VandeHarris Spins Smith Loss to Staff

One thing is clear from this internal note sent to staff early this morning about Politico‘s Ben Smith taking off for BuzzFeed: VandeHarris is trying to concoct lemonade out of lemons. We commend them for their glass half-full attitude amidst the big loss.

In the note, they unravel their own humblebrag psyche about his departure, saying it would be “hypocritical” for them to begrudge Smith for leaving when they, too, used the very impulses Smith used to leave when they founded Politico. They thanked Smith for help creating “one of the most successful political blogs of the past five years.”

They go on to say they’re glad to have a “friend” in BuzzFeed who is “strategically positioned” that they can learn from in the future. (Strategically positioned may be a whacky thing to say at a time like this, but read on…)

When we launched this place, no person was more instrumental in helping shape our thinking about the intersection of news and technology than Ben Smith. His intuitive feel for the rapidly changing needs and demands of readers guided our initial burst into blogs–and his entrepreneurial passion has helped stir us ever since.

So it wasn’t a complete shock when he came to us a few weeks ago with an entrepreneurial itch he felt a strong urge to scratch. Ben sees a bright future for getting content injected into the bloodstream of the social-media experiments flowing around us. And BuzzFeed, a fast-growing site that grows and aggregates content that pops in social-media land, caught his eye and captured his imagination.

We love Ben because he thrives as a journalist who is restless and risk-taking, and who refuses to ever be put in a box. It was the same impulses that inspired us to start POLITICO five years ago, so it would have been hypocritical to protest or naysay when he said he wanted to plunge into the BuzzFeed experiment.

Lucky for us, and for our readers, Ben wanted to test this new frontier, and keep his perch as a star writer for POLITICO. So starting early next year, Ben’s blog will disappear but he will write weekly for POLITICO on politics, with a special focus on the 2012 election. This means that our newsroom and our readers get to benefit from all the things that make Ben special: his original thinking, his unparalleled political sources and his distinctive voice.

We also like the idea of having a friend and POLITICO original strategically positioned at the helm of BuzzFeed. This new organization can learn from Ben’s knowledge–as one of the very first people we hired in December 2006–about how we launched POLITICO. And we think we can learn from Ben and his colleagues as they experiment at BuzzFeed, which has already proven adept at using social media and understanding how stories and videos go viral.

To say the least, Ben has our thanks for being present at the creation, the force behind one of the most successful political blogs of the past five years and an invaluable adviser to us and so many colleagues in our coverage and publication-building decisions.

Jim and John