Why CNN Hired BuzzFeed’s Top Political Reporters and What It Says About BuzzFeed News

'Nothing minor league' about this team

Headshot of Sami Main

Two months ago, CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker dismissed two leading, young-skewing digital news sites, saying, "I don't think Vice and BuzzFeed are legitimate news organizations. They are native advertising shops. We crush both of them."

This week, CNN, the crusher, made its boldest digital move yet by hiring away one of BuzzFeed's most prolific scoop artists, Andrew Kaczynski. The news organization also hired Kaczynski's team of researchers including deputy politics editor Kyle Blaine, and reporters Nate McDermott and Christopher Massie.

"We're clearly not your grandfather's CNN," said Andrew Morse, evp of editorial for CNN U.S.

Indeed, CNN has staffed up its politics and media beats over the past year, pulling from the ranks of Politico, The New York Times and now BuzzFeed. 

All of this leads to loads of curiosity surrounding CNN's hiring of Kaczynski and his team.

"I think this has been a mixed bag of a political season for CNN," said Rick Edmonds, Poynter Institute's media business analyst. "Getting a fresh unit with a fresh approach and a little younger and harder edge to them probably makes sense."

He added, "CNN has tremendous audience reach, but the game keeps changing."

Kaczynski made his CNN debut late Wednesday with a report on two more videos of Donald Trump interacting with Playboy Playmates.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed has made some changes as well. In January two popular sections of the site, Buzz and Life, were to join together to form one group called BuzzFeed. The sections housed the Animals, Books, DIY, Geeky and other popular verticals. The other half of the editorial side of the company would be called BuzzFeed News Curation. Seven months later, in August, the company split in two: BuzzFeed News headed by Ben Smith in New York and a new group called BuzzFeed Entertainment Group, headed by Ze Frank based in Los Angeles.

"BuzzFeed has made a clear shift in their strategy to focus on what they're good at—entertainment and the general pop-culture zeitgeist," said Morse. "We're laser-focused. All of our investments in our digital space were made to shore up our abilities to cover the news and tell important stories all over the world."

"If you're in the news business long enough, you see these ebbs and flows of talent all the time," added Shani O. Hilton, head of U.S. news for BuzzFeed. "Kudos to them. We had more scoops on BuzzFeed News over the weekend than CNN has had in the past month."

Scoops such as BuzzFeed's deep dive into ingredient-meal delivery service Blue Apron's health and safety violations or the recent investigation into the popular online retailer ASOS and its warehouse conditions.

"People haven't forgotten that BuzzFeed also does news," said Hilton. "What we're seeing is that more traditional places that are kind of dying, and they need to step up their game."

So, are CNN and other legacy organizations treating these hot digital sites like minor-league farm teams, waiting for the big hitters to rise to the top?

"There's nothing minor league about Andrew and his K-File team," said Morse. "And we're thrilled to have him in our starting lineup. We have a murderers' row of talent because we made a commitment to have the best team of reporters on-air and online for this cycle."

@samimain sami.main@adweek.com Sami Main is social editor for Adweek, where she posts Adweek content onto social platforms and looks for creative ways to communicate what's new.