock options in the company. At the time, he said he agreed to divest the options by the year’s end. Yet, he did not appear to immediately do that.
As Marlow reported:
I reached out to Smith in March of 2021 and asked if he had in fact sold his stock as promised. He directed me to a Times column he wrote in January, featuring yet another disclosure: “I don’t cover BuzzFeed extensively in this column, beyond leaning on what I learned during my time there, and The Times has required that I not do so until I divest my stock options in the company.”
I asked him why he delayed selling off his shares. He didn’t offer a response and suggested I reach out the Times’ corporate communications for more information. I did. They did not respond.
On Wednesday, Breitbart News reached out to Smith again, inquiring if he planned to divest any stock before working in this new start-up company, in light of his announcement. We did not receive a response.
Read more about the NBC News, the New York Times, and the “incestuous” relationships between media companies and personalities in Breaking the News.