The New York Times took another step toward its digital future Tuesday with the appointment of BuzzFeed News' Ben Smith as the newspaper's media columnist.
Smith as BuzzFeed News' editor in chief built a respected news operation besides the web site's click-bait offerings. Now, the 43-year-old Smith will seek to restore the luster the late David Carr gave the media column.
Jim Rutenberg, who succeeded Carr after his death in 2015, will now write in-depth features for the newspaper and its magazine. While solid as media columnist, Rutenberg never achieved Carr's flair. He also showed more interest in how media intersects with politics than with Hollywood and TV glamour.
Smith caught Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet's eye with a November BuzzFeed News piece on who in the Times newsroom will take over Baquet's job when he retires in a couple of years.
With his hard-news success in building BuzzFeed News and understanding of today's digital media landscape, Smith himself will be a strong candidate to replace Baquet.
Smith is younger than other leading candidates and brings extensive writing and editing experience, including a stint at Politico. Smith's blend of new media flash and traditional news values equip him to lead the Times into its digital future.
While Smith led investigative projects that garnered two Pulitzer Prize nominations for BuzzFeed News, he also drew fire for publishing the Steele dossier accusing Donald Trump of various nefarious activities while courting Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
BuzzFeed News also struggled financially, with multiple layoffs last year. Smith says the news site has stabilized, while still losing money. The larger BuzzFeed has found success with a range of product lines.
Smith begins the column in March. Times watchers hope he brings back Carr's excitement.