Buzzfeed’s CEO has advice for The New York Times
With its engaged audience of 150 million young readers, BuzzFeed has been the envy of many traditional media companies. Earlier this year, the company has even attracted an acquisition bid from Disney (DIS).
At the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo. today, BuzzFeed’s founder and chief executive Jonah Peretti said Disney was worth entertaining, even if BuzzFeed plans to stay private. “[Disney CEO] Bob Iger is a very impressive guy, and I enjoy talking to him,” he said. “And if someone can convince George Lucas to sell Lucasfilm and Steve Jobs to sell Pixar, they’re worth having dinner with.”
Earlier this year, BuzzFeed made waves in the media industry by publishing the New York Times Innovation Report, an internal document that outlines the paper’s challenges in transforming The Gray Lady into a digital media company. BuzzFeed itself was referred to several times in the report, along with digital media startups such as Vox Media and Upworthy.
Peretti said he believes the Times was actually too hard on itself. If he were writing the report, it wouldn’t be focused on the various tech products that the Times lacks. ”The challenge is not that they need some feature some competitor has. It would be about the shift to digital,” he said.
“One big mistake people make across all of business is to want to become what you’re not. People get obsessed with [their competitors]. If you’re in TV, you want to be online and be cool and webby,” he said. “If you’re cool and webby, you want to buy and produce original shows,” he said.
“Copying BuzzFeed in general is not a good strategy,” Peretti added. “The best way to success is to think of what you’re really good at and extend yourself in those areas.”
One thing BuzzFeed did recently, which the New York Times would not likely copy, is delete some old articles. Earlier this week Gawker reported that several BuzzFeed posts from 2010 and 2011 had disappeared from the site because they did not meet the site’s current “editorial standards.” On stage at Brainstorm Tech today, Peretti said those posts were from an earlier version of BuzzFeed, before the company hired editor-in-chief Ben Smith to turn BuzzFeed into a professional news organization.
Those posts were done before BuzzFeed had a copy desk, a style manual, and a team of reporters. “It was almost the product of a different company, like before our pivot,” he said. “[It was] before we pivoted to being a journalistic organization—from a lab to being a place that creates professional content.”