K-File’s Big Move: BuzzFeed’s Young Guns Take their Craft to CNN

While new media may be breaking new ground, in some ways the mass media establishment still seems to rule the day.

Andrew Kaczynski’s “K-File Unit,” which has dug up the some damning anecdotes from politicians’ pasts during this election cycle, has made a big move. While grown and nurtured under the roof of BuzzFeed Politics, K-File made the jump to CNN early last week, just weeks before a pivotal election.

K-File, while under BuzzFeed’s roof, had been behind the investigations revealing that Trump did support the Iraq war in 2002, was featured in Playboy softcore porn video, and admitted that he advised his friend to divorce his “crying and bitching” wife on the Howard Stern show in the late 90s.

The investigative team has barely been with CNN for a week, and yet has debuted stories like the GOP candidate saying that “deeply troubled” women are “always the best in bed,” comparing STD contraction to fighting in the Vietnam war, and how he wanted O.J. Simpson on The Apprentice years after the controversial trial came to pass.

The K-File investigative team, which includes Kaczynski, Kyle Blaine, Nate McDermott, and Christopher Massie, have all made the collective leap to CNN, keeping the K-File brand name. CNN, on its website, calls K-File “the leading investigation team for the social, mobile generation.”

“I respect what [K-File does], and I think [Andrew] is an aggressive and talented journalist,” said Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan in an interview with MediaFile. “So it speaks well for CNN that they are interested in a whole team of diggers, and speaks to CNN’s move to being a digital powerhouse in addition to a cable news channel. They are really pushing hard to have a digital presence, and I see this as very clear evidence of that.”

“I think K-File wanted to go to CNN because [CNN] convinced them that a network would provide them with the newsgathering tools and resources needed to do their best work,” said Michael Calderone, senior media reporter at the Huffington Post. “Going forward into this election and the next, CNN will also provide them this huge platform to promote their work.”

That platform has already been put to work, with the first CNN K-File exclusive and Kaczynski’s first in-house hit coming just one day after the team officially joined the network.

This media move may come as a surprise to some, and an expression of a hypocrisy to others –especially considering that CNN chief Jeff Zucker was not exactly singing the praises of new media news outlets, such as BuzzFeed, in an early August interview with Variety:

‘I don’t think Vice and BuzzFeed are legitimate news organizations,” [Zucker] says. What would he call them? “They are,” he says with a mischievous grin, “native advertising shops. We crush both of them. They are not even in our same class.’”

BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith responded on Twitter, following the announcement K-File was leaving for CNN:

It’s clear that CNN made a conscious hire with K-File. By adding to its large number of political hires for the 2016 election and 162 staffers for their digital team, the network’s new direction towards serious political and digital reporting is evident.

“But there’s an image aspect to CNN’s hire. This is a proven group. CNN is interested in doing deeper digging, and [K-File] knows how to do it very well,” said Sullivan. “I saw on Twitter that this would be ‘game changer’ for CNN, and I think this is the kind of response CNN was hoping for.”

CNN isn’t alone in this shift in media strategy. As noted by Columbia Journalism Review’s David Uberti, many media big-names – like The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal – are absorbing talent from new media organizations and restructuring for the digital realm.

“The mobile culture is rapidly taking over our lives and we must ensure that our news is attuned to that culture,” wrote Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, in a memo that announced the establishment of a separate digital desk in their newsroom. “We also need to work harder as a news organization to think about how content works best on digital and especially mobile platforms, and what engages our readers, including better graphics, photos, video and other features. The digital desk will be a launching point for rethinking how we present our content digitally and how our digital storytelling needs to change as our readers do.”

But as far as gains and losses, winners and losers are concerned, it’s a toss up:

“I’m sure they were sorry to see this team go, but I think [BuzzFeed] has a pretty deep bench in politics, so I don’t see this as a crushing blow to them,” said Sullivan.

“I think it’s a big loss for BuzzFeed. Unfortunately for the site, questions about its commitment to doing reporting as the company reorganizes itself in New York and Los Angeles have been raised,” said Calderone. “We’ll have to see if BuzzFeed replenishes its ranks – not exactly with another research team, but with other good reporters and editors. Are they retrenching? The industry will be watching how they will respond.”

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