Earlier this week, Ben Smith notified New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet that he was going to be leaving the company to pursue something different. On some level, the news couldn’t have been a shock. For months, in-the-know media people have been kibitzing about Smith’s potential next moves. Sure, many assumed, he’d probably enjoyed a liquidity event from the initial public offering of Buzzfeed, where he’d been the editor-in-chief for nearly a decade. But perhaps more importantly, Smith has the personality of a builder, and the Times, despite its world-beating digital growth in recent years, can have an academic culture.
But the news that he was teaming up with Justin Smith, the C.E.O. of Bloomberg Media, to create a sort of globalist, post-social media, creator-friendly and all-the-other-right-things-to-say journalistic beast was the media-world equivalent of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joining the Brooklyn Nets, or Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez getting back together. And it was marvelously orchestrated through a double-barreled media rollout, with Justin declaring his news, replete with a Mike Bloomberg quote, in the Journal, and the Times getting the hometown scoop on Ben (albeit with little warning).
The news is interesting, but the backstory is perhaps even more compelling. The Smiths had been talking for years—in New York, at Davos, at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum—about the opportunities for ambitious global journalism, both men said in separate interviews on Tuesday morning. Those conversations took a more serious turn in early 2020, just months after Ben joined The New York Times. The two met at a French bistro in Manhattan to map out the strategy for a global publication that, according to Justin, aspires to become “the leading, multi-platform news brand for the whole English-speaking world.” They kept their conversations closely guarded for nearly two years. In early December, Ben dismissed an inquiry into plans for a new venture as a “rumor” that wasn’t true; and, as noted above, Times leadership didn’t learn about his departure until this week. (Reached by email, Baquet said of Ben: “He was a terrific reporter, and that made him a great columnist.”)