Swimming Upstream: Matt Buchanan Goes From BuzzFeed to The New Yorker

Matt Buchanan1The buzz has been coming steadily from BuzzFeed ever since Ben Smith became the editor in chief there early last year and started hiring journalists—real journalists—with abandon: politics, long-form, Hollywood, tech, food. Every week brought news that BuzzFeed had added a new vertical, staffed by talent poached from more traditional outlets. The site that had made its bones by figuring out that people like scrolling through pictures of pets better than, well, almost anything was stretching out and scooping up young and old reporters alike.

What had once been a symbol of the Internet’s lack of depth began to take on a certain, dare we say it, prestige. Amid the listicles and pictures that you have to click on right now, reported articles and campaign coverage took root. The effort bore fruit, and the site has raised the bar for investigative reporting with its long-form stories, including a 5,500-word profile of Cory Booker and a piece alleging a real estate scam perpetrated by the Church of Scientology. Like Slate in 1997, the metamorphosis from a crass, tech-backed novelty to a legit news source was well under way. BuzzFeed was still somewhere that people from legacy publications fled to, however, not a path to legitimacy itself.

Then, last week, news arrived that Matt Buchanan, editor of BuzzFeed’s tech vertical FWD, was doing the previously unthinkable—he was leaving BuzzFeed for The New Yorker.

Mr. Buchanan’s flight proved that it was possible to go from Gawker—he had been the associate editor at Gawker Media’s gadget blog Gizmodo—to BuzzFeed to The New Yorker. The news blew up Twitter with congratulations, astonishment and (of course) envy. We emailed Mr. Buchanan to find out how he did it.

“Brian Lam [Gizomodo’s editorial director] had put it in my head a while ago I should try to work there one day—I had never thought it was possible, honestly, not for a decade or more,” Mr. Buchanan told Off the Record.

After New Yorker web editor Nick Thompson tweeted about the position, Mr. Buchanan replied, and the rest is recent history.

“I wasn’t looking to leave BuzzFeed, actually,” Mr. Buchanan said. “But it’s not very often you get the chance to start something new for The New Yorker, which is my favorite printed thing on the planet.”

At Mr. Buchanan’s favorite printed thing on the planet, he will write about tech and science for the website. Beyond that? It’s too soon to tell.

“What am I going to do? That’s a good question. I’m still figuring some of that out, honestly,” he said. “Right now I’m thinking a lot about what I guess you could call big-idea tech and science. That’s part of it. Like, what does that sustained, constant coverage of tech and science look like for The New Yorker, particularly online? That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

Mr. Buchanan’s soon-to-be former boss, BuzzFeed’s Mr. Smith, reacted predictably well to the news that his website was now fair game for Condé Nast’s most prestigious publication.

“Matt Buchanan’s vision for a new kind of tech coverage helped shape BuzzFeed’s great year last year,” Mr. Smith told Off the Record in an email. “We’re sad to see him go, but we’re thrilled he’s embracing a new opportunity that’s a great fit for him.”

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Smith managed to turn the situation to his advantage online, tweeting “goddam New Yorker poaching our people”—an expert humblebrag if we ever saw one.

Mr. Buchanan, for his part, does not think he will be the last to be poached from the house of Peretti.

“BuzzFeed has crazy ambitions—you don’t even know!—and it’s gotten big enough now that there’s a huge pool of talent here on the 12th floor, so it’d be outright negligent for another media company not to look here for talent,” he told OTR.

But despite the clamor in the media and tech worlds, Mr. Buchanan’s new gig was treated like less of a coup by his parents.

“It was definitely not something I grew up with,” he said. “In fact, when I told my parents I was going to The New Yorker they were like, ‘The New Yorker? Is that a big deal? Oh. That’s nice?’ Which was mildly deflating. It was barely better than the response I got when I got a job at Gizmodo and BuzzFeed before.”

But for all the writers out there hoping that their viral GIFs will get the attention of august publications, well, thank Mr. Buchanan for blazing that particular path.