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From AJR,   June/July 2012  issue

For BuzzFeed’s New Washington Bureau, An Atypical Approach   

One of its first two hires will focus on LGBT issues. Wed., June 20, 2012.


By Kelsey Pospisil
Kelsey Pospisil (kpospisil@ajr.umd.edu), an AJR editorial assistant, is a master’s student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.     

It's no secret that BuzzFeed is hardly a traditional news organization.

The site made its name as the place to go to get a handle on viral Internet memes. But late last year it added original political content to its menu.

Now it's launching a Washington bureau. So it probably shouldn't be a surprise that one of its first two hires won't be covering a typical beat like the White House, Capitol Hill or the State Department.

Instead, BuzzFeed announced yesterday that it has hired Chris Geidner as its senior political reporter. His focus: political and legal topics surrounding LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) and marriage issues.

Geidner, who affectionately calls himself "the Law Dork," most recently worked as senior political editor for the Washington, D.C., LGBT news magazine Metro Weekly. He is a graduate of Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law.

Geidner will start his new job on July 16. On his switch to BuzzFeed, he says, "I think it shows both how successful I've been at Metro Weekly at really taking on this beat in a serious way that is appreciated not just by LGBT people, but also by people throughout the country who care about these issues and are paying attention to what's going on." 

He adds, "It says a lot about BuzzFeed that they're deciding that this beat deserves full-time, prominent placement in a major publication."

BuzzFeed's newly hired Washington bureau chief, John Stanton, says he is excited about the prospect of working with Geidner, calling him "the gold standard in LGBT reporting [and] a hard news reporter who writes about it like it is."

Ben Smith, BuzzFeed's editor-in-chief, says it is "crazy" that many news organizations don't treat LGBT and marriage stories as mainstream.  The former Politico writer says that during his career he has seen it as an area with ample opportunities for breaking stories.  But, laughing, he says that Geidner often used to beat him.

Geidner, who has lived in Washington since 2009, says there is a shortage of "good, in-depth, accurate coverage" of LGBT issues in the mainstream media. "And there are so many important stories that are developing by the minute within the issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people's rights, and the equality battles that are ongoing."

Stanton, who has covered Congress for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call for the past seven years, will launch the BuzzFeed bureau on July 9.  He says he was attracted to the idea of joining BuzzFeed because "they believe that people want to read quality journalism," that it's not just about being the first to break a story.   Stanton will oversee coverage of Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court. Smith says the site will probably hire two additional reporters for the bureau.

In this era of mobile media, it's fitting that BuzzFeed won't have an actual physical bureau in the immediate future. The reporters will work out of the buildings they cover. "I like the idea of having someone in the White House every day and people on Capitol Hill every day," Smith says.

Stanton says he looks forward to using BuzzFeed's focus on social media to reach not just young people but everyone, adding, "We need to be, as an industry, way more nimble."

He says his mission will be to make sure the bureau produces content that strikes "the right balance of interesting and fun," and to bring information to readers "in a way that is readable and enjoyable."

Effective social content is at the heart of what BuzzFeed strives to produce. "Our stuff has to sell itself on the social Web," Smith says.  He says both Stanton and Geidner already have strong online presences that will translate well to reporting for BuzzFeed.

Stanton was born and raised in the D.C. area and is from a family of journalists – his grandfather, father and uncle have all held down newspaper jobs. "One of the things I love about Stanton is he is deeply, deeply rooted in the value of journalism," Smith says. "It's really where he's from."

Stanton, who attended the University of Montana, says his father encouraged him to get a job in journalism when he returned home to Washington.

He thinks living in D.C. for so much of his life has given him a deep understanding of the culture inside the Beltway but adds that his personal life does not revolve around the Hill.  He says that "not always being boxed in by the constant talk of it" enables him to bring a fresh eye to his work.

"When I go home, I don't necessarily see the political world."