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Shani Hilton, who has worked hand-in-hand with editor-in-chief Ben Smith in running BuzzFeed News for the last few years in New York, is leaving to work for the newly restocked Los Angeles Times.
Hilton, who has been with BuzzFeed since 2013, will serve as the Times‘ deputy managing editor for news. Her last day as BuzzFeed’s vp news and programming is May 2, and she is set to start at the Times on June 3.
“I’ve basically done everything that you can do here, essentially, at one point or another,” Hilton told The Hollywood Reporter of the roles she has held at BuzzFeed. “I wasn’t looking to leave, actually, but I’m from California and I’m really psyched to be moving back. The job was too appealing, and it felt like a really big, needed role.”
At the Times, Hilton will work on digital strategy, driving subscriptions, newsroom operations, events, budgets, video programming and recruiting. “It’s kind of like what I do now, which is everything,” she said.
Hilton said she was first approached about the role by Los Angeles Times deputy managing editor Sewell Chan, who was poached from The New York Times and has helped recruit journalistic talent to the rejuvenated publication. Over the last six weeks, Hilton has had lunch with editor-in-chief Norm Pearlstine and met with Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong and his wife, Michele B. Chan.
“Shani Hilton comes to the Times with a reputation for principled journalism, and for management, leadership and collaboration,” Pearlstine said in a statement. “We’re thrilled that Shani will be returning to California, where she will play a critical role in the newsroom while also working with colleagues across the Times.”
Hilton’s departure was announced by Smith in a Wednesday afternoon memo. “She’s been crucial to much of our strategy, growth, and success,” he wrote. “She’s also been my closest partner in building this place, and I am going to miss her both personally and professionally.”
“It’s really weird,” Hilton said about leaving BuzzFeed News. “I’m feeling like every possible emotion at the same time. … There is like this real compassion at this place that I think can’t be overstated. … It’s not the fake, ‘We’re a family’ bullshit, it’s really like, we are doing good work together and we are kind to each other and that’s what makes it so special.”
Her exit comes just days after BuzzFeed announced the departure of Ze Frank, who was instrumental in developing the company’s video strategy.
Hilton has helped run a slimmed-down news operation after 43 journalists were laid off in late January, part of a 15 percent culling of the company’s staff that was meant to expedite the path to profitability.
“Shani’s departure also underscores something obvious that is worth just saying out loud: This is a moment of real change around here,” Smith wrote in the memo. “We’re at a natural point in our life cycle for these changes to be happening. I realize that can be jarring. But I also hope you’ll see it, as I do, as a moment of opportunity.”
Smith said that Hilton is “going to be a major figure in this industry for some time to come,” adding, “I look forward to watching her rise and to competing with her, and of course to making sure we continue to beat the L.A. Times on their own California turf as frequently as possible.”
Hilton is confident in BuzzFeed’s journalistic mission and the company’s commitment to news. “They’ll continue to be poised to do incredible work because the level of ambition is so high here,” she said. “The company is still totally dedicated to what we do.”
Asked what she will miss about living in New York, Hilton said, “I think I’ll miss the four weeks of the year where it’s not too hot or not too cold.”
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