The 60-second interview: Peter Lauria, business editor, Buzzfeed
CAPITAL: You spent five years of your career as an entertainment business reporter for The New York Post. What elements of that tabloid's old-school ethos have you brought to the newfangled Buzzfeed?
LAURIA: I loved working for the New York Post and, in particular, with the business team. The team there first under Dan Colarusso and later Jay Sherman all were and still are very close. So, when I think about what I brought from there to BuzzFeed, it probably is more specific to the business section and the team in general than the paper overall. First, not unlike at the Post, my team at BuzzFeed is small compared to our competitors, so I purposely recruited reporters and set up beats to focus on a few areas that we can cover very well and become leading voices in fairly quickly. I also tried to focus on industries that overlap at least a little on a Venn diagram so my reporters can leverage their respective sources for deeper reporting on stories, for instance my hedge fund and retail reporter teaming up on the Men's Wearhouse-JoS A. Bank merger or Matt Lynley and I working together on Apple-Beats coverage.
The other aspect I took from the New York Post is an attitude. Most business reporting is, to put it bluntly, boring and not fun. We try to be the opposite of that. I personally love the Machiavellian politics of the corporate suite, and we try to get into that as much as possible, like with our Abercrombie & Fitch or American Eagle CEO coverage. We also aren't afraid to call out an executive or company for a bad strategic move or say that a deal doesn't make sense or even just do something real BuzzFeed-y like explaining how to short a stock through Mean Girls GIFs.
Plus, fun headlines and pictures!
CAPITAL: How do you make a Buzzfeed article appeal to professionals on LinkedIn, who tend to be older than the users of other social media sites?
LAURIA: That's sort of the biggest challenge on a daily basis. BuzzFeed has a broad general interest readership, yet business coverage has a very specific audience. Again, to use the Venn diagram example, we are trying with each post to get those two distinct groups to overlap as much as possible. The everyday reader of the Wall Street Journal or Bloomberg and the person who comes to BuzzFeed for our animal coverage and has never been served up a business story before our vertical launched. The simplest answer is to break news, get big interviews and write smart analysis. Those things appeal to all readers.
CAPITAL: The business of higher education is a unique beat for a business desk. Tell us how you came up with it.
LAURIA: Ben Smith and I noticed that some student debt coverage we had done performed well, and that got us thinking about education coverage. It makes sense from a readership perspective since we have both college kids and, increasingly, their parents checking us out. When we looked at the landscape, it seemed that education is primarily covered from either a classroom or legislative perspective. It then dawned on me that many of the media and tech companies I cover — News Corp, Discovery, Disney, Amazon, Apple — are pushing into education in a big way. Yet it seemed like their efforts were under-covered, in part because a lot of other areas of their businesses are sexier and the beat reporters covering them at mainstream outlets are spread too thin. But these companies have billions upon billions of dollars at their disposal to plow into education products, school boards, political elections, and then on top of that there is the venture capital money pouring into ed-tech companies. Putting it all together, this seemed like a wide open lane for us to drive through in a big way.
CAPITAL: You recently tweeted that you've seen multiples pieces "thinkfluenced" by Buzzfeed Business, founded one year ago. How is your desk shaping other news outlets' coverage of business?
LAURIA: So you're the one reading my tweets. I won't go into specific examples, but there is no doubt that in the year since we've launched we've quickly grown into a credible and authoritative section. I think when I first got hired people thought we were going to do business porn, like the “25 Sickest Corporate Jets” or something like that, and then they started to see how we are breaking news and writing really smart sophisticated stuff and started to realize they better take us seriously. While I like traffic and a big audience, I also love and am very proud of the fact that our work has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Bloomberg, Reuters, Salon.com, New York, The New Yorker, New York Post, Canada's National Post, Business Insider, CNBC, to name just a few. That, to me, proves how we are standing out in a very crowded field.
CAPITAL: In an interview with Talking Biz News last year, you said it's important to draw a distinction between media business reporting and traditional media reporting “because they really are two different animals.” How should we distinguish between the two?
LAURIA: What I meant by that is that sometimes people call me a "media reporter" when I've never personally identified as one. I've always been more of a "corporate media reporter." When I think of a media reporter, I think of people who cover the comings-and-goings of fellow reporters and editors or how the media went about covering a particular topic. I can count on one hand the number of stories like that I've done in my career. As I said earlier, I look more at how particular events at media outlets play out in and affect the executives in the corporate suite. Let's take the recent news around Arthur Sulzberger and Jill Abramson at The New York Times. Most of the coverage is about what went down between them, who is to blame or what happens to the newsroom from here. The only piece I've done on the topic related to the leaked "Innovation Report" and what I perceived to be the stunning admission that there was too much focus on Page One of the print edition. I turned that into a column about what the report means for the Times Company and how it portends a swifter end to the print edition than most people may think. The only Sulzberger named in my post was the one who wrote the report. I think that situation perfectly illustrates the difference between a media business reporter and a traditional media reporter.