Election 2012

BuzzFeed's First Election Night

Tuesday was a big night for Obama, as well as digital journalism

Photos: Charlie Warzel


Just after 7 p.m., BuzzFeed's 12th floor newsroom is jammed with nearly 100 employees. Editor in chief Ben Smith, taking a brief break from his dual screens, surveys the crowd, which is currently gathered around an assortment of free pizza and beer.

It's a diverse collection of the site's design, tech, editorial and sales teams, who have chosen to stick around and watch the 2012 election night results. Sidling up to Smith, who is tucked away in a corner of the newsroom with the nine or so dedicated election night staffers, he's asked how he's feeling as the returns start to roll in. Flashing a smile, Smith's not the least bit on edge.

"I hope this doesn't end up being some disasterous mistake on my part," Smith says of Adweek's presence in his newsroom on this big news night. The comment was meant as a joke, but there's no doubt the stakes are high for both the BuzzFeed brand and its chief editorial architect.

"I've never run an entire election operation before," Smith says matter of factly before shuffling away mid-sentence to powwow with politics reporter Zeke Miller over some early returns from North Carolina. Smith's ability to move abruptly between conversations and tasks perfectly captures BuzzFeed's ethos, which puts heavy value on the ability to lock-in and do work anywhere and everywhere. In fact, just watching Smith work is a sight unto itself—throughout the evening Smith fires off tweets, IMs and emails at his computer in a variety of contorted positions, sometimes splayed out in a nearly horizontal "Superman" position kneeling across a chair, another time squatting like a catcher at his desk at eye level with his keyboard, and at all times dialed-in.

In less than one year, BuzzFeed is almost unrecognizable from its humble beginnings as a viral link aggregation site. Over the past 11 months, the site has amassed an ever-growing staff of nearly 175 while constructing a fully functional national news operation. Known initially for its former meme-friendly social publishing strategy, BuzzFeed changed expectations last December when it brought on Smith, a former political blogger and quintessential Internet reporter, to become its editor in chief.

While BuzzFeed boasts 10 content verticals, the site has risen up around Smith and its politics vertical, which has attracted the likes of both seasoned and fresh-faced reporters alike. It goes without saying that a presidential election night is the Super Bowl for political reporters, yet, for the fledgling property, Tuesday night also felt like a coming of age milestone, as Adweek watched the online publisher trying to cement its place in an ever-changing news landscape. 

For a newsroom that usually produces dozens of pages of content an hour, there's suprisingly little to do this election night. "There's just no story line right now," community manager Ryan Broderick said around 9 p.m. "There haven't been any great CNN hologram-type moments yet," he noted, referring to 2008's election night, when Wolf Blitzer famously interviewed a virtual after Obama's victory. BuzzFeed sports editor Jack Moore chimed in: "Twitter's also been hard to follow. There's so much going on it's hard to hone in on any specific event."

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