USC Annenberg professor to lead BuzzFeed News as new editor-in-chief

In an exclusive interview with Annenberg Media, Mark Schoofs shared his plans for BuzzFeed News and its collaboration with the Annenberg school.

Mark Schoofs, a visiting professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, will be the new editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, BuzzFeed Founder and CEO Jonah Peretti announced Tuesday.

“[BuzzFeed News] is one of the premier digital media companies in the world. I have a lot of friends there, and pound-for-pound it is one of the best newsrooms anywhere,” Schoofs said in an exclusive interview with Annenberg Media.

Schoofs joined the USC Annenberg School as a visiting professor in the fall of 2018 to lead and advance the school’s investigative journalism program. During his time at Annenberg, Schoofs has taught introductory and advanced investigative reporting courses, and also led leading a directed research.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “I got to meet incredible students who did unbelievable work.”

In 2019, he co-founded and led the USC Beacon Project, a full-time investigative summer internship program for current students which reported on the university’s administration and culture. Schoofs told Annenberg Media that he is very proud of the project, which was profiled by The New York Times.

“[The Beacon Project] came at a particular moment in the history of USC and I think displayed the very very best of USC in very assertively pushing for transparency and openness and helping USC move beyond its scandals,” he said.

Schoofs said the Beacon Project will not be going away. This summer, the program will be run by Keith Plocek, an assistant professor at USC Annenberg.

Before joining Annenberg, Schoofs was an investigations and projects editor at BuzzFeed News. Schoofs established BuzzFeed News’ first investigative unit in 2014, leading a team of over 20 reporters who went on to write numerous award-winning investigative pieces, two of which were Pulitzer Prize finalist selections in 2017 and 2018.

“I’m so excited to welcome Mark back to BuzzFeed, because I know how deeply committed he is to ensuring that BuzzFeed News remains the best place on the internet for free, high quality news, and reaches even greater heights,” Peretti said in a press release. “I’m also confident, even during these tough times, that BuzzFeed News will be in the best possible hands under Mark’s leadership.”

Taking the baton from Ben Smith, who served as editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News for nearly ten years until he became a media columnist for the New York Times this January, Schoofs has big plans for BuzzFeed News as he assumes the helm.

“I feel like what we need to do is lean harder into the biggest stories of the day, be more focused and deliberate about the choices that we make, the stories that we go after, and use the full power of the newsroom in a more coordinated way. And beyond that I would just say, stay tuned,” he said, while acknowledging that the COVID-19 impact has hit BuzzFeed News hard like other media companies.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Schoofs worked as an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal and an editor at ProPublica and The Windy City Times. He won the Pulitzer Prize award for his eight-part series on the AIDS crisis in Africa and was a part of the Wall Street Journal team that won the Pulitzer for its coverage of the 9/11 attacks.

Schoofs will continue serving on the faculty at USC Annenberg to build a collaboration between the publication and the school, according to the press release.

“I don’t want to give up teaching entirely,” Schoofs said in the interview. “ I am very excited about leading BuzzFeed News in this moment of crisis, where there is both a pandemic and an economic hardship going on, but I also want to keep teaching and I think this actually is a way to improve what we can offer at Annenberg.”

Students will also have the opportunity to learn from BuzzFeed News. Peretti will teach a course in the fall, while Schoofs intends to teach an apprenticeship-style course in the spring. Schoofs described his course as a “learn-by-doing model” where students will be paired up with reporters.

Students would have to apply to the course and would need to have either taken the introductory investigative course or have the equivalent investigative experience, such as working with the Beacon Project. Schoofs also intends for there to be a separate internship program with BuzzFeed News for USC Annenberg students. As an advisor to KPCC’s investigations team, Schoofs previously led an internship program initiative in 2019 as part of a collaboration between KPCC and Annenberg.

Gordon Stables, the director of the Annenberg School of Journalism, said during his time, Schoofs has made significant impacts on the program.

“[Mark Schoofs] is a passionate advocate for the importance of rigorous investigative reporting and the essential role that journalism education plays in our society,” Stables wrote in an email to USC Annenberg faculty. “We will miss Mark’s daily presence, but we are so excited for his new opportunity and our new partnership.”

“We are so excited about this collaboration across newsrooms and classrooms,” Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, told BuzzFeed. “We know it will be an incredible opportunity both for our students to learn from Jonah and Mark, and for BuzzFeed News to gain deeper insight into this generation of news consumers.”

The partnership between BuzzFeed News and USC Annenberg is something Schoofs finds unique and mutually beneficial.

“I think this is a remarkable opportunity for Annenberg and for BuzzFeed.” Schoofs said. “We get to look at all these incredible young journalists, we get to learn from them because it’s not a one-way street. I think I’ve learned as much from my students as my students have learned from me.”

Schoofs said balancing being a professor and the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News doesn’t worry him. When he was working full-time at ProPublica, he said he would commute more than four hours each day to continue teaching.

Instead, he described the opportunity as “invigorating.”

Schoofs is also a soon-to-be father. When asked about how he planned to balance the title of parenthood on top of his other positions, he chuckled.

“There’s really nothing I can say. I’m just super excited about it,” Schoofs said. “Nobody’s ever ready to be a parent, so we’ll just take that one day at a time.”

Schoofs is currently in Los Angeles and will begin his position as editor-in-chief on May 18.