Want to work on the Buzzfeed I-Team? ‘Report like a pit bull, write like an angel’
Mark Schoofs, who was hired Tuesday to start up an investigative reporting unit at Buzzfeed, is hitting the ground running.
Though Schoofs himself won't report for duty for some weeks, this morning an ad appeared on jobscore.com soliciting resumes from investigative reporters who can “report like a pit bull, write like an angel.”
According to the ad, Schoofs is looking for reporters who have landed big investigative pieces that "got people indicted or spurred policy shifts.”
But take heart, young strivers! In a conversation with Capital, the Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative journalist said he would consider one or two young journalists with great and yet-unproven potential.
Hiring Schoofs to assemble an investigative team is part of Buzzfeed’s push toward longer-form journalism and hard news that was begun when Ben Smith was hired as the site's editor at the beginning of 2012.
Since its inception in 2006, Buzzfeed’s GIF-abundant listicles have barreled their way into virality, and the experiment has been to see if news can become shareable in the same way.
Smith has expanded the newsroom to 100 reporters and editors and his team has built 20 new verticals since then. But Smith never felt he had the background to run a unit that navigated long, complex investigative stories through weeks or sometimes months of research.
“We didn’t feel like we were ready until this Spring,” Smith said.
Schoofs worked on precisely such a model at ProPublica, where he went a year before Smith went to Buzzfeed. It's “an incredible publication that filled a crucial void in journalism,” Schoofs told Capital in a phone interview. He wouldn't have left ProPublica, but a mutual friend introduced Schoofs to Smith, who was once named one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business,” and the prospect of heading a new team at a growing site became increasingly attractive.
“What really excited me was being on the ground floor of building an investigative unit at an agile, new site,” Schoofs said.
“Does it need its own investigative unit? I think it works better when you have one," he added. "Investigative reporting is obviously a redundancy, and yes, obviously every reporter should do it. But reporters have different proclivities toward different kinds of stories and some people just are really adept at relentlessly pulling and digging and other people are just much better at pulling scoops.”
But Schoofs was careful not to minimize the latter.
“The vision is that anybody at Buzzfeed that gets traction on a story will know there is a home, an environment, that supports it and resources they can come to like myself and other reporters,” he said. “But if you’re a beat reporter that covers politics and you’re pulling out four political scoops a week then that’s great too.”
Schoofs told Capital what he is really looking for in potential candidates: “Greatness, that’s basically the criteria.”
Does he have any reservations about doing this for a site that caters so heavily to the entertainment needs of the cubicle set?
"The New Yorker has cartoons, no one accuses it of not delivering great journalism,” he said. “I came from The Village Voice, where the first thing people went to, before there was online dating, were the personal ads. But at the same time it had very serious hard hitting metro news.”